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Osborne’s tenor voice and presence have been vital at Temple Sinai for the past nine years

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Senior Cantor Charles Osborne, now with Toronto’s Temple Sinai, has composed over 200 sacred and secular choral works. (Photo: supplied)

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How many times have you heard the expression, “what goes around, comes around”?

Cantor Charles Osborne and composer Ben Steinberg began a decades-long friendship when they first met at the North American Jewish Choral Festival in 1990. Cantor Osborne was there conducting the Temple Emanuel congregational choir from Newton, MA; Steinberg was conducting the Temple Sinai choir from Toronto.

“Certainly I was singing Ben’s music long before I ever met him,” Osborne said. “His duets Elu D’varim and Adon Olam are important concert repertoire for cantors all over the world. He has also produced many other great compositions of synagogue and concert repertoire.”

Osborne’s tenor voice and presence have been vital at Temple Sinai for the past nine years. Ben Steinberg has a 50-year connection to Sinai. Since 1996 he has been Temple Sinai’s Composer-in-Residence. “Working together, and coming full circle, we’ve been the closest of friends since that Festival some 30 years ago,” Osborne said.

A resident of Toronto and soon to become a Canadian citizen, Charles David Osborne was born August 14, 1949 in Suffolk, NY. According to the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, Osborne “had his first singing engagement as a boy alto.”  

He studied voice with Cantor Arthur Koret at the Hartt School from 1969-73 in Hartford, CT and graduated from The Cantors Institute (renamed the H.I. Miller Cantorial School) of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. He studied chazzanut with Hazzanim Moshe Ganchoff and David Kusevitsky, and composition with Miriam Gideon and Hugo Weisgall. Osborne eventually taught at Hartt and the JTS, and also taught at Northeastern University and Hebrew College in Boston.

Cantor Osborne founded and was a director of Kol Rinah, the Jewish Youth Choir of Greater Boston. He was active with the Hazamir teen choral festivals, the Zamir Choral Foundation, and “was the Rosh Musica for their first two Israel summer tours in 1996 and 1997.” (The Composers)

Cantor Osborne served at Temple Ner Tamid (Bloomfield, NJ), Congregation B’nei Israel (Millburn, NJ), Temple Emanuel (Newton, MA) and Jewish Fellowship of Hemlock Farms (Lords Valley, PA), before joining Temple Sinai in 2012.

Osborne’s original compositions include a symphony, four full-length oratorios and concertos for flute, guitar, harp and viola. He has composed over 200 sacred and secular choral works. Osborne recorded often with the Zamir Chorale of Boston, and can be heard on The Western Wind’s recording Birthday of the World.

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Two of his most popular synagogue music pieces are Samachti B’omrim Li  (included in Temple Sinai’s prayer book) and Adon Olam.  He composed Souls On Fire, based on Elie Wiesel’s book, and written with Wiesel’s cooperation. It has been performed throughout the United States with Leonard Nimoy as the narrator. Other major works: Kings and Fishermen, the story of the Danish Jewish community, saved during World War II, performed at Lincoln Centre with Theodore Bikel as the narrator; and Skywater, libretto by Aryeh Finklestein, based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau, scored for soprano and orchestra.

Rabbi Michael Dolgin said, “Cantor Osborne’s development of our partnership with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre (HGJT) and his concluding program for the Liberation 75 conference speak to his dramatic flair.” 

Cantor Osborne recalled, “When I arrived, Temple Sinai had ongoing relations with the HGJT.  In addition to publicizing their upcoming productions at Temple, and in my second year, we realized a dream of Rabbi Dolgin and that was Slichot services that were neither show nor shul, combining theatre, popular music and traditional liturgy into a thought-provoking evening. Subsequently, we’ve included elements of these creative services in our High Holiday and Festival worship as well. I’ve been privileged to consult on several of their productions including Bar Mitzvah Boy and The Jazz Singer.  During the COVID pandemic time frame, we have worked together on various video productions for both Sinai and HGJT as well as Liberation 75.” 

Cantor Charles Osborne has helped preserve the body of sacred and secular music that reflects the American Jewish experience, such as his album “Hallel”. (Image: cantors.org)

About his composition, M’chal Laavonoteinu, Osborne said, the opening phrase ”M’chal Laavonoteinu v’Elohei avoeinu v’imoteinu (‘Our God and God of our forebears’) is a classic example of z’chut avot, asking God to hear our prayers by virtue of the ‘merit of our ancestors’. It then combines elements of both communal and individual prayer. The rabbinic prayer texts as well as the Ki voyom hazeh proof text are written with the worshipers in the plural, while the balance of the proof texts (‘It is I, I alone… As a cloud fades away…’) are written in the original Hebrew addressing the individual, something not readily apparent in the English translation. 

“Musically, I wanted to create a framework for this text that is an appeal to a God who is both personal and present, a gentle, heartfelt prayer to a loving and merciful parent. There is both a congregational reframed in an easy, two-part chorus; my hope is that, additionally, each individual worshiper will be able to identify with the words and notes of the sections for soloist/cantor/service leader.”

“Charles Osborne,” said Rabbi Dolgin, “is a fitting successor to Ben Steinberg. He is prolific and groundbreaking in his work at Sinai.  Like Ben, Charles is a leader and trendsetter in today’s serious Jewish music scene.”

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication.  He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

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