Jewish themes reside in acoustic ‘Hacienda’

On Rosh Hashana in 1984, Dr. Kenn Harris, a West Valley neurologist, sat in synagogue. On that day of religious and personal introspection, he examined his life and thought about what he wanted to accomplish in the year to come.

After 25 years of playing melodies by other guitarists, he decided to take his lifelong passion for music a step further and to compose his own music. He immediately went to work and in 1986 produced his first album, “The Year of the Tiger.”

In June 1999, Harris returned to the recording studio to produce a second album, a compact disc titled “Songs from the Hacienda.”

He will sign and perform songs from his new release, 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at Borders at Arrowhead Towne Center, 7320 W. Bell Road, Glendale.

Harris, 50, says he has been a musician since before he was born. His mother, Ruth Berman Harris, studied at Juilliard and played the harp in a variety of New York venues, ranging from Broadway shows to the Ed Sullivan Show.

Now 83, she continues to teach harp.

“Our living room was like heaven … there were at least three harps there at any one time,” Harris says.

His childhood home, in White Plains, N.Y., was filled also with drums, a piano, violins, an accordion, a guitar and harmonicas.

Harris taught himself to play guitar when he was 11 and took classes to learn classical technique when he was 14.

Throughout his life, he has played in bands, most recently “Rock n’ Docs,” a Valley charity rock-and-roll band comprising local physicians.

Harris graduated from the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in 1978. During his internship and residency in Albuquerque, N.M., he took jazz lessons.

He moved to the Valley in 1982 and currently is a solo practitioner in general neurology, with an emphasis in geriatrics, and co-chairman of Neurology at Boswell Hospital in Sun City.

Prior to “Hacienda’s” release this year in June, Harris was in the studio at least one night a week in the studio working on it.

“One of the most fun and creative parts of this whole thing has been understanding that each phase is a tremendous process in and of itself,” Harris says. “The creation of the music is one phase, the practice of the music and getting it to performance standard is another.”

Steps include preparing his instrument for recording, with the proper strings and tuning, and capturing its sounds.

Each phase of the recording had its own incredible little parts that were learning experiences, says Harris, who also produced the compact disc.

Besides recording and mastering, he also spent the past year writing text for the interior cover, handling the photography and graphic design, and having the compact disc professionally put together.

“For me, it was a great experience to just be able to get my music done – out there in the world – and that’s been literally the greatest joy.”

Harris describes “Hacienda” as “original ‘post-modern classical’ compositions for solo, fingerstyle, acoustic guitar.”

Harris donates 10 percent of all gross proceeds from compact disc sales or concerts to tzedakah (charity).

Harris met his wife, painter Deborah Harris, 28 years ago, when he was a freshman at the University of Arizona. The couple live in Peoria and have two children, Jacob, 20, and Anna, 13.

Music continues to flow in the Harris’ blood. Jacob is a drummer and organizes campus rock concerts at Boston University, where he is a senior. Anna, an eighth-grader at Phoenix Hebrew Academy, “sings beautifully and wants to study voice,” her father says.

The Harrises belong to Young Israel of Phoenix, an Orthodox synagogue, but Harris says the family members aim to be pluralistic. Anna has spent summers at California’s Camp Ramah, a Conservative camp, and is active in United Synagogue Youth, a Conservative youth group.

Harris attends Rabbi William Berk’s adult education class at Temple Chai, a Reform congregation.

Deborah Harris is president of The Jewish Community High School and a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

The Harrises strive to create an environment that focuses on ahavas Yisrael (love of fellow Jews), and to view Jewish life in a nondenominational manner, Kenn says.

As Jewish tradition permeates Harris’ life, Jewish themes penetrate his music. “Motek” (Hebrew for sweetheart), the second track on “Songs from the Hacienda” is about one of his son’s friends from Camp Ramah who suffered from cancer.

“It’s more of a prayer song than anything else and ends on a happy note, as she is doing well,” Harris says.

The wedding of friends inspired “The Bedeken” (veiling of the bride). As the ketubah (Jewish wedding document) was being signed, Harris says, “the entire song popped into my head completely formed. I went home, picked up the guitar and found out where it was.”

Another song, “Erev” (eve) is about erev Shabbat.

“As Shabbat comes in, we welcome it as a queen. It’s a very regal song but it’s also soft and it has the feeling of the sun going down and candles being lit and the quiet of space and time that Shabbat brings.”

“Songs from the Hacienda” is available in the New Age section at Borders bookstores throughout Arizona.

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