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Blowing his own horn: Halbert Katzen uses ancient instrument to share his message
September 22, 2022
Halbert Katzen is a familiar sight around the SIU campus, recognizable for the giant horn he walks around holding, and occasionally blowing.
“I have the wonderful experience of getting to know a wide segment of the local community,” Katzen said. “I meet students and non-students, faculty, different people [who] wander around the campus and the lake at different points of the day for different reasons and I’m meeting all of them.”
That horn you see him with is a shofar, a Jewish ritual musical instrument important for religious occasions and holidays. They can be made from the horn of a ram or other animals; his is made from an antelope horn.
“I guess that it’s been very touching to get the responses from people [because] I didn’t plan this exactly, you know what I mean?” Katzen said. “This all kind of snuck up on me to do like this with the horn.”
Katzen is a 60-year-old Pennsylvania native that moved to Illinois to further his study on the Urantia book relating to the next solar eclipse on April 8, 2024
According to The Atlantic, the Urantia Book is a 2,000 page book published in 1955 under the direction of Chicago Doctor William S. Sadler. It gives the history of evolutionary change on Earth, known in the book as “Urantia,” and culminates in the reincarnation of Jesus.
“My research and study aids and everything, in general, has to do with harmonizing the material in the spiritual world,” Katzen said.
Katzen attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts, a Jewish secular university where he studied comparative religion and philosophy of religion.
“Then in Boulder, Colorado, there was a school that did a two-year intensive study of a book called the Urantia Book,” Katzen said. “I also went to law school out there, and so I didn’t practice law very long. Just about a year and a half. I was more into the education and the practice of it.”
Katzen said he started a project documenting his discoveries related to the Urantia Book in 2006 and 2007.
Katzen has been walking around campus blowing his shofar for 18 months and said it’s a great conversation starter which allows him to share his studies.
“You can blow really bad notes on this really easy. It is a beast to play. It is not a user-friendly instrument,” Katzen said. “Part of the reason is that they sell them by the inch, and so they, you know, want to make the mouthpiece as long as possible to have as many inches on the horn but that makes it small to blow which makes it hard.”
He lives on the East side of Wall Street and wanted to find a place to blow his horn and far enough from his home to be considered exercise. He ended up walking around campus so he wouldn’t bother his neighbors since he was very self-conscious about it in the beginning, Katzen said.
“I just started walking around the lake with the horn and you know, blow it a little more and so it really developed very organically,” Katzen said. “As I experienced people’s relationships to it and as I got better on the horn, then I felt more comfortable about it.”
Katzen said he knew, as time went on, he’d be noticed for what he does and that people would become curious about it.
“When you do something that stands out a little bit, you know, it helps other people feel more free in their individuality,” Katzen said. “So I’m aware of how these things work socially and I care about it and so it’s one of the things that kind of got me through the initial months of really blowing a lot of sour notes.”
A fond memory he has is when some students came to thank him on move-out day before they left, Katzen said.
“That’s just so sweet and affirming that you know, it’s working in a good way,” Katzen said. “Providing something that people enjoy and not bothering them too much with my individuality.”
Katzen said he recently had a nice interaction with the SIU marching band while they were practicing.
“I was coming off the lake and the marching band had been practicing on campus at the stadium,” Katzen said. “I’m going back home. We cross paths. I start jamming on the horn. They light up, they started blowing their horns back.”
Katzen said he enjoys the interactions that playing the shofar gives him and it’s a way to get people to come to interact with him.
“It’s really nice to see students have that experience of me and then engage with me that way,” Katzen said. “I’m an old guy who does intellectual stuff that doesn’t make much money. So getting some social engagements this way with people is very rewarding.”
Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.
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