Richard Kaplan (aka Shlomo Natan ben Menakhem Mendel veNekhamah) was born into a musical family and began singing professionally at age 14, fronting R&B bands in his native
Los Angeles. He was active in music programs at his local high school, where he sang in the madrigal choir and studied music history with Salvatore Spano. While he was still in his teens, a friend opened up his musical horizons by playing him recordings from around the world, long before what later became known as “world music” had emerged as a viable marketing concept. “I found I was able to appreciate other musics – from Korean to Mongolian to Tibetan to Shinto to Turkish,” he recalls. “I don’t think there is a traditional music on this planet that I can’t take in. But then, I could argue that all of them are part of everyone’s aural DNA.” At age 19, this led to his joining “The Morning of the World,” a vocal ensemble specializing in ethnic-based music which was signed by the Elektra and A&M record labels.

Mr. Kaplan went on to earn a BA in Ethnomusicology at UCLA, followed by a Master’s Degree
in Musicology from UC Berkeley, with an emphasis on Baroque vocal technique and choral conducting. He had developed a deep connection with medieval and other forms of early music. “The Dutch historian Huizinga, in his book The Waning of the Middle Ages, once asked the reader to imagine how much more sensitized Medieval folks must have been to the natural world: a fire, the wind, or ‘a single, distant cry.’ ” Kaplan explains, “The scalar forms of early music and the dastgah-ha, ragas, and makamat (Persian, Indian, and Middle Eastern modes) all contain psycho-spiritual elements and a certain romanticism, almost a musical shamanism, that is tremendously evocative, sensual, and intuitive. I think their shared ancient roots contain an ocean of esoteric knowledge capable of healing our innermost selves, which have been deeply wounded by the crass demands of post-modern life.”

Wanting to “do” music rather than merely to “speak” on the subject for a lifetime, Mr. Kaplan started to write his own material and work as a jazz pianist. He lived in Manhattan for a time, performing the Gershwin, Ellington, and Porter songbooks for a livelihood. “I set out to make
a living doing something I loved, as I have never believed we were put on this planet to be miserable from 9-5 for 50 years,” he says.

Upon moving back to the West Coast, he spent seven years as a Professor of Music at Skyline Community College, teaching a course called “Sacred Musics of the Worlds” at JFK University, New College of San Francisco, and acting as choral conductor for the Albany Adult School Choir. “When I taught World Music in colleges, I would spend a week on the music of Burma, six weeks on classical Japanese music, and four weeks on Native American traditions,” he says, “I went on this way once for two years, week to week, never repeating a culture.” Throughout this busy period, Mr. Kaplan was also an impassioned spiritual seeker, immersing himself in Zen Buddhism, Siddha Yoga, and Sufism. He studied with Master James Wing Woo, a Taoist teacher of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Kung Fu, for eight years and later taught Chinese Martial Arts for over a decade.

The seeds of his return to Judaism were planted by an Israeli-born friend and artist, Michael Sgan-Cohen, who introduced him to the works of Martin Buber and to Zohar. Mr. Kaplan was inspired to keep the Sabbath and Holy Days, study Torah, and to immerse himself in the music of his forbears. “There is sadly, too often, a profound antipathy toward one’s own heritage,
a kind of knee-jerk baby-out-with-the-bathwater reaction,” he muses. “I had to do a lot of healing, but finally came home to the musical traditions of my own ancestry, embracing a fabulous world-wide inheritance of Jewish musical and spiritual culture.” Over time, he was inspired to embark upon the cantor’s path, absorbing the traditional liturgy during a three-year apprenticeship with Conservative Hazzan (Cantor) Mark Dinkin. In 1997, Mr. Kaplan was named cantor of Temple Beth Abraham, a Conservative synagogue in Oakland, California, a twenty-two year position from which he recently retired in the Spring of 2018, into a Cantor Emeritus status.

He has recorded three albums dedicated to Jewish traditions from throughout the Diaspora, “Tuning The Soul” (1999), “Life of the Worlds” (2003), and "The Hidden One: Jewish Mystical Songs" (2009), all of which showcase his magnificent high baritone voice and have sold in the thousands. He is an emeritus member of the Spiritual Advisory Council of ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, where he received his cantorial smikha (ordination) from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He extensively studied Hasidic music over many years with Reb Zalman, may his memory be for a blessing, who used to joke that he was “downloading” his own tremendous knowledge of Eastern European spiritual music into Mr. Kaplan.

Currently he contiues to compose, perform, teach, and record music, all of which have been his lifelong passions, as he strives to go deeper into integrating his beloved spiritual affinities with Kashmir Shaivism, Adwaita Vedanta, Sufism, the "Work" of G.I. Gurdjieff, The Course in Miracles, Kabbalah and Hasidim.

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