When Brian Lowdermilk was in 11th grade, he wrote a melody for "Oseh Shalom" that has become the standard for Temple Sholom in Broomall, where the budding composer was raised.
Ten years later, that melody will be part of a larger work, to be presented by the still-young Lowdermilk, who will return home with a fuller setting of the Shabbat-evening service commissioned by the congregation and set to premiere at services on Friday night, March 28.
Lowdermilk will be returning from Manhattan, where, since graduating from New York University in 2005 with a degree in music theory and composition, he has been pursuing a promising career in theater. The winner of Richard Rodgers and Alan Menken awards in musical theater, Lowdermilk, who's only in his mid-20s, was a fellow of the Dramatists Guild in 2004, and is also a member of the BMI Music Theatre Advanced Workshop.
Most recently, his play "Henry and Mudge" (based on the popular children's books, with libretto and lyrics by his writing partner, Kait Kerrigan) received positive notices during its off-Broadway run.
The congregation's choir (enhanced for the occasion by some of the composer's musical friends) has been rehearsing three times a week for the past four months to master the ambitious score.
Cantor Patrice Kaplan herself will sing one of the five cantorial roles, with the others to be sung by Kerrigan and other soloists. The composer will preside at the piano, while the double bass and oboe parts will be played by Philadelphia Orchestra member Robert Kesselman and Jennifer Kuhns, who are not only husband and wife but longtime members of the congregation.
For his part, Lowdermilk feels that the large melodies, lush textures and popular styles of his new work do not represent an attempt to impose a Broadway style on the synagogue, but are simply his attempt to bring his own voice to the liturgy.
While writing the work for Temple Sholom, he was eager to have the composition appeal to worshippers from more traditional communities, and so he chose to set only Hebrew liturgy, and to seek "the inherent musicality and rhythm" in the text.
Throughout the yearlong process of writing the service, he was guided by "what's required when you write music to pray to," he explains.
Lowdermilk will follow the premiere of his service with an appearance (together with Kerrigan) at a brunch on Sunday morning brunch, where the duo will offer an inside look at the artistic process of musical theater. That presentation will be preceded by an appearance at an assembly for the temple's religious school, where Lowdermilk was once a student and member of the children's choir.
Perhaps this weekend's festivities — part of the congregation's annual Scholar- (or Artist)-in-Residence program, initiated in 1983 by Rabbi Mayer Selekman, and co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Kehillah of Delaware County — will inspire other young members of the congregation.