Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hearing (& Blowing) Shofar

Images of antique shofarsAs you could guess that with a blog called Teruah, I have a soft spot for all things related to shofar blowing. Not that I can do it myself, mind you. So I was delighted to get an email from Michael Chusid, author of the book "Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn" and it's companion website Chusid "blows his shofar in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California where he is ba’al tekiah – shofar master blaster – at Makom Ohr Shalom Synagogue.... [and] has taught shofar at the American Jewish University, Hebrew Union College, and Limmud in Los Angeles, California." The book, which is free for download (donation's accepted), is a 3 volume text ranging from religious discussion of "Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast: The blessings, the calls, and the code" to technical "Secrets of an Awesome Tekiah Gedolah" to anthropological "Iconography and Iconolatry: The visual symbolism of horns in Judaism" and psychological "Sometimes a Shofar is Just a Shofar: Psychological perspectives" explorations. I haven't had a chance to flip the the book yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

In addition to the text of the book, includes links to other Shofar related resources including Cantor Art Finkle's "Shofar Sounder's Reference Manual" and information on how to start a "Shofar Corps." The only thing missing are instructional videos or audio clips, though those can be found easily enough on YouTube.

Girls In Trouble

I was reading over Matthue Roth's "Jewish Music Lyrics: The Best of 2009 over on My Jewish Learning this morning. As to be expected, it's a great list though not quite what I would have put together. Maybe I'll do one of my own. The big surprise was that I had entirely missed one of the artists on Roth's list. I don't mean I didn't blog about it. I mean I had missed the band altogether. And they're fantastic. I'm slipping.

The band that caught me off guard is "Girls in Trouble," a new project by Alicia Jo Rabins of the punk-klezmer band Golem. In addition to loving the theatrical folk-pop music, I'm blown away by the lyrical depth of the project. For the Girls in Trouble oeuvre, Rabins took on nothing less than the neglected and often misunderstood stories of women in the Torah. Particularly ones in crisis. While I haven't heard the whole album through yet (I just downloaded from eMusic), the tracks on the Girls in Trouble myspace page captivating. They put the listener right into the, typically traumatic, experience from the female protagonists point of view. It's a wonderful and insightful strategy. I have a feeling this disk will be in rotation for a while.

The sound quality on the video isn't up to the studio quality tracks you can hear on their MySpace page, but it's a great introduction. Here's Girls in Trouble at their JDub album release party at Public Assembly in Brooklyn 11/11/09.

Girls in Trouble "Mountain"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Melava Malkah - Escorting the Queen in Jerusalem with Song

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

Instead of a 'get in the Shabbat grove' video this week, I've got a great recording to share. I got pointed to it from an article on the Melava Malka meal that I was sent by Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen. With his permission, I'm reposting the entire article below. In addition to being an interesting article, it points to a full 2 hour recording of a kumzitz (post-Shabbat sing-along) led by Rav Shmuel Brazil, of Zeev HaTorah in Jerusalem, and musician Abish Brodt. If you've never participated in a kumzitz (as I haven't) this is a rare treat.

Here's a quick-link to the web-page with the recording...

Here's the explanatory article.
Escorting the Queen in Jerusalem with Song:

Dear Friends,

Our beloved Shabbos is also known as “the Shabbos Queen.” For example, the Talmud states that Rabbi Chaninah would welcome the approaching Shabbos by saying, “Come, let us go and greet the Shabbos Queen” (Shabbos 119a).

When the Shabbos Queen departs on Saturday night, and the weekday begins, we have a special meal which is known as the Melava Malkah – the Escorting of the Queen. This meal, which includes words of Torah, is often accompanied by singing and dancing.

Although Shabbos has departed, we are comforted by the awareness that Shabbos will return to us; moreover, through the Melava Malkah celebration, we bring some of the Shabbos holiness into the week. In this spirit, I have attached a link to a recording of a beautiful musical Melava Malkah with two noted sages of song, Abish Brodt and Rav Shmuel Brazil. This musical Melava Malkah took place at Rav Shmuel’s new yeshiva, Zeev HaTorah, in Jerusalem.

The singing at this Jerusalem Melava Malkah serves as a reminder that the sacred singing of our people is a form of dovening – praying. May these prayerful songs from Jerusalem bring us closer to the day when the following Divine promise will be fulfilled:

“They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:9)

May we be blessed with the light, joy, and shalom of Shabbos.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

1. The following is a link to the recording of the Jerusalem Melava Malkah: (Click on the left arrow.)

2. The following is a translation of the first three songs on the recording:

Song 1: These words are chanted upon awakening in the morning: “I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal Sovereign, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness.”

Song 2: These words are chanted during the weekday morning prayers: “O Guardian of Israel, protect the remnant of Israel; let not Israel be destroyed – those who proclaim, Hear O Israel.”

Song 3: These biblical quotes are chanted during the weekday morning prayers: “For sovereignty belongs to Hashem, and He rules the nations.” (Psalm 22:29)

“Then Hashem will One and His Name will be One!” (Zechariah 14:19)

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen is a Torah educator who lives in Jerusalem, and he teaches Torah through the e-mail study program and website, "Hazon - Our Universal Vision." During the late 1970's and early 80's, he served as the director of the Martin Steinberg Center of the American Jewish Congress - a center for Jewish artists in the performing, visual, and literary arts, where he was known by his English name, Jeff Oboler. During that period, the Martin Steinberg Center had an important role in the revival of Klezmer and Ladino music.

Anyone who wishes to join his mailing list can contact him at:
chazon8 @
Thanks Yosef!

Christmas Time for the Jews

To all my Christian friends, Merry Christmas.

To all my Jewish family and will all be over in a few more hours. At least for another year.

This year's Christmas season has been amusing. The whole "famous Christmas song written by Jew" observation, which gets brought up every year, has turned a bit ugly this year. In addition to the usual slew of articles "The Jews Who Wrote Christmas Songs" (this one sent to me by my buddy Meghan) and twitter tweets ("The famous Christmas song written by a Jewish songwriter that ended the Vietnam War"), some Christians have gotten a bit grumpy. Garrison Keeler was very public in his scorn. He blames Jewish songwriters for a general decline in the religious content in Christmas music. Sigh. I guess we're to blame for the general decline in religious Christianity in the US too, right? Oh, and we conspired to make sure that the zillion and three Christian written Christmas songs turned out crappy. Whew. That took a lot work.

