Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Tonight I'll be introducing the Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals. I first learned it back in my synagogue youth group, but have rarely sung it since. So...out to the internet to find a video of someone singing it to remind me of the melody. I'd hoped to find a video of some group singing with a lot spirit. Unfortunately, all of the videos I found either had terrible sound quality or were broken up into a bunch of fragments.
This video, while lacking a bit in ruach, did the trick. The video was put together by Conservative Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg who has a whole series of similar videos. I have a copy of B'Kol Echad, the bencher that Rabbi Ginsburg, is holding in the video and highly recommend it. You can get a copy through the Project Z'mirot folks at USY.
Wish me luck!
* By the way, I wanted to give yet another plug for the wonderful Oy Baby series of DVD's and CD's. My little ones were first exposed to Eli, Eli on Oy Baby 2. When I introduced it as a Shabbat Z'mirot they were delighted. My 5 year old almost has the Hebrew down cold.
I Gotta' Love You Rosh Hashanah
This video was released last year so some of have probably seen it already but some how I missed it. I actually ran across it looking for some Rosh Hashanah themed songs for a Rosh Hashanah party I'm going to on Sunday. My primary contribution to the party will be home made candy apples. I'm all for the traditional apples and honey, but ever since I was a kid fall meant country fairs and country fairs meant candy apples. As an adult, the Days of Awe have a lot more meaning, but candy apples still capture the season. They're also a lot of fun to make. This year I hope to only give myself one serious burn. That'd be nice.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The first song I want to show is "Justice Denied" by Dovid Kerner. Kerner is an American Jew who plays a Bob Dylanesque folk-rock guitar. Kerner really hits his stride when stridently mixing details of topical issues and Biblical images. Here's a section of lyrics from "Justice Denied" that picks up Pollard's public justification in terms of ancient enmities. The image is possibly a bit overstated, but clearly shows how Kerner and many Jews view Pollards incarceration.
Well, the Gulf War came and soon the bombs would rain, but you know we were preparedDovid Kerner's 'Justice Denied'
As in days before, spreading blood by the door, awaiting the wonders that we all would share
We knew what to expect, we had a peak in the deck, because the deed was done
If it was Esav's hand it was Yakov taking his stand
You know there's nothing new under the sun.
Justice Denied is not merely descriptive. Kerner starts with the rallying cry of "Jonathan Pollard sits in a cell, and what are we doing about it?" and concludes with "So sharpen those pencils, crank up your phones and plug in those fax machines. We can't be only for ourselves, our brother's crying for help." This is the full treatment from a singer passionate about Pollards defense.
Just a quick side note, Kerner's album "Bond of Love" is worth a listen if you groove on the late 60's Dylan sound. To my taste it leans a bit heavy in that direction and the album has a few real duds on it. That said, though, the album has some fine moments, Justice Denied being only one of them. I'm particularly fond of Kerner's narrative songs including Pillar of Fire, Justice Denied, Thirteen Jews, and Ballad of Ruth & Naomi. Definitely worth a listen. You can learn more about Kerner and hear each of the songs at his website, KernerSongs.com.
The second song is "Lonely Prisoner" by Yair Gordon, a Jew from South Africa. While Gordon has the same political outlook that Kerner has, he uses a different lyrical approach. Instead of the strident call to action, Gordon gently conjures sympathetic images of Pollard in jail.
Sand runs through your fingers, days run through the bars,
And you sit... and you wait.
Has your hope turned bitter, lost faith in those you saved?
Still, you sit... and you wait"
Yair Gordon's 'Lonely Prisoner'
Gordon also includes a line of Hebrew that I take for granted comes from a Biblical source or Talmudic source. Even for folks like me who don't understand the Hebrew, the use of the Hebrew phrase serves to remind us that Pollard is also a Jew and should be treated like a brother. While Kerner is direct and Gordon is evocative, both have the same goal. They use Jewish images and motifs to move and motivate the listener. You can find out more about Gordon, read the full lyrics of "Lonely Prisoner" and hear his other song "Captured Brothers" at his website.
UPDATE: I just got the following note from Hasidic Musician of the Blog in Dm...
"The Hebrew in Yair Gordon's song is the first half verse of Isaiah 35:10. The King James translation is " and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs..." (I would probably translate the last word of the phrase as joyous celebration rather then "songs").
