Paul Kowarsky, who left the cantorial world almost two decades ago and subsequently retired from the legal profession, recently completed his second significant retirement project – a collection of his best recordings.
The first project was a legal text that he began writing before he retired as a justice of the peace, a mandatory transition when he turned 75 in 2017. Kowarsky’s book, The Justice of the Peace in Ontario: Practice and Procedure, was written as a resource for newer colleagues and released last May by legal publisher LexisNexis.
His move in the early 2000s from Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation to the Ontario Court of Justice was less improbable than it might seem: he became a lawyer in his native South Africa, where he studied law after becoming a cantor at age 19.
Kowarsky, who immigrated to Canada in 1976, became a justice of the peace in 2002, following a cantorial career that took him around the world. To bring himself back up to speed on legal matters, he put in extra hours “virtually every night,” he said in an interview at the home he shares with his wife, Barbara Joseph Kowarsky.
In his office filled with books, family photos and mementos from both his careers, Kowarsky recalled working his way up from adjudicating parking matters, to presiding over bail hearings on “everything except murder,” including a highly publicized case involving the legality of raw milk. During his tenure as a justice of the peace, he officiated at 10 weddings, including one of his children’s. “It was a wonderful experience – the whole thing,” he said.
As a justice of the peace, Kowarsky only sang twice, both times at professional events. Many attendees who knew him only as a colleague had no inkling of his distinctively operatic voice.
His collection of recordings, Paul Kowarsky: All The Very Best, was released earlier this year. In addition to cantorial pieces, it includes an Afrikaans operetta, which is probably the most unusual selection. As well, there are some Yiddish pieces that Kowarsky said are particularly meaningful. “Moishelach, Shloimelach,” which Kowarsky said is “heartbreaking,” laments the loss of little children in the Holocaust. The diminutive Yiddish names of the title were common before the war.
Selections from the album can be streamed or downloaded individually, or purchased as a two-CD set through links on Kowarsky’s website, paulkowarsky.com.
The former cantor initially revisited his old recordings five years ago, while undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has now been in remission for four and a half years.
Kowarsky’s son Glen, who’s also a former cantor, initially suggested the project. Four of Kowarsky’s five children work, or have worked, in the music business.
The recordings – which are culled from video and audio of concerts, rehearsals and studio recordings – have been professionally remastered and balanced, to upgrade the sound to the highest possible quality, said Kowarsky, adding that he is “thrilled and very happy” with the result.
Now well into his third retirement project, Kowarsky is working on an autobiography, bringing together all the threads of his diverse background.