Friday, December 31, 2010

Asefa: (noun, from Hebrew) A collective, assembly or gathering, with purpose.

AsefaI love meeting interesting folks, and there are no shortage of interesting folks in the Jewish music world. This week I got an email from Samuel Thomas, Ph.D candidate in Ethnomusicology at the City University of New York and the leader of the musical collective Asefa. Asefa plays a wonderfully exploratory fusion of Arabic Jewish music and jazz that includes Yoshie Fructer, guitarist and New York Jewish scene staple, bass player Noah Jarrett, and percussionists Eric Platz and Rich Stein. This is the kind of music, deeply rooted in tradition and wildly adventurous, that I could crawl inside and live in.

Here's their official blurb...
Drawing upon a plethora of musical traditions from North Africa, the music Asefa presents is a blend of North African grooves and song traditions with passionate and innovative composition and improvisation. This is Mitteleuropean proto-blues. This is music that honors both ritual and experimentation, reminding us of the vitality and variety within the Jewish tradition -- a tradition that reflects the world. Listen and trace your own roots, whatever they are.
They've got an album out. I haven't heard the whole thing yet, but the tracks on the website sound great. I'd link to them, but I'm a live show guy. I'd rather show off this clip from one of their concerts at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club

In addition to playing Asefa, Thomas conducts a variety of workshops

"Whether you want to discover more about Middle Eastern musical traditions, Sephardic poetry, or simply have an interactive experience touring different world musics, the educational programming and performance workshops add incredible value to any Asefa experience! "

To give you a sense of what he's about, here's a short talk by Thomas about his experience with Arab Jewish music given to the Brooklyn Historical Society - Roundtable: Arab Music Traditions and Their History in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tablet's 100 Best Contemporary, Ashkenazi, American, Pop Jewish Songs Ever.

Last week Tablet writers Jody Rosen and Ari Kelman did us all a great service...they started a good argument. Their piece, "Song of Songs: The 100 Best Jewish Songs Ever," and their follow up "You Questioned Our 100 Greatest Jewish Songs" were entertaining and have let to a lot of grumbling and handwringing. Personally, the list drives me crazy (Amy Winehouse but not Shlomo Carlebach? Seriously?) ...but I thank them for publishing it and anyone who reads this blog should go read the list and listen to as many of the linked tracks and videos as they can. It'll be dizzying but a grand adventure.

Lists like this are doomed from the start because the authors establish a category, Jewish music, but fail to define it's limits. They also define an evaluation "best" without defining the criteria to be used. Are we talking about comparing every song written by a Jew or about a Jewish theme in the whole history of the Jewish people and comparing them based on how much impact they had on the Jewish people's history?

Not hardly. And we should be grateful...such a list would be impossible to create and tedious to read. Instead the list is a myopic contemporary Liberal American Ashkenazi view of Jewish music. And we should be grateful for that for two reasons...

1. It gave them a tractable and entertaining position to write from, a position that matches the cultural background and expectations of a lot of American Jews

2. It exposes the limits and contradictions of that position for a friendly debate.

I, like a lot of the commentators on Tablet's website, am frustrated by how it ignores Sephardic and Mizrachi music, how it seems unaware of contemporary Israeli music, Orthodox and Chassidic music, Jewish art music, and how it glorifies secular pop songs written by Jews. These are real deficiencies that make the list worthless as a definitive catalog of the greatest Jewish music. But as part of our perennial Jewish 'who are we' discussion, this list lays down a well thought through and wonderfully idiosyncratic position. It's now up to folks (including me) who don't accept that position to produce something "better."

I'm not going to attempt that in one shot, but will point a few critical moments in Jewish music that the authors overlook. These moments are just as open for critisism and debate as the Tablet list, so have at it...

1. Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable. Meyerbeer was a superstar German Jewish opera composer. At his prime in the 1840's and 1850's, he was king of European opera. In an age where Jewish composers often converted to Christianity, he remained a Jew and wrote Jewish liturgical music. While he never wrote an opera that was explicitly Jewish, one of his innovations was the treatment of religious themes, including religious tolerance, on the opera stage. He's also known for his most famous student, Richard Wagner, who after Meyerbeer's death became both an opera superstar and a vicious anti-semite. After Meyerbeer's death Wagner authored Das Judenthum in der Musik (Judaism in Music), which took swipes at both Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn, asking the question... if Jews are such great musicians why don't they have a national music of their own. (Wagner's answer...they're incapable of producing it. They just want to steal and corrupt everyone else's music).

Giacomo Meyerbeer - Robert le Diable - "Idole de ma vie" (Joan Sutherland)

2. Joel Engel. In the early 20th century, Russia experienced a rise in ethnic nationalism supported tentatively by the Soviets...Jewish nationalism included. Joel Engel, along with others conducted ethnographic field trips into the Pale of Settlement and used the Jewish folk music they found there to write art music. Engel, himself, was hugely influential as a writer, organizer of the St. Petersburg Jewish Folk Music Society's first concert, and composer. His most famous piece was the incidental music to the Ansky's play, The Dybbuk.

3. Shlomo Carlebach. Carlebach mixed Orthodox yeshiva training with a Chassidic sensibility and drive toward personal and musical outreach. Considered by many to be the greatest Jewish songwriter of the 20th century, Carlebach created a huge body of folk-liturgical music that continues to have a significant impact on both traditional and liberal Jewish practice.

Shlomo Carlebach Boi B'Shalom 1973

4. Diaspora Yeshiva Band. There was a moment when it all came together...the nascent ba'al teshuva momement and Orthodox camp music, Israeli kibbutzim and yeshivot, American & British rock and roll, and Carlebach's niggunim and outreach. The result was the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and the birth of Jewish rock and roll. While the DYB weren't the only band of that moment, they cast the largest shadow and still have a continuing influence over Jewish rock to this day.

Trailer for the new DVD "Diaspora Yeshiva Band: Live on Mt. Sinai (1982)"

Whew. I wish I had more time right now. Just listing these 4, makes me feel guilty for the 100 or so I'm leaving out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Third Annual South Florida Cantorial Concert

Shabbat Shalom everyone,

I'm pretty tired of knee-slapper "Jew on Christmas" posts, so let's just skip that. I'm looking forward to Shabbat and that's more than enough. For this week's get into the Shabbat groove post, I'd like to share a video and an announcement... the Third Annual South Florida Cantorial Concert is coming up on Jan 15. If you're in the area, hit their website for details, including a full list of performers. If you're into the Reform cantorial style (Nusach Ashkenaz with acoustic guitars!) it looks like a great event. I love hearing cantors of any movement cutting loose, and 20 cantors in large 700 person hall sounds magical.

Normally I don't showcase a lot of individual events. I thought posting this one would be fun partly because they thoughtfully sent me a link to last year's concert to share (see below) and partly because they're planning on webcasting the show. That's something that I'm strongly supportive of. There are a lot of Jews who don't live close enough events like this or, in this tough economy, can't afford the ticket price. (That said, this particular event is VERY reasonably priced at $18. That's half what I paid for a similar concert in Detroit recently, and I was only buying a cheap seat!) Webcasting is a wonderful way to share the good stuff with the whole community.

I don't see the webcasting info on their site yet, but will email them and ask about it. If you're excited about that them and let them know. It's important that they have a reasonable estimate of who's going to watch so that they can make sure their gear is up to the load.

Video Highlights of the 2010 Concert

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hanukkah Day 20: Samuel Adler's Flames of Freedom it's December 23. Hanukkah is long done and for varying reasons I never got out my last two Hanukkah posts. I'm not sure if I'll get the last one out, but I really wanted to share this one.