Anyway, we're done for another year. As one last bit of amusement with the whole thing, here's Saturday Night Live's "Christmas Time for the Jews." Cliched as you'd expect, but funny none the less...

End Posthumous Conversion - Another musical response to Senator Hatch

As I mentioned on Tuesday (Conan O'Brian (and Jewschool's) response to Senator Hatch's Chanukah Song) and last week (Chanukah music: A response to Jeffery Goldberg & Senator Orin Hatch), there's been a lot of buzz around Senator Hatch's Chanukah song. While most commentary has been positive or a little bemused, there has been some negative remarks. For example, here's a comment I got on Facebook...

"The Mormons have terrible history of being ant-Semitic. Even in modern times, they have proven themselves to be a group of people that want nothing more than to convert Jews to Mormonism. Twice since WWII, Mormons have been caught trying to convert the Jews that had died at the hands of the Nazis. I so wish this was not true, but the most recent occurrence of this bit of doing happened in and around 1996 or 1997. Sorry Orin Hatch, I do not trust you."

This being a music blog, I was delighted when my friend Binyomin Gizberg, of and the Breslov Bar Band followed up on this thought with a musical response.....
"We covered Senator Hatch's song at our Chanuka concert @ Banjo Jim's. I wrote an additional verse for it. Hey, if Sen. Hatch can write a song telling Jews how to celebrate Hanukkah, then it's fair for me to write a verse telling Mormons to stop posthumously baptizing Jews who died in the Holocaust."

The 3rd verse:

The Macabees fought many years ago
for the right to observe our religion.
Today we fight the Mormon Church
saying: "end posthumous conversion!"

Senator Hatch, tell your church
to do what's just and right.
Let our dead rest in peace!
(and remember why Macabees fight!)"
So there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Conan O'Brian (and Jewschool's) response to Senator Hatch's Chanukah Song

One of the biggest bits of internet buzz this Chanukah season was Senator Orin Hatch's Chanukah song. (See my post from last week.) The buzz hit prime time last week when Conan O'Brian and his The Tonight Show gang played a clip and then sang a song that was supposed to celebrate of Church of Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith's birthday, but mostly, humorously, pointed out how little they knew about Mormons. The song, which which mixed melodies of Driedel and Maoz Tzur, was a gift from Max Weinberg, Tonight Show band leader and the show's only Jew.

According to recent a JTA article, the idea for the song actually came from everyone's favorite progressive left Jewish blog, JewSchool. "Larry Yudelson posted a query to his fellow contributors wondering if “there are any special Mormon holidays for which we can return the favor?” In response, Jewschool managing editor Alana Suskin mused, “Wouldn’t it be off the charts funny to do a [Jewschool] holiday song for Mormons?" They knocked around some lyrics online and then "occasional Jewschool contributor and full-time “Tonight Show” writer Rob Kutner recognized a funny idea when he saw one."

Their song is funny and terrible (both on purpose) , unlike Sen. Hatch's which is mostly funny and terrible by accident.

Hey Regina, Barth's your biggest fan

So I get a fair amount of email & comments on the blog, but sometimes I get caught of guard. Recently I got in a exchange in comments section of a blog post I wrote about Regina Spektor (Regina Spektor sings Eli, Eli). The rather testy commenter, Barth, interpreted my post as not being properly appreciative of Spektor's expressions of Jewish religion and identity. Which was perplexing, because I thought the point of my post was to be appreciative. Oh well. Guess I wasn't clear enough.

So...I hereby announce

1. Ms. Spektor is an admirable example of Jewish religion and identity in contemporary pop music
2. If I somehow implied anything other than that in my post or made any factual errors, shame on me.

Ok Barth, are we square now?

Trimming out the bits where he beats up on me, Barth had a few thoughts on Spektor that are worth sharing. (The other bits you can read for yourself if you care too.)
"Regina---an American citizen today because of antisemitism in her native Russia (then part of the USSR)---presents a very Jewish point of view in quite a bit of her music. She is not proselytizing, of course, but her experiences, attending Hebrew day schools, hiking through Israel as well as her family's departure and settling in with the Jewish communities in the Bronx--define much of her work.

Laughing With is the most direct expression of this. When I first heard it, the song stunned me into writing this:

and, I have written about her both as a Jew and and songwriter/performer several times.

Her "Ink Stains", an assault against holocaust deniers rendered a Radio City audience into virtual silence a few months ago as discussed here:

and the You Tube of her singing it to an audience in Amsterdam after she attended to the Anne Frank memorial is, I think, quite moving:

If songs like these or that talk about "falling into faith" or "why we fight" when facing mortal illness are not part of the NFTY catalogue or something sung while dancing the hora, it is because they were written in the past ten years, and not because they are not "Jewish music" at least from where I sit.
To close this off, here's the Spektor song Laughing With that Barth mentioned.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chanukah Chanukah by the PS22 Chorus

The PS 22 elementary school chorus, of Staten Island, NY, has been featured on NPR, Nightline and MTV and have sung with pro's including Stevie Nicks and (my celebrity crush) Tori Amos. Every year they do a phenomenal Chanukah song. I was pretty proud of my daughter's 2nd grade class busting out "Oh Chanukah," but this is something else entirely...

PS22 Chorus "CHANUKAH CHANUKAH" Hebrew Traditional

Also check out their 2008 version of Maoz Tzur. For more info about their adventures, check out their blog.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Menorah Mashup: Crazy Chanukah Mixes & Mashups

What better way to continue the, evidently quixotic, quest for new Chanukah music than on a mashup mix tape. DJ BD is a well known DJ and mashup artist with a number of well regarded mixtapes. He, along with DJ Flack, FAROFF, voicedude, and ATOM, recently put out a great little compilation of Chanukah craziness. I've previously blogged his "House of Pain vs Klezmer" video. As with all such compilations, it's an uneven set but it's got a few gems (including the FAROFF's previously mentioned "House of Klezmer" remix). Great fun.