UPDATE II: I just had a nice email exchange with Yair Gordon who wanted everyone to know that while he used to live in South Africa, he made Aliyah and is now happily in Israel. He also asked me why, if I'm a Jew, do I live in a Christian farm town. I wish I had a better answer than "because I do." But that's about it. The nearest city, Ann Arbor, has a small but vibrant community but for a variety of reasons my wife and I chose not to live there. Maybe someday we'll move to an area with vibrant Jewish life. We'd like that. But we're not there yet.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
As he says "The Lowest of the Low is my anthropological musings on the role of the klezmer and their perhaps misunderstood "status" and the second is an illustration of the Jewish Deborah/Bee Goddesses, a possibly ecstatic group of women who played drums and were related to a bee cult that stretched from Egypt to Greece to India in the olden days."
Underlying Lowest of the Low is a wonderful sense of the Klezmer as both marginal outsider (barely tolerated for living according to other rules) and critical insider (provides spiritual and secular functions not available otherwise). Jewish Deborah/Bee Goddesses picks up a similar theme, but is even more esoteric. It contemplates mystic, ecstatic, musical, religious traditions connected to, in this case, bees. According to Phil, this tradition was widespread across the Mediterranean and Asia Minor and may have included the Israelites via the prophetess Deborah (who's name, in Hebrew, is Bee).
Now, whether or not his art connects for you the way it does for me and whether or not you buy the connections he makes, this is important stuff to think about. We tell ourselves simple stories of the past that make the present seem inevitable and benign. It's neither. History is filled with traditions, ideas, and people who were excised from what would become the dominant story. But that doesn't mean they weren't there and that they didn't have an influence. Is it a stretch to look at klezmorim as remnants of a shamanistic mystical musical tradition that stretches back in time to Deborah (and further back to Miriam)? Probably. But the tension between Rabbinic Judaism and mystic, spiritual, strains of Judaism goes back at least that far. So why not?
Anyway, Phil and the Philedephia Museum of Jewish Art are selling prints of these and other of his paintings. Channukah's coming up.... Checkout Phil's website or write to him at phil at philblank dot net. Tell him I sent you.
Monday, September 22, 2008
UPDATE: I exchanged some email with Phil Blank, artist and accordion player, about the collective. Here's his explanation.
"Nice to hear from you. I had seen your blog before and dig it. "mix of skill levels"- ha! yes I guess that's one way to say it. As the accordion player I probably represent one extreme of those levels but hey, I'm having fun.Hat tip to YouTube user Accordiannutz for posting this video and a stack of others.
The WNKC is a group of folks who just get together occasionally and play off of a core repetoire of trad klezmer. We all live near Carrboro NC. My idea was that instead of band, we would be a loose affiliation of folks who could come and go as they please. I thought this might be an interesting way of building a community- slightly different than the sort you get in a traditional "band" situation. So far so good. Yup, it was a practice, right after we all had some tasty pickled eggplant, mushroom flatbreads, fried cheese thingies and some other tasty stuff I can't
Svigals is a mainstay of the contemporary klezmer scene. She was one of the founding members of the Klezmatics and "All Woman Yiddish Song" group "Mikveh," as well as an amazing solo career. You can find more info her adventures and recordings at her website, AliciaSvigals.com. I hadn't been to her site in a while and was struck by this quote. Partially, because of it's such a capsule summary of the Klezmer revolution and partially because it reminds me of how little I know about Workman's Circle and the Yiddish Socialist movement. Another area I'll need to explore further.
"When I was little I divided my afterschool time between Bach violin concertos and weekly classes at the local Workmen’s Circle school, where we were taught, somewhat eccentrically, Yiddish and socialism, while the rest of the Jewish world was studying Hebrew and preparing for their bar/bas mitzvahs. I couldn’t have imagined then, a presumed future doctor of some sort, that eventually those elements would coalesce into a career that would take me around the world, and that I’d get to witness and even assist at the miraculous rebirth of Yiddish culture in our day. And that some pretty weird things would happen along the way.
At the Workmen’s Circle we were taught Yiddish folksongs, chestnuts which our teachers hoped would help innoculate us against assimilation. One day as a teenager though, I heard something that compelled and excited the musician in me: clarinetist Andy Statman bringing the old Jewish instrumental music now called klezmer back into the light of day. The complexity, beauty, mystery and power of the music gripped me. When I graduated college in 1985 I answered an ad placed by a musician looking to form a klezmer group; we soon became the Klezmatics. As I struggled to decipher how the musicians on the old 78s made those mysterious sounds – like a cantor singing, like Yiddish without words, sounds that sounded so Jewish – our career started unexpectedly taking off.
