Neshama Carlebach sings so that people can feel.
“I want people to feel — that’s when healing begins,” says Carlebach, 37, the daughter of the legendary Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also used music to teach and inspire, recording more than 25 albums.
Carlebach will take the concert stage at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 17. She will also serve as scholar-in-residence at Congregation Anshei Israel on Dec. 16 and 17.
“I really believe that my goal in life, my place here, is to be a part of the healing of the world,” she says. People tell her “my mother passed away and she was listening to your CD.” Women say they use her music to help them through childbirth.
“To be a part of these life moments, these incredible deep moments, makes it all worthwhile,” says Carlebach, who was thrust into the limelight at age 20 when her father died suddenly from a heart attack. Carlebach, who’d begun singing with her father when she was 15 but had planned on a career as an actress, not a singer, was asked to step into his footsteps.
Although it was a deeply painful, turbulent time, “I really grew up through my mourning in a public way,” she says. “I feel very blessed that I was able to both maintain my dignity, a little bit, and also share my pain, in an honest way.”
At her concerts, Carlebach wants the audience “to go through every possible emotion that they can. I want them to laugh, I want them to cry, I want them to dance, I want them to be elated. I want them to feel everything. But most of all what I want is for people to feel — something,” she says.
She laments that “our world has become very cut off,” a place where people can shrug off the latest disaster in the news and go about their lives.
But she understands why people sometimes suppress their emotions. Growing up, she says, her father sheltered her “like the umbrella in the storm. I didn’t even know there was a storm going on most of the time.” But after he died, “it was like a monsoon,” dealing with the politics and “all the people who tried to claim him.”
“I was in therapy for a long time. I say that proudly,” she states, adding that some people are aghast she’s so candid about it. She’s learned that opening up to the pain promotes healing — and music can often reach people in a way mere words cannot.
“I see people in my audiences just sobbing, and I feel like that’s maybe a first step. Once you know who you are, you can let in every person in the world, there’s a place in your heart. There’s a kindness in you,” she says.
While she has written and recorded her own music, taking inspiration, she says, from “everything — everything is a miracle, my father taught me to see that,” much of her career has focused on his music. “It remains a very spiritual, powerful experience for me. Every moment that I sing it, I feel a great connection to him.” Becoming a mother — she has two sons, ages 5 years and 18 months — has made that connection even deeper, she says.
In Tucson, Carlebach and her band will perform with the Rev. Roger Hambrick and members of the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir.
Working with the gospel choir, she says, has allowed her “to give this experience to people of all faiths” instead of primarily Jewish audiences. A recent concert, she notes, was held “in a huge Catholic Cuban church.”
She first performed with the choir at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event in a synagogue several years ago. “I went to sing with them, and it was explosive and gorgeous,” she says, even more meaningful than she’d expected it to be.
The next year, Hambrick suggested they make a record together. The result was “Higher and Higher,” a collection of her father’s songs that has been nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award. Most of the concert at the Fox Tucson Theatre will be from “Higher and Higher,” she says.
At Congregation Anshei Israel, Carlebach will participate in several events, starting with the Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat service at 5:45 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16, which will be followed at 6:45 p.m. by a Shabbat dinner. At 7:45 p.m., Carlebach will present “The Torah and the Legend: My Father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.”
On Saturday, Dec. 17, she will deliver the D’var Torah at the 9 a.m. Shabbat service. At the 3:30 p.m. Torah study, she’ll talk about “finding God in our challenges.” As much as she loves performing, Carlebach says that getting to connect with people as part of a Shabbat weekend, to talk, to hug, to have “that one-on-one moment,” makes her visit to a community “so much more rich.”
Rabbi Robert Eisen says he’s been working on a Carlebach weekend for five years. When he found out she’d be performing at the Fox, “it all came together beautifully.”
Noting that her name, Neshama, means “soul,” Eisen says she brings “a soulful approach to living Judaism. I think she brings something to the Jewish world that Tucson needs to see and hear.”
The Fox concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets, $25-$45 plus ticketing/convenience fees, are available at the box office, 547-3040, or foxtucsontheatre.org. Tickets with a 10 percent discount and no fees are available at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, 577-9393. The JFSA and many local Jewish and interfaith groups are concert cosponsors. The cost of the Shabbat dinner at Congregation Anshei Israel is $18 for members ($12 for ages 4-11); $24 for guests ($15 for ages 4-11). RSVP by Dec. 12 at 745-5550. For more information on Neshama and Shlomo Carlebach and their music, visit neshemacarlebach.com.