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