Looking back I can see that although Yiddish culture seemed sparse around the world at the time, and some thought my career choice a little flaky, the world was in fact pregnant with Yiddish culture, still hidden but ripe and ready to emerge again everywhere we turned, among Jews and non-Jews too."
Hat tip to YouTube user Fiddleboi for posting the video.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Time for my get in Shabbat groove video. This week it's hard to focus on Shabbat because Rosh Hashanna is getting so near, so I'm going with an early get in the "Rosh Hashana" groove video.
Here's Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Felt's Ki Karov Eilecha performed by Feinstein-Feit with Tamuz Shiran, Tali Weinberg, Basya Schechter and Jessie Reagen at Mima'amkim's "By the Reverb of Babylon" at the Bowery Poetry Club. Sigh. I wish I lived in New York and could attend these things in person. Someday.
According to Shir Yaakov, "The first four words of the chorus of this song — את–לבבך ואת–לבב — are an acronym for Elul, (אלול) the month that we use to prepare for the Days of Awe. This seems to imply that carrying love in our mouths and hearts is a matter of great nearness, simplicity, and utmost importance." He's provided the full lyrics in Hebrew, English transliteration, and English translation. You can also download a free studio version of this song courtesy of Shir Yaakov and Last.FM.
You can scoop up Shir Yaakov's new EP "Shir" over at CD Baby, get more info on him and listen to lots more of his music at his website,Eights.org and catch some more of his Bowery performance on YouTube here and here.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
So what, exactly, is a Tekhias Hameysim Tants? As described by Yiddish dance leader Jill Gellerman (in her KlezKamp 2007 dance class notes)...
"Symbolic of death and rebirth, the dance is traditionally done by men or boys after the ceremony when the status of the wedding couple has changed from single to married. The Tkhies hameysim tants or Death and Resurrection Dance, which I have witnessed at American Hasidic weddings in Brooklyn since 1975, is a freely choreographed pantomime for two men in three parts, accompanied by a medley of three separate melodies. Part I, a broyges tants, begins with two male friends sharing a bottle of whiskey in the center of a circle. One man tries to take the bottle, a fight ensues, and his friend lands on the floor as if dead. Part II, the revival of the dead man, is a slow doina section in which the Hasid, realizing what he has done, bends over his friend in order to resuscitate him. Using all manner of gestures with his handkerchief to bring him back to life again, the Hasid finally succeeds in awakening his partner, lifting him to his feet, and presenting him with the bottle. Part III, the final section is a freylekh of friendship and simcha. ... That the tkhies hameysim tants might have been transformed from the co-territorial non-Jewish population is suggested by comments from dance scholar Elsie Dunin, who saw this dance performed among the gypsies in Eastern Europe."See the cool things you miss if you don't get invited to Chassidic weddings? I was proud of myself for getting a hora going and for hoisting my cousin up in a chair at her wedding last week. Not for a minute did I consider involving chicken bones in the process. Major oversight on my part. One note before you watch this, from what I've been told this video is representative of the dance but not nearly the height of musicianship and choreography that some weddings achieve. All I can say to that is, you should me and my cousins dance at weddings. These guys do fine.
If you're interested in obtaining an audio recording of Tekhais Hameysim, I'm aware of two sources. First is the Smithsonian Folkways recording "FW04209 Hassidic Tunes of Dancing and Rejoicing" and second is the Sameach Music recording "Piamenta 1990" (by the Sephardic group Piamenta).
One last note, clearly the idea of a Dance of Death and Resurrection raises an obvious question...do Jews believe in immediate resurrection as represented in the dance? The answer is, "sort of" and "it depends on who you ask." The Judaism 101 website has a nice overview of the various Jewish beliefs about death and the afterlife. As it notes "Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism." It also notes that "Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion." Mystical groups, particularly among the Chassidim, "believe resurrection is not a one-time event, but is an ongoing process." For some example stories from the Chassidic tradition, see the website for the book "Jewish Tales of Reincarnation." So, my (non-mystical) Conservative movement Jewish beliefs don't include this kind of immidate resurrection but Chassidim does.
