I had the chance to sit down with Michael Harlow, musician, performer, and Rosh Shira at Ramah in the Rockies. With his signature afro in braids, his feet bare, and his head spinning with new ideas, Harlow was the image of the next generation of musical creativity. How did he get here? I wondered the same thing.
“My parents started me on piano lessons in first grade,” he told me. Since then, he has learned to play the drums and the guitar as well. Furthermore, he has expanded his knowledge of music theory with the help of his parents and his older brother, all musically inclined by nature. “I grew up around music. My mom sang in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, a famous Jewish choir. My dad is also a singer and my brother is a jazz pianist who graduated from Oberlin Conservatory.”
Every day since those first piano lessons, Harlow has been practicing, learning “more and more songs, in order to learn more and more chords and more riffs and more notes to become more familiar with how notes interact with each other throughout the neck of the guitar.” His passion has taken him far. Right now, in the world beyond camp, his focus is on his musical duo with Brandeis University classmate Brian Rauch, called ‘Late Night Thoughts.’ The duo creates acoustic covers of pop songs, and right now they’re working on recording and releasing an EP comprised entirely of original music. A shameless self promoter (as any up-and-coming artist should be), Harlow encourages readers to “find us on Facebook and give us a like” (links below).
His passion for making music and spreading joy through music made him a natural fit for Rosh Shira at Ramah in the Rockies. This is his fifth summer at Ramah in the Rockies, his second summer as Rosh Shira. In the past, he told me, Harlow was essentially a one man band; the guy behind the ruach (spirit) of camp. This year, he’s interested in getting himself out of the equation. “I’m a born performer, and I know that about myself. But shira is not a performance; it’s a facilitation of musical exploration for all of our chalutzim (campers).” Ultimately, his goal is to “make it so that anyone with guitar skills and the ability to facilitate and organize humans could be Rosh Shira quite easily”
So, what drives Michael Harlow to keep going? How does he wake up early every morning with enough energy to share with our whole kehilah (community)? Why does he constantly strive to improve our musical experience at Ramah in the Rockies, working tirelessly every week to master new songs, melodies, and chords?
“Nothing brings me more joy in life than music. And if I can share that with others, if I can make just 10% of chalutzim realize that they love shira, or just two chalutzim realize that they absolutely love music, or change their thoughts on t’fillah, then I’ve accomplished my goal. I think there is nothing more powerful than humans singing together. And so if I can be a part of that, I’m happy.”
By Rachel Blau