Cantors lively CD puts Isaiah in tune for Shabbat

To guarantee he sang with maximum feeling, Leigh Korn had a nifty trick up his sleeve while recording his new CD, “Shabbat at Isaiah.”

Leigh Korn

“In the studio I would close my eyes and imagine I was in synagogue,” said the cantor of Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah. “I never close my eyes when I lead services. But in my [recording] booth, I would close my eyes and put myself in synagogue on Shabbat.”

It worked. The album, released this summer, has been well received in the Isaiah community. All 900 families received a free copy in the mail, courtesy of the temple’s sisterhood, Women of Isaiah, which funded the entire project.

The 14 tracks on the album include a mix of traditional and contemporary Jewish liturgical songs, such as “Shalom Aleichem,” “L’Cha Dodi,” “Mi Chamocha,” “V’Shamru,” “Oseh Shalom” and “Ein Keiloheinu.”

Some tracks convey a solemn quality, but on others, Korn and his band rock it out. “The music we do is a very eclectic mix,” the cantor says, “which is something I like. I like to take from a lot of different styles and composers.”

If the sequence of songs sounds familiar, that’s because it replicates Friday night services at Isaiah. Once a month the synagogue’s Mizmor Band, led by pianist-arranger Greg Murai, joins Korn on the bimah.

“Other than Greg, the band is all temple members,” Korn adds. “It’s been a great outlet and [participants] formed friendships after playing together for five years. It’s been the same personnel almost the entire time and they love working with Greg. He raises them up as musicians.”

Korn got a little help from his friends, as the full band plays on the new CD, along with producer Ben Yonas and assistant engineer Noa Elza Graetz Yonas (son-in-law and daughter of Temple Isaiah Rabbi Roberto Graetz).

Making the CD was a dream come true for the cantor, who had never recorded before. Korn came to Temple Isaiah in 2005, fresh from earning a master’s of sacred music from the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music and receiving his ordination as cantor.

A native of Walnut Creek, Korn attended the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, where he played bassoon. He went on to earn a master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Iowa. As he set his sights on becoming a cantor, he studied in Israel, where he worked with Tzi’im, a choir of mentally challenged adults.

The idea for a CD first came to him nearly two years ago. Once the sisterhood stepped up to finance it, the biggest problem was finding times when everyone in the band could come together in the studio.

“The CD is a great opportunity to showcase their talent,” Korn says. “This is a side gig for everybody with one exception [professional guitarist Robbie Dunbar].”

Korn says people have given him enthusiastic responses to the album. He hopes it help new members learn the melodies commonly sung at Temple Isaiah.

More importantly to Korn, the album, he says, “is an opportunity to bring a piece of Shabbat home with them.”

“Shabbat at Isaiah” by Cantor Leigh Korn and Temple Isaiah Mizmor Band is on sale for $18 at Temple Isaiah, 945 Risa Road, Lafayette. Information: (925) 283-8575.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at