Hat tip to the anonymous YouTube user who posted the video and to Jill Gellerman for letting me quote her KlezKamp notes. Another good reason to go to KlezKamp! Thanks.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
"I am writing to you from Ancona, on the Adriatic sea below Venice. Ancona was once an important Jewish center and, sadly, like so many European cities and towns, now has a very small Jewish population. But we do have some interesting cultural activities and one of them is the International Adriatic - Mediterranean Festival which begins on August 30 the (the inauguration was yesterday!) and ends on (and includes) the European Day of Jewish culture, the 7th of September. It is a festival of theatre, cinema, music, poetry and art.A quick Google check supports what Lisa said. Ancona has supported a couple of klezmer festivals recently as well as the events in her email. That's a wonderful thing. It's really exciting to see the Jewish communities in Europe starting to blossom again. I was in Florence, Italy, earlier this year and was delighted by all of the Jewish music I found happening over there. Check out my previous posts "Cantor Yosef Gottesman, Opera in the Synagogue!," "Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco," "Singing Dew: The Florence-Leghorn Jewish Musical Tradition," and "Enrico Fink - Italian Klezmer and Theater Music."
I am a pianist and singer and co-founder of the NewVoice Studio ITALIA. If you would like to look at our website, it is here: www.newvoicestudioitalia.com
I have been dedicated, for several years, to researching, restoring and sometimes re-arranging the music of composers who were persecuted during the 1930s and 1940s, and who were active in the Jewish ghettos. I have performed several concerts of music written by composers deported to concentration and extermination camps under Nazi fascism. I am planning a concert for next January, for Holocaust Memorial Day.
This year the theme of the Day of Jewish culture is "Music and Words," so, in addition to the usual opening up of all of the Jewish museums and Synagogues (with free guided tours for many people who have never been to a synagogue...), we are offering several musical events. The one that i am performing is combined with the presentation of a book ("words"!) entitled "Ricomporre l'Infranto". translated as "Reassembling the broken pieces".
Ancona is fast becoming an important city for Jewish music."
These posts were written over a couple of days in Florence. If I'd had more time I could have spent a couple of weeks covering Jewish music across Italy. Hmm. Considering the variety and quality of what I found, maybe I should....
Saturday, September 13, 2008
My self-assigned penance was to learn more about SHJ community and, of course, check out their music. I was quite surprised to learn that SHJ originated quite recently here on the North Coast (aka Michigan). Rabbi Sherwin Wine developed SHJ based on the following principles (quoted from Wikipedia):
- A Jew is someone who identifies with the history, culture and future of the Jewish people;
- Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people, and religion is only one part of that culture;
- People possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority;
- Ethics and morality should serve human needs, and choices should be based upon consideration of the consequences of actions rather than pre-ordained rules or commandments; and,
- Jewish history, like all history, is a purely human and natural phenomenon. Biblical and other traditional texts are the products of human activity and are best understood through archaeology and other scientific analysis.
I'm still not exactly clear why someone who held these views would want a Rabbi or what the role of that Rabbi would be, but at least I've got a better idea what the basis for the belief system is. I find it an interesting system. As I've mentioned before, I've always struggled with belief in God. There are times I lean toward believing and times I don't. I've reconciled it for myself to consider myself a believer and not let my days of doubt trouble me. I summed it up to some folks at a synagogue retreat a couple years ago by saying "My lack of faith isn't God's problem, it's mine." The SHJ stance, if I understand it properly, is more like "because I lack faith I will redefine my religion as one that not only doesn't require it but doesn't allow for it." To me such a statement is as much an act of will or belief as internalizing a genuine belief in God, an act of will I'm not capable of making (in either direction).
As for music, there doesn't seem to be a lot of activity. The websites for the Society and the International Federation both point to a single CD, Abe and Mickie Mandel's "One Chorus, One Family." The Mandels "performed, wrote, recorded and taught music together as a team since they were "flower Children" in the late 60's" and "probably best-known for the popular 'Music-Mates" preschool program they created and taught for 15 years at The Lucy Moses School of the Kaufman Cultural Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan."
I haven't been able to find any online samples of One Chorus, but the Society for Humanistic Judaism does provide a track list. It has a heavy emphasis on Israeli & Yiddish folksongs, such as Rozjenkes Mit Mandlen & Tsena Tsena, and American Jewish musical theater pieces, such as Sunrise, Sunset and Bistu Shayn. The recording only has a few pieces that would seem liturgical. These include Ayfo Oree? by SHJ Rabbi Sherman Wine and a Wedding Medley comprised mostly of Leonard Bernstein pieces. This assemblage seems very much in line with Judaism as culture bent of SHJ in that leaves out any real piyyut (hymns) that refer to God, which means most everything out of the traditional Siddur and Machsor.