As fair warning, these mixes contain some "strong language" and aren't particularly respectful of artist copyright, though DJ BD cheeful lists his ingredients as follows "Frank Yankovic and His Yanks, Gwen Stefani, House Of Pain, Frank Zappa, Amsterdam Klezmer Band, Pa Brapad, several iterations of The Dreidel Song, several iterations of Hava Nagila, South Park, a dash of Chingy, Adam Sandler, The Star Trek Theme, Van Halen, James Caan, Charlton Heston, Fonzie, Sarah Silverman, Trio, Three Weissmen, Craig and Co, Alan Sherman, Pudie Tadow, and two seconds of Black Eyed Peas."

Voicedude's "Dreidel All The Way"

Hat Tip the Boing Boing blog

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yidcore does Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song

It's easy for the dedicated Jewish music fan (meaning me) to be snarky about Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song. It's got nothing to do with Chanukah other than name checking a bunch of Hollywood Jews in bad rhyme. It's famous because Sandler was famous and was able to sing it on national TV. I could go on, but let's face it. It's a great song, simple, funny, with a radio friendly structure and memorable lyric that really resonates with the audience. And that's a real accomplishment, one that defeats a lot of earnest songwriters.

I often argue (as I did in my last post) that there is a lot of great Chanukah music out there, I need to admint that Sandler's song is one of them. Not only is it well known across the Jewish and wider American community, it has quickly been covered and adapted by a variety of other musicians. And that is pretty much the definition of a classic.

Here's one of those covers...the Aussie band Yidcore, who've upped the tempo and swapped out Hollywood actors for Jewish punks.

Punk Rock Chanukah Song

If that wasn't enough for you, check out Neil Diamond's cover (and BJ & Nate of the 108's and Pheobe's).

UPDATE: I should mention that I've seen a lot of "Chanukah Song" action on Twitter this week. Here's a typical example "Busker in Govt Center T-stop singing the happy Hannukah song abt who is Jewish & not."

Hat tip to Michael Croland, of the Heeb'n'vegan blog, for pointing me to the Yidcore video.

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Sephardic Hazzanut Project

Faraj Samra is well on his way to completing the very ambitious Sephardic Hazzanut Project. Samra, a Sephardic hazzan (cantor) from Damascus, Syria, had noticed that "that many people have trouble singing the taamim properly and reading the Torah correctly" and that "Sephardic music tapes ... and lessons with an experienced Hazzan" are very expensive options. Inspired by the Sephardic Pizmonim Project, he decided to help out by "record[ing] all the parashiot and Shahrit of Shabbat for all the main seven maqamot." That's a pretty large undertaking but he's off to a good start, having recording over a dozen parsha, the Shahrit, High Holidays chazzanut and daily tefilah, and a lot more.

Hat Tip to Eva Broman & the KlezmerShack mailing list for the link.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remixing 'Ot Azoy'

Jewish Music and techno-nerdism is such a great combo, I think. And while I haven't asked him, I'd bet that Jeffery Kaplan agrees. Yesterday I ran into a video that Kaplan had produced for one of his Learning Sciences graduate courses at the Indiana University in Bloomington. The video, which Kaplan describes as a Documentary Vlog, explored a bit of the history of the Yiddish folk song "Ot Azoy" (aka "Ot Azoy Neyt A Shnayder" and "This is The Way The Tailor Sews.") In particular it has fun looking at two different attempts to remix the song, Cab Calloway's scat jazz and Kaplans own hip-hop electronica.

Remixing Ot Azoy

For a more traditional klezmer take on Ot Azoy, check out Metropolitan Klezmer performing at NYC's Summer on the Hudson stage in Riverside Park, July 2006

Metropolitan Klezmer - Ot Azoy Neyt A Shnayder, swing vocal

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Técsői Banda

I got in an email discussion recently with the host of a freeform world music radio program. I was trying to convince him (it's funny how the word convince starts with "con") that he should do a show on the intersection of gypsy and Jewish music. It'd be easy to pull great recordings of both historic and contemporary collaborations. Here's one video I was thinking of. Consider it Exhibit A.

Técsői Banda: Medley of Mixed Gypsy and Jewish Melodies

The video was uploaded by YouTube user Dumneazu, who also writes an eponymous blog. As he notes...
"The Técsői Banda playing in Budapest after the premier of the film "The Last Kolomajka" at the Nyitott Muhely gallery. We had just played a Yiddish song I learned from Arkaday Gendler, and after Yura began to sing the Gypsy version, which led into a medley of tunes from the mixed Jewish and Gypsy repetoires of the Western Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. The Técső Band are Hutsul Gypsies from Tjaciv, Ukraine."
The exchange he's describing is not uncommon. With the loss of Yiddishkeit culture during the Holocaust, many klezmer musicians have sought insight and material from surviving Gypsy musicians. These musicians often played with Jewish klezmers at both Jewish and Gypsy gigs, and knew the klezmer repertoire well. For another example of this exchange, check out Bob Cohen's, of Di Naye Kapelye, tale of learning from Romanian Gypsies. Here's a second video, also by Dumneazu, featuring members of Di Naye Kapelye.

Florin Kodoba Teaching Transylvanian Fiddle Style

"Florin Kodoba, lead fiddler of the Palatka Band (Palatca, Romania) from the central Transylvanian plains leading students in a workshop on fiddle style. The students are learning by ear, as this is a traditional music that - in its village context - is "learned but not taught" by Gypsy dynasties of musician families. Jake Shulman-ment is assisiting as both appeared with Di Naye Kapelye to teach Roma instrumental music traditon at the 2008 Weimar Yiddish weeks folk dance seminar in Weimar, Germany"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Anim Zimros, Breslov Niggun

Hi Folks,

Shabbat shalom. I've had a long week couple of week. I was in upstate NY yesterday on a work trip, then got up at 4am this morning finishing up some work. Also got grumpy at my daughter for no really good reason. sigh. Hopefully the candy buttons I bought her, along with a good hug, will make up for it.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to shabbat. Here's a good 'get in the shabbat groove video. According to the YouTube notes, it's Yisroel Gottlieb singing an old Breslov niggunim for Anim Zmiriot. I really love niggunim and could listen to them all day. I really need to find some better recordings than I have, though. I keep finding accompanied choral arrangements. What I really want is disks of niggunim like this. A few voices, unaccompanied. I'd like to finding them for as many of the Chassidic groups as I can. Sounds like yet another project...

