July 2017 Alumni Spotlight
July Alumni Spotlight with Evan Kent, MPA ’84
An education in public policy doesn’t have to lead down a set path – just ask Evan Kent, who became a cantor. We discuss his path to becoming a musically-inclined, religious leader in his community, his time at Baruch College, and his puppeteering gig.
You were involved in an Israeli production of the musical, Avenue Q. Tell us about that experience and your role in it.
Jerusalem has, at last count, five English language theatre companies. And each one has its own personality and style. In Avenue Q, I played Nicky, the character (puppet) who has some roommate issues and eventually the roommate kicks him out. Nicky eventually becomes homeless, but by the end of the show he reconciles with his roommate and they learn how to deal with their differences. The challenges of being a puppeteer in Avenue Q are great: you have to bring life, emotion, and character development, to a creation made from foam, felt, yarn, and wires. And as a puppeteer/actor you’re in full view of the audience. Remarkably, the process becomes second nature, and I became very attached to Nicky. When the show’s run ended and the puppets were returned to the artists who created them, there was a bit of sadness.
In your experience, what are the greatest challenges and rewards of being a cantor?
After I finished my MPA at Baruch, I worked for one year as a financial analyst for a city agency. Although I enjoyed aspects of the work, I always felt as if I were missing something from my life. My undergraduate degree was from Manhattan School of Music in voice and my work as an analyst was really prohibiting me from singing and performing. I also was becoming more and more in touch with my own religious upbringing and a developing personal spirituality. I applied to Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music (the School trains cantors for the Reform movement of Judaism) and upon receiving my ordination and Master’s degree, I began serving a congregation in Los Angeles.
Cantors are traditionally responsible for the liturgy and music in the synagogue. But in actuality, the modern cantor’s job encompasses much more than that. We not only sing, but we teach, provide pastoral care and counseling, teach adults, teens, and children, and help to administer the synagogue.
My biggest challenge was acknowledging my own religious and spiritual needs and trying to balance those needs with the demands of serving the community.
What has your MPA from Baruch College provided you with that has led you down your career path?
My MPA from Baruch gave me a very useful set of analytical tools and techniques that I used in NYC government (albeit very briefly) but certainly more extensively in my 25 years working within the Jewish community. Having knowledge of accounting, budgeting, and program design and evaluation was extremely valuable in a not-for-profit setting.
Did you have any favorite classes or professors?
My favorite class (and perhaps most rigorous) was Neil Sullivan‘s introduction to public policy. Neil had a favorite refrain in class that he punctuated many discussions with. He’d ask, “But who’s going to pay for it?”, and that inquiry is always in the back of my mind. You might have great ideas for amazing programs, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves who is going to fund it? Who is going to pay for it?