My big question is how is this music used? I have no idea what rituals or practices comprise SHJ so it's not clear if this disc intended for casual listening, clergy training, or simcha performance. I'll have to do some more home work as I'm able. If any SHJ folks read this and want to set me straight, please drop me a line.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Here's my weekly pre-Shabbat 'get in the mood' video. This week I don't know much about the recording other that the musician's name is Adi and that it's that the lyrics are from
Here is a rough transliteration offered by the poster of the video.
P'tach libi betoratecha, v'acharei
mitzvotecha tirdof nafshi.
Ve'chol hakamim alai r'ah
meheira hafeir atzatam, vekalkel
Asei lema'an Shmach
Asei lema'an yeminach
Asei lema'an toratach
Asei lema'an kedushatach
yedidecha. Hoshiah yeminecha
yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi v'hegyon
libi lefanecha ANONAI tzuri
Update: I got a nice note from Adam (aka YouTube user FeivelJay770) correcting my lyrics source and pointing me to two other cool videos.
"Hi Jack, I'm go glad you shared the video on your blog. Many thanks. Spread the light. Here's the other video I recorded of Adi singing his niggun to this prayer at a Lag Bomer bonfire our friends made this year:Hat tip to YouTube user FeivelJay770 for posting the video.
One thing- none of the lyrics are from Psalm 63. The prayer is from Elokai Netzor, recited at the conclusion of the Shemonei-Esrei/Amidah prayer though the last verse is indeed from Psalm 19, as you mentioned. However, Psalm 63 is indeed one of my favorite psalms and here is a video of me singing two verses from it:
Be blessed, have a happy and healthy new year,
Here's the official description....
"From Reckless DC Music, this is the title track from the album "Yizkor: Music of Memory" by David Chevan with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi and the Afro-Semitic Experience. Recorded at New Haven's Firehouse 12 studio, this special ensemble has created a soulful blend of Spiritual Jazz and Jewish cantorial music. Specifically, the melodies are based on the singing style of Hazzanut, an almost forgotten cantorial style. Chevan sets ancient prayers against world rhythms and modern melodies, all to honor those who have come before us. It has been a joy and a privilege for me to help share their efforts. Special thanks to the Gibbs College (Norwalk, CT) Digital Video Program for the support. For more info, please see www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c345_a 13167/The_Arts/Music.html"For more information, you can see Chevan's Yiskor Project MySpace page. The disc is available through your favorite online or offline music store. including Amazon and PayPlay.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I caught the Red Sea Pedestrians in concert and picked up their album "A Lesson in Cartography". During the intro to the Pedestrian's great song "One Mile Wide," band leader Ian Gorman taught us a great bit of local Detroit Jewish history. "One Mile Wide" is about the notorius Purple Gang, a group of particularly vicious, mostly Jewish, gangsters that were bootleggers during Prohibition. According to Wikipedia..
"The Purple Gang was a mob of bootleggers and hijackers in the 1920s. Under the leadership of Abe Bernstein, the gang operated out of Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, which was a major port for running cached alcohol products across during Prohibition, since it is on the border with Canada. The gang supposedly received their name during a conversation between two Detroit market owners, each of them gang victims. One owner made the comment: "They're rotten, purple like the color of bad meat."
The Purple Gang has shown up in pop culture prior to the Pedestrians song (which can be heard on their MySpace page). In fact, it shows up in a highly unlikely place...Elvis. Specifically the song "Jailhouse Rock," in which Elvis describes his band saying "the whole rhythm section is the Purple Gang."
So in honor of the Purple Gang, here's Jail House Rock. I've substituted the classic Blues Brothers performance instead of Elvis's performance because, well, I enjoy it more. If you want to see the King himself, check out this YouTube video.
Blues Brothers - Jail House Rock
You can read more about the Purple Gang at My Jewish Learning.com.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I thought I knew how this review was going to go. The album cover is labeled for women only and so I've had it sitting on my desk for a couple of months waiting for me to write about Kol Isha. I expected to make some nice comments about the singer, note the irony of the male music producer sending the disc to me for a review, and then write more on the women's only music scene. But something else happened. I listened to it and heard it.
Back when I was in college the first Tori Amos album came out. I remember being in the puppet lab at about 1 in the morning working on puppets for an upcoming show when one of the puppeteers came in. She waked over to the shared boom-box, turned off what ever was on and put the disc in. She told us to listen. We did. We've never been quite the same since. There was something about that album that was deep and scary and beautiful and true. The album got passed from hand to hand for weeks until we all new every word and the melodies were tattooed on our lives.