Anim Zimros, old Breslov Niggun

For another take on Anim Zimros, check out this jazz performance by Jeremy Siskind, Miles Brown, Yonatan Rosen at the Knitting Factory in NYC. I could get lost in this too, though maybe not all day.

Anim Zmiros - Knitting Factory

Update: I've gotten a couple of great recommendations for Niggunim albums. My friend Binyomin Ginzberg, of and the Breslov Bar Band, suggested "The Hasidic Niggun as Sung by the Hasidim", which is a set of field recordings put out by The Jewish Music Research Centre in 2004. Avishai suggested Yehuda Solomon's Beyond Words albums. They are available from and Mostly Music. All of the web sites have clips. Check 'em out.

Hat tip to YouTubeUsers GotToBeNanach for the Breslov version and Seinav for the jazz version.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

City Winery's Klezmer Brunch w/Shtreiml

Last week my gang and I were visiting friends in Long Island and family in Connecticut. While in Long Island I was able to take a day and a visit Manhattan and meet up with musician Binyomin Ginzberg, of and the Breslov Bar Band, and Michael Croland, author of the Heeb'n'Vegan blog, ace air guitarist, and fellow fan of obscure Jewish punk bands. Two great guys I was happy to finally meet in person. Yay New York.

Binyomin had the brilliant idea of meeting up at the City Winery for their weekly Klezmer Brunch. (He keeps better kosher than I, so he drank coffee and watched me snack.) Yep, that's right. Klezmer brunch. Once again, Yay New York. It turns out that the City Winery has a klezmer band play every Sunday morning. The Winery an open airy restaraunt, with a nice menu, a reasonably sized stage with good site lines and acoustics. If you're in town, it's very much worth checking out.

Klezmer Brunch Banner

This week's band turned out to be Shtreiml. I've mentioned them a couple of times before, but this was my first chance to see them live. They play a hot klezmer, with some great Yiddish theater pieces getting center stage. They're also the only klezmer band I know with a harmonica. It was a bit surprising, but worked great. Here's their official bio...

"Founded in 2002, Montreal/Philly-based Shtreiml offers a high-octane mix of not-so-traditional Eastern-European Jewish and Turkish music. Led by harmonica innovator Jason Rosenblatt, one of the few people worldwide who can play the diatonic harmonica (a.k.a. blues harp) chromatically, Shtreiml's blues-rock infused set delivers a new look at some centuries old folk music. Joined by Rachel Lemisch (trombone), Thierry Arsenault (drums), Adam Stotland (bass) and Brooklyn-based freak Michael Winograd (clarinet) the group's set has been labeled "explosive" (Halifax Chronicle Herald) and "exhilarating" (Rootsworld)."

Here's a video of Shtreiml playing a slight larger venue, the 2003 Krackow Klezmer Festival.

Shtreiml - Sam Shpielt - Krakow Jewish Festival 2003

Monday, November 30, 2009

Afro Semitic Experience at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

Afro Semitic ExperienceTwo weeks ago I saw the Afro-Semitic Experience play in Kalamazoo as part of the bi-annual Michigan Festival of Sacred Music. I've been a fan of ASE for years but this was my first time getting to see them live and I wasn't disappointed. They put on a wonderful show of American jazz music influenced by both African and Jewish ideas and musical forms. This concert was a special treat because it was the debut of their newly completed work (and new album) "The Road That Heals the Splintered Soul"

Now, I'm not a jazz critic and I completely lack the vocabulary to properly review a jazz concert. But I can say that sitting in Kalmazoo's gorgeous old First Baptist Church, listening to ASE was both a thoughtful and joyful experience. ASE's plays a straight-ahead jazz that's not overtly avante-garde but feels adventurous all the same. Pianist Warren Byrd plays like Felix the Cat, with an unpredictable humor and delicacy. Bassist David Chevan is more the beat poet, understated and economical. Together with their bandmates, their music shifted from Nigerian percussion into delicate piano jazz to be picked up by African chants that then shift gears into Hebrew prayer. But none of it was forced or overblown. It swayed and bumped, soared and knelt.

Afro Semitic Experience"Road" is fine album and was a memorable concert but, to be honest, from a Jewish music perspective "Road" is a less engaging piece than bassist David Chevan's albums "Yizkor: Music of Memory" and "Days of Awe: Meditations for Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur." These albums aren't really solo albums, the same ASE musicians are playing and the influence of Chevan's ASE songwriting partner Warren Byrd is still very much present. But these albums let Chevan explore his interest in Jewish music and themes in a way that is more focused than on any of the ASE albums. While Chevan has significant contributions to "Road," Byrd's African influences and a wide range of American jazz styles take the forefront. Musically, little separated Jewish themed/titled pieces such as "Adon Olam" and "A Torah Afloat in a Leaky Boat Lands in Congo Square" from the rest of "Road." Which, of course, is fine, but, for me a little disappointing and will send me back to my copies of Yizkor and Days of Awe more often then "Road."

As far as I'm aware there aren't any online samples of "Road" for you to check out, but you can order the album through Amazon. In case you've never heard the Afro Semitic Experience, here's a video of them from a few years ago...

The Afro-Semitic Experience (from 2007, not music from "Road")

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Symphonic klezmer, big music in a minor key.

Timing is everything. Writing my latest "Jewish Music on the North Coast" blog post got me thinking about symphonic klezmer. At the same time, an email thread on the same topic popped up on the KlezmerShack mailing list. I love it when that happens. I was familiar with most of the pieces mentioned, and will list them in a moment. What I wanted to share first is a wonderful radio show on symphonic klezmer that was suggested by Rochelle Zucker of the Winnipeg Jewish Radio Hour. The show is hosted by Fred Flaxman and is part of his Compact Discoveries radio program. Compact Discoveries is an offbeat introduction to classical music that includes such shows as Music for Insomniacs, Favorite Funeral Music, One-Hit American Composers and, of course, Symphonic Klezmer.

