Lawrence (Larry) Lesser
About Lawrence (Larry) Lesser
I’m a father, husband, son, and brother, and an award-winning songwriter/poet/educator/author who synthesized decades of my eclectic Jewish journey (https://larrylesser.com/judaism) into a multi-genre trove of 24 highly original non-liturgical non-denominational songs, https://larrylesser.com/sparks/, including “Seven Circles.” The album’s deep, diverse, and accessible approach has been recognized in the Jewish education world (e.g., its environmental song “Rowboat” is featured in the fall 2020 issue of NewCAJE’s journal, The Jewish Educator) as well as in the secular music world as a 2021 New Mexico Music Awards Finalist for Album of the Year as well as for 3 other categories: Best Humorous Song (which I won!), Best Bluegrass Song, and Best Religious Song. The album has also had NPR station interviews, known airplay of 12+ different songs, and critical praise across streams from Jewish and music communities. The album was one of the achievements that helped me get recognized as a 2021 Hadar Jewish Wisdom Fellow. A former Houston Jewish day school teacher, I became a professor based in El Paso where I give classes and concerts (sometimes combined!) at campus, congregational and community events. Tapping my education/outreach skillset and varied Jewish experiences, I enjoy writing and performing songs to connect with any audience.
The approach of the 2007-08 shmita year moved me to reflect on the theme of interdependence – how we are interdependent with each other and with the land. My favorite parable (that I first heard on my wedding day at the Chossen’s Tish from an awesome cousin who would soon become a rabbi) with an interdependence theme is the “man who drills under his seat in a boat” story in Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 4:6 and setting that story to rhyme and melody yielded the first half of my song “Rowboat”. Given the connection of shmita to the environment, it was natural for me to add a second verse to continue the boat setting to incorporate our contemporary challenges of pollution and climate change. While my first public performance of this song was to open the 2011 Earth Day event at The University of Texas at El Paso, this attitude of “what’s it to you what I do in my space?” applies to so many contexts besides the environment, such as how we are all affected in the pandemic by whether others decide to wear a mask, get vaccinated, socially distance, etc. With a simple voice and fingerstyle guitar arrangement, I perform the song on my album SPARKS (https://larrylesser.com/sparks), which was a Finalist for Album of the Year in the 2021 New Mexico Music Awards. “Rowboat” was also one of two songs featured in a peer-reviewed article I wrote for the fall 2020 issue of NewCAJE’s journal (The Jewish Educator, https://thejewisheducator.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/musical-midrash-and-talmudic-tunes-edutainment-for-adult-learners.pdf), about how such songs were used in an event that combined song performance with discussion about the underlying Jewish text.
- Rowboat 00:00