Rivkah Krinsky's "In Your Hands" is like that, though not scary, not shattered like the Amos album. Instead there is a vibrant joy here. But it is a knowing joy, one that feels and transcends pain. In his book "Inner Rhythms: The Kabbalah of Music" DovBer Pinson writes "When a person contemplates how far [s]he is from the truth, and how separate, alone and alienated [s]he is in this world, and from God, [s]he becomes frightened, bitter, and down on [her]self. This experience is called Marirrut....When someone is bitter about [her] situation, and examines [her]spiritual life, [s]he realizes that [s]he has distanced [her]self from the path ... [s]he is overwhelmed with a longing for Godliness and holiness." Krinsky's lyrics are filled with this kind of longing, and it resonates for me more than anything I've heard in a while.
In particular the song Jewish Girl speak volumes to me. It's the story of an identity crisis in a girl who longs for something but isn't sure what. That what turns out to be her Jewish identify restored to her through the help of holy rebbe. A story like that could easily have been insipid and cloying, but it wasn't. Instead I've listened to it over and over again. Something about her phrasing is both universal and so specific that it shook me. The chorus, which could have trite instead was fiercely proud. "Your heart it knows it's true, you have a speck of God in you"
I empathize so much with the girls uncertainty and longing it that hurts to listen to it. But I haven't had any happy ending yet. I'm just as alienated and confused as ever. Not fully committed, not part of a real Jewish community, not truly believing, but not giving up either. I don't think that giving myself over to a kindly rebbe is the answer for me, like it is for the girl, but who knows. I do know that listening to the song has me motivated to grab my tallis and teffilin off the shelf and get back to the Chabad house for morning prayers. I haven't been in over a year. And maybe this time I'll take up the rabbi's offer to come over to his house for a Shabbat meal.
By the way, I realize I haven't talked at all about what the album sounds like. Which is strange because that's where I usually start with music and Rivkah's music is well worth writing about. She has a sound that is reminiscent of Sara McLaughlin and Sinead O'Conner, a sound that is at the same time lush and understated, melodic and edgy. But here, listen for yourself....
Rivkah Krinsky Sampler
This sample is courtesy of her publisher, Sameach Records and the Sameach Music Podcast. You can buy the album at their Jewish Jukebox website. You can find out more about Rivkah at her website and MySpace page.
One last comment on the "women only" nature of this album. I hope if Rivkah reads this review she's not too upset that I (a Jewish guy) has listened to it. I promise to save it for my daughters when they're old enough. They'll love it and, I think, need it.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Back to L's wedding. L's a pretty secular Jew and married a fine fellow, T, who is as goy as they come. The wedding was a simple, hip affair, hosted in an art school gallery, with a secular humanist rabbi (why do secular humanists need rabbis?), catered lamb and brownies (yum!), a do-it-yourself DJ dance party, and one big splurge....they hired Boston's Klezwoods to play a chamber style klezmer set during the pre-and immediately post wedding cocktail hour(s).
Klezwoods did a great job providing a cocktail soundscape. It's hard to give them a proper review, since I was doing some heavy mingling and mojito drinking at the time. My recollection is that they have a nice warm, woody sound, mixing clarinet, accordion, upright bass, and violin. Their set mixed together some standard klezmer repertoire, a few out of the Yiddish folk tunes and a number of jazzier pieces that I didn't recognize. They even ended with a rollicking tune (Der Gassn Niggun?) that suggested that they could have done a dance set or stage set if they'd been asked. As it was, they provided the perfect backdrop and context setting for the wedding. You can find out more about them at the Klezwoods MySpace Page.
I think I've mentioned before that my wife and I went to a lot of trouble to have as traditional a Jewish wedding as we could. It was a wonderful experience for us and our guests. Since then, I've gotten asked to help out a couple of other family members inject a little Jewiness into otherwise secular, American, weddings. L's wedding, much to my surprise, ended up being another. I say much to my surprise in that I had no involvement in the wedding planning until about 10 minutes before the reception dinner started. Word got to me during the post-wedding photo shoot that T, L's new husband wanted to talk to me. It turned out that he and L were hoping that I could arrange a short-notice hora and chair-lift during the dancing.
Now, a dance leader I'm not, but as you know from reading this blog, I'm not shy about being ignorant in public. So, I corralled my brothers, a cousin, and some of the groom's men and gave them a crash course in how to hoist wooden chairs (no folding chairs, tip the chairs back a bit). The groom's man in charge of DJ'ing had one iTunes Hava Nagilia and a repeat button to work with. I couldn't remember the details of the hora dance step and would just have to wing it.