In the hour long program, Flaxman presents compositions by Canadian composers -- the Suite for Klezmer Band and Orchestra by Sid Robinovitch and The Old Toronto Klezmer Suite by Srul Irving Glick -- and "Klezmers" from the Vaudeville suite by the American composer Paul Schoenfield. You can read a transcript of his show on the Compact Discoveries website and listen to the full show on the website. Sadly, while the show is free it requires you to create a PRX account and can only be listened online. No podcast / download. Sorry, PRX. No biscuit for you.

In addition to the pieces presented by Flaxman, here are a few more pieces discussed on Klezmershack.

Kol Simcha's Shabbes

  • Ofer Ben-Amots lovely Klezmer Concerto, which also involved David Krakauer and premiered in Portland Oregon in 2007. Here is a video of the first of it's three movements, performed by The Herzilya Chamber Orchestra in Herzilya Israel last month (October 2009). Movements 2 and 3 are also available.
The Klezmer Concerto, I. Pastoral Doyna

  • The Milken Archive has a wonderful disc titled "Klezmer Concerto's and Encore's" which features, of course, David Krakuer. The disc includes Robert Starer's "K'li Zemer", Paul Schoenfield's "Klezmer Rondos", Jacob Weinberg's "The Maypole" and "Canzonetta", Abraham Ellstein's "Hassidic Dance", and Osvaldo Golijov's "Rocketekya".
  • Osvaldo Golijov has also composed "The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind", a piece for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. Here is a section of it performed by members of Brooklyn Rider, with Max Treitler and Keith Lipson.
Osvaldo Golijov's "Isaac the Blind" at Angel Orensanz

This is only a start. There's a lot more out there and I'll present more soon.

Hat tip to YouTube user's johnnyg2703 for posting the Osvaldo Golijov video and to the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra for posting the Ofer Ben-Amots video.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2010 Winter Olympics, Matisyahu, and Geoff Berner

Matisyahu, everyone's favorite Hasidic reggae / hip hop superstar just got a major publicity boost. His song "One Day" has been featured in a NBC commercial for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. There's speculation that it will be used as the official theme song of the games. "One Day" is from Matisyahu's new album, Light. Go buy it. Now.

NBC Winter Olympics Spot featuring Matisyahu's "One Day"

It should be noted that Matisyahu's song was NOT written for the game. Canadian Jewish singer-songwriter Geoff Berner, on the other hand, took on the project of a 2010 Winter Games theme song in his own inimitable style. Here's Berner and the Squeezebox Circle Accordion Orchestra playing "The Dead Children Were Worth It."

Geoff Berner & the Squeezebox Circle Accordion Orchestra

Hat tip to YouTube user azisman for posting Berner's video.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hey North Coast .... More Upcoming Jewish Music Events

No Jewish music in Michigan? Ha! Here are four shows coming up. Go see them all. You know you want to.

- Yasmin Levy, Saturday, November 14th, at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium.

Yasmin LevyLondon’s Guardian proclaims, “Here surely is the next world music superstar.” Yasmin Levy was born in Jerusalem in 1975 and was introduced to Ladino singing and culture from a very young age. Her father, who passed away when she was only a year old, was the leading figure in the world of research into and preservation of the Judeo-Spanish culture, dating back to 15th-century Spain. Today, Ladino remains one of the most moving and romantic traditions of all time. In her deep, spiritual, and moving style of singing, Levy preserves and revives the beautiful songs from the Ladino/Judeo-Spanish heritage, mixing it with Andalucian Flamenco. This US debut tour follows her highly acclaimed appearances at the international World Music Expo (WOMEX) and World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD)festivals. “[Yasmin Levy’s CD] Mano Suave blends her mixture of flamenco, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Sephardic Jewish Ladino traditions to somewhere near perfection. If you’re looking to plunge into a deep pool of exquisite yearning and heartbreak, then just dust off your trunks and dive right in.”

- The Afro-Semitic Experience, Monday, November 16, 8:00pm at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music in Kalamzoo.

Afro-Semitic ExperienceThe Afro-Semitic Experience is a cross-cultural band that delivers a positive and meaningful musical message in jazz about Black-Jewish relations. The group is dedicated to preserving, promoting and expanding the rich cultural and musical heritage of the Jewish and African diaspora. Through their concerts, recordings and workshops, they are actively creating an artistic response to anti-Semitism and Racism of all forms. Premiere of a new work commissioned by Chamber Music America.

Matisyahu - December 7, at St. Andrews

MatisyahuFew artists make an impact as complete as the one Matisyahu made with his Top 40 hit “King Without a Crown”: Here was a true original, the song announced-a Hasidic Jewish musician from New York City singing reggae songs about his religious devotion. Fans responded to this one-of-a-kind voice, too, driving Youth, Matisyahu’s Grammy-nominated 2006 studio disc, to the top spot on Billboard’s reggae albums chart. That album, as well as Matisahu’s previous recording Live at Stubb’s, went Gold.

David Krakaur playing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the world premier of Wlad Marhulets "Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet" December 10th through 13th.

"The concerto, in three movements, alternates two main influences that are deeply rooted in David Krakauer's discography: funk, and electronics (electronic effects are simulated by acoustic means). While the initial theme of the first movement introduces a wild musical idea, accompanied by an ostinato in the orchestra and funky rhythms, the second one brings a quite traditional-sounding Klezmer tune. "

I'm sure this list is incomplete and I'll update it as I hear more. If you know of Jewish music show of any kind happening in Michigan, please let me know. Klezmer? Cantorial? Classical chamber? Choral? Hello, you know you're out there?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ignite Ann Arbor Playlist

Whew. Ann Arbor Ignite is over. Back to real life. I've spent pretty much the last three weeks prepping for a 5 minute talk, but what a blast. We had a great turn out and I got lots of good feedback on my talk. If all goes well I'll be able to post a YouTube video soon. But until then, here are two photos of me talking and a playlist of the song clips I shared. The photo's were taken by local photographer / freelance webguy Monte Fowler. Thanks Monte!

