Friday, December 11, 2009

Chanukah music: A response to Jeffery Goldberg & Senator Orin Hatch

Chanukah Sameach everyone,

It's that time of year again. Insert your favorite stereotype here .......................... Now sigh loudly. For me this time of year is all about explaining to people far and near that there really, actually, honestly, (no kidding) is good Chanukah music. More than just Dreidel. Really. I do it so often I was thinking writing an open letter to somebody about it, but then the whole Jeffery Goldberg / Sen. Orrin Hatch thing blew up.

In case you missed it, here's the quick version. It turns out that Senator Hatch is a songwriter. He's written a lot of songs. Including Christmas songs. And now a Chanukah song. Because he loves the Jews. Then Jeffery Goldberg, of the Atlantic, sucked up to interviewed him. Because there's no good Chanukah music. And Hatch's song was "heartfelt."

Whew. Got that? Read Goldberg's post if you want. Or check out the video of the song. I won't repost it here.

So back to the open letter. I was itching to write a letter, had the perfect opportunity, but gotten beaten to the punch. Here's Cantor Marsha Fensin response, which she's graciously allowed me to reprint here. All I can add is, "Yeah, what she said."

Dear Jeffrey,

I read with interest your story in the Atlantic Magazine about Orrin Hatch and his Chanukah song, which, of course, is making its way around the internet. Each year around Chanukah I listen to much uninformed, dismissive banter from radio talk show hosts ( and now magazine columnists) about Chanukah music. I take great exception to your comments and attitude that there isn’t much Chanukah music and what there is seems awfully boring and certainly nothing you can rock to. You can make the same comments about Christmas music—some of it is great, some of it is silly, some of it you can rock to, some of it you cannot.

As far as the religion of composers who write Chanukah, or Christmas music for that matter, your comments show a real lack of knowledge of what is out there and who is writing it. Yes, many Jews have composed some of the greatest Christmas music over the ages. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been Jews who have composed some of the greatest Chanukah music.

I am sending you a sampling of some of what is available out there, and believe me, there is tons and tons. I invite you share all this music--some beautiful, some banal, some adult, some children's, some lyrical, some that really rocks. --with your reading audience. If I had the money I would have sent you a dozen or so actual CDs; however, in my sampling I do have some web sites with large enough snippets to play for your listening enjoyment. You may even be intrigued enough to get a few of the Cds I have recommended. I wish you and yours a Happy Chanukah, a Merry Christmas, a joyous Kwanzaa, and every other holiday that adds light to our hearts at this dark time of the year,


Cantor Marsha Fensin

I have included two pages of links to individual artists, collections, web sites, etc.

I take that back. I'll add one thing. Mr. Goldberg, Senator Hatch's song was TERRIBLE, no matter how heartfelt it was. Add it to the small list of "sparse and uninspiring" Chanukah songs that you know.


Mottel said...

I'm somewhat suspect that Chanukah music being produced these days is much better then Hatch's - most modern chanukah music comes of as ether kitschy or folksy.
What every you listen to though - it should be a happy Chanukah!

Anonymous said...

I listened to the Teruah Podcast Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show. It was awesome.

I live in a town with a large Jewish population. Inspite of the demographics, most decorations are designed with Christmas in mind.

I already contacted the mayor's office about the lack of inclusiveness. I will suggest that local businesses play Jewish music next year.

Jack said...

Hey glad you liked the show. I hear you about you holiday issues. It's such a confusing mess to deal with. Do we really want Hanukkah decorations up? Hanukkah isn't that important compared to, say, Passover. On the other hand, this time of year is a great time to remind folks that not all Americans are Christian. On the other hand, I don't want to water Christmas or Hanukkah down to secularized cartoon images. On the other hand....

I'm out of hands.

Anyway, good luck. I'm a big fan of this document Sacred Music in Schools - National Association for Music Education. It doesn't address public decorations, but has good way of thinking about holiday music. I'm sure that some group has put together something similar for public decorations.

Jack said...

Mottel, not to argue the point, but 90% of everything is crap. Chanukah music is no exception. Personally, I don't find "folky" to equate to bad music, but I'm with you on being pretty tired of kitschy. The point is that there is no shortage of world class Chanukah music, what there is a shortage of is (in my opinion) is Jewish community access to a shared media space. Simply put...too many Jews (secular & religious across all stripe) don't know what we've got and therefore assume it doesn't exist. Which means, in practical terms, we don't have what we have.