As it turned out, it was a magic moment. When Hava Nagilia started up, I grabbed a couple guests and got them moving in a circle. Once they were vaguely circling, I cued the guys to hoist the couple. Once the chairs were airborne, the crowd surged and circled on their own. We looked a bit more like a mosh-pit than a Yiddish dance, but hey, we had a lot of enthusiasm and a clockwise orbit. The look of exhilaration and love in L and T's faces as they were bobbed up and down holding onto each other via a cloth napkin said we did well enough.
After it was over, one of T's friends came up to me and told me that between the crash and cheering of the breaking of the glass and the swirling of the pseudo-hora, this was the first wedding he'd been to where he was actually personally excited and involved. It meant enough to him that he sought me out to tell me about it. The DIY DJ had a similar reaction. I'm mentioning this specifically because I've talked to a number Jewish relatives and friends who are afraid to include traditional Jewish elements in their weddings because their non-Jewish guests (and even many of the Jewish guests) may not be familiar with them and may feel uncomfortable or alienated. It just doesn't happen liked that. There's some pretty deep magic in a Jewish wedding done right and people of all types respond to it.
So if you know of anyone who is thinking of adding some extra magic to their wedding and needs an Impromptu Jewish Wedding Consultant, drop me a line. I can recommend some good references and suggest some specific elements that are easy to accomplish and meaningful for all in attendance.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
This week's video is the group Voices of Eden performing a lovely version of Eli Eli. Written in Israel in 1942 by Hannah Senesh with music by David Zehavi, Eli Eli is a powerhouse of a song that has become a classic Shabbat Z'mirot. The song is both a powerhouse because of it's beautiful lyrics (see below) and Senesh's story. Not long after composing Eli Eli Senesh volunteered to parachute into Yugoslovia to help Jews escape to Israel. She was caught and executed by the Germans in Hungary in 1944. Despite being written at the height of the Holocaust, the song reflects a deep faith in our the intimate connection with God and a wonderful lyric sensitivity.
Voices of Eden is an ensemble lead by Eliana Gilad, who "is an internationally recognized expert in the conscious use of voice and rhythm as a natural healer, as they were used in ancient times." I'm not exactly sure what that means, other than that it involves "[h]ealing chants, medically proven to induce relaxation and focus, that connect us to our Source." If this sounds interesting, please check out her website. Gilad notes that in this video she "sings into the worlds oldest frame drum, dated 5600 B.C. in the mystical city of Safed." I'm also not sure that that means. Ancient style of drum? I don't see anything on the website clarifying it. But it is a lovely sound.
I'm big fan of Eli, Eli and thought I'd share the lyrics. While there are lots of great versions of it floating around I'm particularly partial to the one performed by Stephanie Schneiderman on Oy Baby. (sample).
Shelo yigameir l'olam,
rishrush shel hamayim,
O Lord, my God, I pray that these things shall never end.
The sand and the sea,
the rush of the waters,
the crash of the heavens,
the prayer of man.
sources: The Jewish Agency for Israel, Project Z'mirot and HebrewSongs
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The band is the post-rock group Mogwai, from Scotland. Post-rock is a form of art-rock that emerged from the indie and post-punk scene's of the 70's, 80's and 90's (e.g. Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth but also Pink Floyd and Can.) Like other post-rock groups, Mogwai is mostly instrumental music, alternating between quiet lyrical passages and growling, furious guitars and drums. Their Avinu Malkenu is raises up a maelstrom and then resolves it, letting the simple melody break through. I find it strangely moving.
Mogwai at the Royal Albert Hall
By the way, this is the second post-rock band I've features in Teruah, though I didn't know the term the first time. The first was The Silver Mt. Zion, who's song "God Bless Our Dead Marines" still is one of my favorite Teruah discoveries. This is also the second time I've featured unexpected versions of Avinu Malkenu. The first was by the jam band Phish, another group known for long musical explorations.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
When I started writing this blog I had a grand idea. I'd be a musical schadchen, though I didn't even know the term yet (it means matchmaker). I'd break down barriers between Jewish music genres and movements. And I'd learn a lot in the process. One thing I learned is that some barriers are harder to tear down than others. One of the big ones is Kol Isha.
Kol Isha is a Orthodox rabbinic decree that men should not hear a woman sing, unless that woman is his wife or a child. As Rabbi Howard Jachter explains, quoting Rashi "a woman’s voice is attractive to a man, and is thus prohibited to him." That means that every time I post a recording of a woman singing, I'm violating Kol Isha and am encouraging frum (Orthodox) Jewish men to do the same.
