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Coleen Dieker — the musical soul of B’nai Jehudah

Coleen Dieker

“Music is the soul to language.” Thus did Abraham Joshua Heschel define music as the key element to Jewish prayer, which is called “tefillah” in Hebrew. It is in this spirit that The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah announces that Coleen Dieker has been appointed the congregation’s music director.


Dieker came to the congregation three years ago as a substitute accompanist. Since then, she has demonstrated extraordinary talent and passion that led to her appointment as music director. {mprestriction ids="1,3"}A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she spent two years studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, with a focus on violin and piano. Currently, she studies violin with Tiberius Klausner. In addition to piano and violin, Dieker is versatile with the fiddle, guitar, ukulele and flute. She sings as a soprano and alto, specializing in song leading and vocal coaching. Since 2012, she has been a strings instructor for St. James Academy and has taught private lessons in voice, piano, and violin.

Her performance experience is extensive in classical, rock, jazz and contemporary settings. She has performed throughout the greater Kansas City area, as well as SXSW and other locations in the United States as a guest artist. She has performed with Santana, Los Lobos, Rod Stewart and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Currently, she is a guest violinist for Ma Tovu, a Jewish musical group, that performs throughout North America. In addition, Dieker has over 10 years of liturgical musical experience in various religious institutions throughout the Kansas City metro area.

Four years ago, B’nai Jehudah embarked upon a tefillah (“prayer”) journey, attempting to forge traditional modalities of prayer with modern sensibilities. It led to a period of exploration and experimentation, including the congregation’s well-received Shabbat in the Park Shabbat celebrations, held every June, July, and August at Gezer Park (133rd and Mission), in Leawood.

This work, which involved over 120 congregants, resulted in a search for a new music director, who could partner with the synagogue’s rabbinic team in crafting musical experiences and tefillah for the 21st century. 

Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, senior rabbi of the congregation, explained what happened next: “Despite great interest in our position, with over 50 resumes received, our advisory task force concluded that no one fit just right for who we were and for what we were searching. A year ago, we reached within, and asked Coleen Dieker if she would serve as our interim music director for a year, while we pursued our search. With both grace and joy, she accepted. During this past year, we have seen music, especially in the context of Erev Shabbat services, grow and mature. I often marvel at how the congregation has taken ownership of music, at Coleen’s encouragement. The music from the pews has been “music” to my ears.”

Nemitoff and the congregation continued their search during this past year. Once again, though, no one from outside seemed to fit. However, as the rabbi told his congregation in his announcement of Dieker’s appointment, “Throughout the year, person after person would approach and ask about Coleen. Who was she? What would it take to keep her? Can she be our music director? Well, after enough people asked ... we asked ourselves the same question. Just as our music was evolving, so was our understanding of a music director. That led to a dialog with Coleen, conversations with our search advisory task force, and eventually with our board of trustees. Overwhelmingly, the idea of Coleen becoming our full-time music director was embraced.”

Dieker will be responsible — in partnership with the congregation’s rabbis — for the musical life of the congregation. She will lead music for Shabbat, festivals, and holidays, and will nurture volunteer musicians (both vocalists and instrumentalists) who wish to participate. She will coordinate High Holiday music, in collaboration with Krista Blackwood, and her professional octet, Octarium. In addition, Dieker will work with the synagogue’s many educational programs — Pre-School, Sunday Religious School, Machane Jehudah, Kesher and Confirmation, as well as support musically the congregation’s senior youth group, PBnJ.

As Donna Thalblum, president of the congregation, remarked: “If you haven’t been to Erev Shabbat services at B’nai Jehudah in a while, stop by. You will be surprised and delighted. Coleen brings an energy and spiritual joy to our Shabbat and holiday celebrations. Truly, it is a holy and joyful experience.”{/mprestriction}