Jack looking growly in front of Yiddish Folk

Jack in front of Y-Love and DeLeon album covers
I've had a couple of folks ask me about the music I played during the talk. I didn't have time to name check the bands then. Heck, I only had 7 seconds each for the audio clips. But now I've got lots of time.... Here they are in the order they got played.

1. Punk/Experimental: Kletka Red, from the album Hijacking on Tzadik / Radical Jewish Culture.

2. Frum Pop: Lipa Schmeltzer, from the album Poshiter Yid on Adaret Music.

3. Jazz: The Afro-Semitic Experience, from the album "This is The Afro-Semitic Experience" on Reckless DC Music.

4. Reggae: Matisyahu, from the album "Live at Stubbs" on Sony.

5. Electronica: Zohar, from the album Onethreeseven, on Ark 21.

6. Chamber Music: Davka, from the album Judith on on Tzadik / Radical Jewish Culture.

7. Hip Hop: Y-Love, from non-album track. Check out his new album "This is Babylon" on ShemSpeed.

8. Sephardic: DeLeon, from the album "DeLeon" on JDub Records.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Adon Olam around the world

Hi everyone, Shabbat shalom!

For this week's "get in the Shabbat groove" video, I got a little help. One of my new twitter followers, behrmanhouse (aka Jewish education book & software publisher Behrman House) put together a great YouTube playlist of Adon Olam videos. While there are a lot of great ones, I immediately jumped to one of my favorites. Here's the inimitable Yehuda Glantz, recorded in Buenos Aires in 1992.

Yehuda Glantz on charango playing Adon Olam

And to follow it up, here's a very special performance of my favorite Adon Olam melody.

2 year old sings adon olam

Hat tip to YouTube user galinoah for posting the 2 year old performance video.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boston gets a Jewish Music Festival (finally)

Boston Jewish Music FestBoston, my old stomping ground, is finally getting a Jewish Music Festival. According to the website, it will take place the week of March 6th, and consist of separate venues and concerts all around the town. They've got quite a line up planned....
By the way, they've got as interesting a boards of directors & advisers as they do performers.

Board of Directors
Board of Advisors
Whew. That's quite a whos-who list. There's hardly a person on there that I wouldn't love to meet and talk shop with.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Geoff Berner - More Punk Klezmer Cabaret

Writing about Daniel Kahn last night reminded me that I've never posted about Geoff Berner. What a terrible oversight on my part. Berner, like Kahn, has a bar-room cabaret klezmer sound honed playing across Europe, only Berner is even more bitter and funny.

Here's Berner, playing live with Kahn, in Germany a couple of years ago.

Geoff Berner - Lucky Goddam Jew (live with Daniel Kahn)

If remember correctly, Kahn and Painted Bird played Berner's Whiskey Rabbi last night.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daniel Kahn & Painted Bird w/Psoy at Temple Israel

Daniel KahnWhew. It's 12:30am I've got to get up for work in the morning, but I'm too wound up from seeing Daniel Kahn and Painted Bird to go to sleep yet. In case you've missed my previous mentions of Khan, he's a Yiddish folkie, with a strong mix of Brecht-influenced cabaret and klezmer mixed in. He's a solid songwriter with an outstanding band. And when not singing from the Yiddish socialist/anarchist revolutionary songbook, he spins tales of whiskey and parasites (both the human and the animal types). What's not to love.

Tonight was my first chance to see him live, though I may get a chance to see him again on Tuesday at the Ark in Ann Arbor. The show was at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI, a huge Reform synagogue. How huge? Kahn was cranking, the crowd was cheering, and we still managed not to bother the wedding on the other side of the synagogue. That huge.

It's easy to sing Kahn's praises. He's the front man and lead songwriter, right? But I want to make sure I give credit to the rest of the band too. They gave the music a depth and verve that was joy to listen too. They swung easily from moody theatrics to military march to New Orleans jazz, all while holding the dark klezmer feel intact. About half-way through the set my wife went into trombone bliss, and looked up with a far-away look in her eyes "I love that instrument." Yeah. I'm with you, sweetie.

Here's a video of Daniel Kahn and Painted Bird (a slightly different line-up) playing the title track of his new album.

Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird - Parasites

PsoyFor the last couple of songs, Kahn and Painted Bird were joined on stage by "multilingual poet-singer" Psoy Korolenko, who recorded with Kahn and Oy Division on the recent album "The Unternationale." I'd never heard of, or heard, Psoy before but I was blown away. He has a formidable voice and presence. Best of all, he's currently an Artist in Residence at the UofM, so I'll be able to meet up with him and see him perform a few more times this fall.

Sympathy For Whom? After Mick Jagger, by Daniel Kahn, Psoy & Yana Ovrutskaya

After the show I was able to grab a few minutes of Kahn's time to chat about Jewish music. My question, which I'm starting to ask the Jewish musician's I meet, is whether or not they feel like they are part of a Jewish music scene. From my vantage point on the side lines, there seems to be a scene developing where different strains of Jewish music are starting to intertwine. I was fascinated, but wasn't surprised, by the complexity of Kahn's answer. First of all, Kahn was a bit put off by the question. It was clear that he'd been involved in way too many abstract and personal discussions about Jewish identity and authenticity to really want to get into it with me tonight. (Also, to be fare, the guy had just finished a tiring set and was chatting with me while packing his gear). He's a guy who doesn't feel particularly religiously Jewish, but was drawn to a klezmer and Yiddish folks for the funky music and politics they represent. At the same time, his experiences living in Berlin prompted him to start writing songs that examined and presented his Jewish identity if, for no other reason, to stop having to explain it to everyone individually. So no...he doesn't feel part of a Jewish music scene. He happily plays with other Jewish bands or musicians at festivals or when it seems like a good idea. Some of his band members are Jewish and others aren't. He also happily plays klezmer shows, folks shows and cabaret shows and what ever else seems like a good idea. He sits at the intersection of a number of scenes, but not a general Jewish scene.