The controversy around Kol Isha runs deep. First, it is a point of contention between liberal and traditional Jewish movements. To the liberal movements, who cherish their female rabbi's, cantor's, songleaders, and fellow congregants, the implication of Kol Isha is that women have no place in religious life and no role in society other than as a sexual temptation to men. To the traditional movements, as noted in the Rashi quote, Kol Isha is an important element of female modesty and propriety, one of the many shields that a frum woman builds around herself, her family and her Torah.
Even within the traditional movements, Kol Isha is controversial. As Rabbi Jachter notes, "Rav Hai Gaon (cited in the Mordechai Berachot 80) writes that this restriction applies to a man who is reading Kriat Shema, because a woman’s singing will distract him." So which is it, is any female singing a problem, or just singing at specific times? Is it only a problem if the singing is live (since you can't see a woman who's singing on the radio)? What if the woman's voice is part of a mixed group, where you can't single out any specific woman? Each of these issues gets debated by the Rabbis and the Orthodox community.
But it's more than abstract issues. Kol Isha has a lot of impact on women's lives and on the development of Jewish music. The quote above, about feeling muzzled, comes directly out of the frum community. The young woman, writing to a frum Jewish Music mailing list, was not for a moment questioning Kol Isha. She was complaining that, because she couldn't sing for men and because the Jewish "Woman Only" music market was so much smaller than the male market, she wasn't able to get a publisher to give her a contract. That's one small example of many I've run across.
Kol Isha has had some interesting side effects*, the existence of a "women only" music scene is one of them. The "women only" genre of frum music is significantly smaller than the male scene, but has it's own stars, concerts, a blog, and a radio show. I've seen a number of emails by non-frum female Jewish musicians who play both "women only" and mixed concerts commenting on how much they prefer the warmth and energy of the "women only" shows. (A sentiment that reminds me a lot of the masculine energy of punk shows). Of course, I've seen an equivalent number of complaints by female Jewish musicians who can't begin to make a living with their music because of the strict limits on their performances. Frum men can play mixed events like weddings. Frum women can't.
In case Teruah readers haven't noticed, I'm the kind of Conservative Jew that sometimes gets called "Conserva-dox," meaning that I spend a lot of my time fretting about my mediocre observance and thinking that I should become more Orthodox in practice. But this is one place I hit a brick wall. I respect the choices made by the Orthodox community and the reasons for those choices (love of Hashem and Torah, and a good faith effort to live by them), but disagree with the interpretation, the need for such strict adherence, and the burden placed on females who deserve a larger role than they are given.
But mostly, as a writer, I'm fascinated to find this unexpected wall between liberal and traditional Jews. It makes me wonder if I should specifically label recordings with women vocalists as I've seen in a couple of other places. (I won't.) It makes me wonder if I (a man) should avoid featuring (and listening to) frum women vocalists. (I won't). It makes me wonder if even bringing up this topic is likely to get me in trouble with both the liberal and Orthodox communities. (Probably). Oh well, I haven't been ignorant in public in a couple weeks. I'd hate to get too out of practice.
UPDATE: The author "Kol Isha" on the Jewish Music Report has written a nice article on Kol Isha from an Orthodox woman's perspective.
* I'm going out on a limb here, but I think that two other effects of Kol Isha are the recent rage in the Orthodox circles for boy sopranos singing with adult men (which echo's the Elizabethan English use of boys to play woman's roles) and the Sephardic love song (which emerged in an environment where the Rabbi's didn't hear the songs and therefore didn't ban them).
Monday, September 1, 2008
It's interesting that the WeJew video comments note that "this song ("Shir HaMaalot" from Tehillim) is a virtual religious national anthem for the orange youth of Israel." The term "orange youth" refers to Israeli's who protested the 2005 Unilateral Disengagement Plan to remove all Israeli citizens from the Gaza strip and a number of surrounding settlements. The lyrics of Shir LaMa'alot are drawn from Psalm 121, A Song of Ascents, and contain the phrase..
I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come?Do not suffer thy foot to be moved from Gaza. Got it. A nice example of a political use of Jewish music and texts. But it's a good song regardless of your political leanings.
My help cometh from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber. (emphasis added)
Yosef Karduner's Shir LaMa'alot
Update: Once again BlogInDm sets me straight. Yosef Karduner has a songbook, which includes Shir LaMa'alot, for sale at JewishJukebox.com.