All of this, by the way, is a fine answer to the question.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Notes on my "Silver Age of Jewish Music" talk

I normally don't post on Shabbat, but I'm up at 3 in the morning and my brain is buzzing about my upcoming Ignite Ann Arbor talk "The Silver Age of American Jewish Music is Happening Now! And Why We're Missing It." I posted earlier this week about the talk, so I won't repeat the details here. Other than to say giving a 5 minute talk is not easy and I'm more than a little bit stressed. I can't convey a real nuanced story in 5 minutes. Anything I say will be fundamentally wrong or misleading in some major way. I just have to deal with it.

I've spent the last 2 hours working out a rough storyboard of my 20 slides. I get 15 seconds for each one. Whew. Here's a pretty close approximation of what I sketched out. Sorry the formatting's crummy, but it's 3 am. Comments anyone?

1?Fast intro: I write a blog on Jewish Music. Not a musican
or expert. Just a rookie fan.
2Words/album covers 'klezmer/Dave Tarras', Cantorial/Jan Peerce', 'theater/fiddler', 'folk/hava nagila'I knew a few random bits that had come through what passed for a national Jewish musical culture in the 1970's.
3Avant-garde / Kelka Red & Frum-Pop / LipaI found this. (play 7 second music clips)
4Jazz / David Chevan & Reggae / Matisyahu(play 7 second music clips)
5House / Ghettoplotz & Misrachi Chamber / Davka(play 7 second music clips
6Sephardic Indie / DeLeon & Pop Liturgical / Sam Glaser(play 7 second music clips)
7Hip Hop / Y-Love & Yiddish Blues / Wolf Karakowski(play 7 second music clips)
8fill screen with album coversAnd lots more. Art music. Bible-gum. Yiddish Gothic. Boy Choirs. Niggunim. All happening now. But how come I didn't know about this?
9Pictures of 1930's Jewish NYC
Because I don't live here. I'm not living in a predominately Jewish are w/ defining a Jewish culture & media
10Picture of 1940's Catskill resort
The Golden Age of Jewish Music was in the 20's through 40's, right along with the big wave of Jewish immigrants from Europe
11Picture of Jewish big band / swing albums?
Who like most immigrant groups clung to culture & community while at the same time radically assimilating and reinventing themselves
12pics of a yiddish radio station, theater, newspaper and the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Their media, and cultural lives, were tied up the local Yiddish radio station, theater, and newspapers and shuls with a superstar cantors.
13?I, and most Jews in the US, are products of that assimilation. We don't have that community & media because it's largely vanished.
14pics of Orthodox & Chassidic media (e.g. JM in the AM, a Big Event type poster, the Jewish Jukebox logo, a current frum-pop album cover.Though it still exists in pockets, predominately in the small but vibrant Orthodox and Chassidic communities
15pics of 1950's through 1980's JM albums. Bagles & Bongos. 'Hear O Israel: Service in Jazz.' 'Brothers Zim' 'Jan Peerce' 'Israeli Kibbutz Singers'Jewish music didn't die but it lost relevance and focus. It became marginalized, attenuated, and self-referential.
16kapelye album cover, Sholomo Carlebach cover, Jeff Klepper or Debbie Friedman cover. Flory Jagoda album coverNow it's exploding again. Kicked off in the 1970's by the klezmer revival and by Reform camp music & Chassidic folk-niggunim entering the liturgy, and in the 1980's by a world music scene that pushed local ethnic diversity as a marketing gimick.
17map of Jewish population centers in the US with a television in the middle of it.But I live here. We American Jews get our media awareness through mainstream American channels. Unless you're visible to the mainstream media (eg. Matisyahu) most American Jews don't know to look. We're in a silver age of Jewish Music, but most American Jews don't know it.
18images of YouTube, MySpace, CD Baby, Teruah blog, Jewish Music Report The Internet is making a difference. It makes everything more accessible, but you still need to know to look and now what to look for.
19image of a social media graph. maybe with facebook or twitter logos.Without a central media, we are only exposed to it through word of mouth. This is a classic social network problem. And the new social media tools might be part of the answer. There is a rich community of transnational & transdemonational Jews self-organizing on facebook & twitter .
20overlay faces taken from twitter & facebook feeds I follow. So if Jewish music is interesting, go to synagogue, go to concerts, buy mp3s and CDs, watch videos & read blogs. But talk about it, tweet or status update about it, and let people know. Culture only happens in a vibrant community. It's time to rebuild one.

I think I need to shrink the Golden Age section by one slide and expand the social media section by one slide at least and give a really concrete example maybe use Patrick A from Can Can / Punk Torah as my poster boy of musician use. (you cool with that Patrick?) Also should think about a good example of non-musician/publisher/blogger usage. Maybe a page of interesting recent twitter comments.

* note, I'm thinking about using a light gold background on slides relating to the Golden Age and a light silver background on current slides. I'm not sure if that will work or not.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Views of Matisyahu

Chassidi NewsI ran across an fascinating description of Matisyahu's new album, Light in Chasidi News yesterday. Along with Light there were about twenty new Chassidic recordings featured, all of which were written up in the classic frum music promotion style. As I've mentioned before, I find this writing style both fascinating and frustrating in equal measures. It's fascinating because it provides a window into what this community prioritizes. It's frustrating because, to an outsider who prioritizes different things, the writing appears opaque and uninformative.

LightI've got a few thoughts on this, but first here's one view of the new Matisyahu album, Light, written by the Chasidi News. For twenty other album descriptions written in this style check the current issue of Chasidi News or any one of the frum music blogs I list.
Light - Matisyahu’s third album is now in the stores. After working on it for two years, ‘Light’, Matisyahu’s third album is released. After the meteoric success of his two previous albums, the Chasidic singer Matisyahu releases his third album which illuminates his unique musical style. Matisyahu worked on the album with best of musicians and musical producers, and together they brew the wonderful result, Light. The tracks on the CD range between different styles and let us feel Matisyahu’s modern special character, all of them together passing on a message of hope for peace and comradeship. The album, with 13 songs plus another bonus song, is not something to be taken for granted. “The meaning of being a singer, as far as I’m concerned, is to feel how the existence of the world echoes within you, and then express it,” explains Matisyahu, “It’s a process that changes all the time”. The album’s bonus song is called, “Two Child One Drop”, taking part in it are the cantor Yehuda Solomon and the musician Shalom Mor who plays the oud and the tar. Distribution: NMC United.
Now here's a second view of Matisyahu written by David Jeffries of the All Music Guide. The AMG, if you're not familiar with it, provides a database of music descriptions to a lot of commercial websites. I pinched this one from Pandora, but I'm sure it's on a hundred other websites as well.
As an American Hasidic Jewish reggae superstar, Matisyahu is an obvious outsider. After a debut album that felt live plus a follow-up album that was recorded live, the singer's ambition to do more with the studio presentation of his music left any sensible packaging up to the producer. The mismatch with fellow mystic Bill Laswell caused 2006's Youth to wander and sprawl, but industry vet David Kahne handles much of Light, and the difference is huge. Kahne packaged reggae-pop acts like Sublime and Fishbone -- whose members show up here -- before, but here he's primarily focused on Matisyahu's wide view, love of ancient history, and spiritual heart. The results are comparable to So and all the Peter Gabriel albums after, with high-tech and polish helping to drive home the artist's reverence and sense of wonder. Sounding like breakthrough hit "Chop 'Em Down"'s little brother, "Smash Lies" is an effective opener plus a dancehall-driven crowd-pleaser that'll give way to an album less reggae than any previous. Besides a little "singjay" in his vocal style, the grand, key track "One Day" has little to do with Jamaican music, and the equally moving "For You" is more likely influenced by Tears for Fears than Bob Marley. Joel Madden makes crunching punk-pop guitar the centerpiece of "Darkness into Light," and ethereal closer "Silence" could be passed off as from the Dave Matthews songbook if the lines written in Hebrew didn't give Matisyahu away. Whether using his voice as a whisper or as a giant call across nations, the depth of feeling comes through brilliantly, and if the musical soundscape isn't familiar, the empowering and sincere lyrics most definitely are. Add Kahne's instantly accessible production and Light is not only a welcome surprise, but an album that matches his debut.
Yeah, we're talking about the same album here.

What the frum music press prioritizes is tradition, community, and good character. Artist bios and album descriptions provide the artists credentials as frum Jews with familiar names and famous previous albums, and/or famous current collaborators. We're told the new songs are original, awe-inspiring, instant classics. We're told the names of individual songs, many of which were not written by the singer or band and were well known prior to the album. There will be vauge comments that the artist has an individual style, but there is rarely an attempt to describe that style. The result is that you're not given anything with which to discriminate the 20 album descriptions on the page from each other. But that's the point. The descriptions are to help you descriminate these recordings from the recordings not on the page...the million or so non-frum, non-community, non-Chassidic albums.

The fluffery used by mainstream Western popular music promotion and review writing, of which I am regularly guilty, tends to focus on and exaggerate minor stylistic differences, exaggerate artist musical prowess, and establish artificial musical lineages and comparisons. This is all in the attempt to help an audience understand how the bands or albums compare to each other and to previous albums the reader would have heard. The result is much more of a focus on the band's sound than on their suitability for a specific community.

There is a big caveat to this, though. If you read reviews or blurbs in zines or websites that are heavily focused on a specific narrow audience, you'll see a lot more Chassidic style writing. I remember being a teen eagerly tearing through print copies of Maximum Rock and Roll. A lot of the prose there focused on punk credentials as defined by what label the band was on and what well known punk band the members used to play in. Not much of a difference from the frum-pop writing. In both cases, the main thing was to justify membership in the community.

What's frustrating for me about the frum writing is that it's very difficult to deal with as an outsider. I'm not interested in discriminating based on community membership. I'm not part of the Chassidic community (though I happily rub shoulders with it on occasion). I'm trying to identify good music that I and my readers might be interested in. And the frum writing doesn't help at all. Which, of course, is my problem not theirs.

Lulu -An Auschwitz Fairy Tale

I was exchanging email recently with Daniel Hoffman, of Davka and the Israeli Ethnic Ensemble. While we were chatting about his upcoming tour of the US Midwest (I'll be seeing him play in Sandusky Ohio on Nov 7), he mentioned that he had recently scored his wife, Karine Koret's, "Lulu" a clown piece on the horrors Auschwitz.

I was intrigued. I've always been a fan of fantasy, magic realism, puppet and clown performances, and surrealist art. I find that having my sense of reality disrupted breaks me out of my comfort zone and helps me look at the well understood with new eyes (or ears). This technique works particularly well in areas where we've been overexposed and desensitized. And with sixty years of documentaries, books, films, plays, museums, and musical homages, there is little in modern Jewish culture that is as overexposed and desensitized as the Holocaust.

That's why I fell in love immediately with the short montage of Lulu that had been uploaded to YouTube. Her one woman show, co-written with the play's director Shlomi Golan, is a topsy turvy dream. Lulu's limited understanding and alternately playful and terrified recapitulation of her experience is deeply affecting. It also helped recapture the horror I felt when I was in my early teens first learning about the Holocaust, a feeling that has become a bit numb over the years. And for that, thank you.

Lulu -An Auschwitz Fairy Tale

Lulu premiered at the Teatronetto Festival of Solo Theater in Tel Aviv, Israel in April of 2009. I'm not aware of any plans for it to tour the US, but I'll let you know if I hear anything.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Etz Chaim Hi by Tanchum Portnoy and Blue Fringe

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach everyone. I hope everyone has a great Simchat Torah.

For a get in the mood video this week, I thought I'd share a song and a story. Here's the story, last week I was at Shabbat services with my gang and the cantor led us in a version of Etz Chaim Hi that left me a bit befuddled. I was sure I'd heard the melody before, was sure that I'd never sung it, and was sure I hadn't heard it in the context of a service. So where did I hear it?

A little sleuthing later I think I've got it. The melody, composed by Tanchum Portnoy, is also used by the group Blue Fringe on their album "The Whole World Lit Up." I should say, they use a very different arrangement of a very very similar melody. I don't have the liner notes to WWLU handy. I'll dig them out or email Dov and see if I'm right.

Anyway, here's Portnoy's Etz Chaim Hi, sung by the choir at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburg, PA.

I haven't found a video or embedable player for Blue Fringe's Etz Chaim, but you can listen to it over at Last.Fm.

Hat tip to YouTube user Castodivo for posting the video.