As I've mentioned, I've been listening and researching a lot more Jewish art music lately. One contemporary composer who's name I run into again and again is Samuel Adler. As his Milken Archive biography notes, "With a catalog comprising more than 400 secular and liturgical works, German-born Samuel Adler is a highly prolific American composer, as well as an accomplished conductor and a respected educator." He's the son of the equally famous composer and cantor Chaim Hugo Adler and has had a long and deep involvement in Jewish liturgical music in the US, including a stint heading the Reform movement's Transcontinental Musical Publishers and teaching at School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College. (for more info also see his wikipedia biography.)

Among his Jewish output is an outstanding set of Hanukkah music, The Flames of Freedom (available from the Milken Archive). Flames is "a cantata for three-part treble-voice chorus and piano, based on ten well-known Hanukka songs and hymns together with original music to two other liturgical Hanukka texts. It consists of eight short movements, each representing one of the eight Hanukka lights."

Unlike many art music adaptations of Jewish melodies I've heard, there is no hint of sentimental sweetening and swelling nostalgic orchestrations. Instead, these are wonderful new compositions that use original themes as jumping off points for new explorations. I don't pretend enough knowledge to really review art music pieces, so I'll leave it at that this... They're wonderful.

You can listen to clips online at the Milken Archive to hear the recorded performances. It turns out that Flames has also been arranged and published as sheet music for high-school choral's. Here's "William Floyd High School Women's Choir under the direction of Kristin Cimonetti performing" Flames of Freedom III. Hannerot hallalu (The Lights We Have Kindled) during their Winter concert, January 5, 2010. Lovely.

Flames of Freedom III. Hannerot hallalu (The Lights We Have Kindled)

I actually emailed Adler earlier this week. According to his bio, "His articles on Jewish music have appeared in the Central Conference of American Rabbis journal; Jewish Music; European Judaism; Musica Judaica; Diapason; The American Choral Review; and many others." I was hoping that he might have reprinted them in a book form or have them available somehow. No such luck. I'll have to try to hit the source journals.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hanukkah Day 6: The Asthmatix...Latkes From Australia

Hanukkah Day 6 comes straight from Australia, courtesy David Brook. I've written about Brook's music adventures before...he and J. Harkham were the pair that put out the Darkcho album, easily one of my favorite Jewish recordings of 2010. This time he sent me the video for the first single from the new band The Asthmatix. It's not clear if Brook is playing on the recording, but I'm guessing he is. And he's not. He's friends with the band and produced the video.

I really dig this video. It follows nicely after the klezmer meets hip-hop / house bands including Canada's Socalled, Germany's Jewdyssee, and England's Ghettoplotz. I'd love to see these folks spend some time at KlezKamp and improve their klezmer chops. Not quite in Socalled's league yet, but good stuff.

UPDATE 1: I just found another Asthamatix video, VaHAEnu. The video itself isn't as snappy as Brook's video for Latkes and it lacks the clever socalled-esque use of vintage narration cuts, but the violin and turntable are showcased much more effectively. My estimation of the violinist and the DJ jumped up a notch or two. Great stuff.

UPDATE 2: Brooks sent me the band's blurb (I love blurbs).

The Asthmatix have been blending the art of klezmer, hip-hop, middle eastern melodies and traditional turntablism since 2007. Taking to the stage with violin, keyboards, and turntables they have played Sydney venues including the 505, Name This Bar, Opera Bar and festivals including Shir Madness at the Bondi Pavillion. Band members include Mickey Morphingaz(Beats), Daniel Weltlinger (Violin), Dan Pliner (Keyboard), and Asparagus Mlynsky (Turntables) who will release their highly anticipated single, Latkes, in December, just in time for the Jewish festival.

UPDATE 3: You can get your own copy of the track from iTunes, or for the price of your email address at their website.

We Miss You John. (Imagine in Yiddish)

I'm still catching up on my Hanukkah posts but had to take a quick time out. Today's the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Like pretty much everyone else, Lennon's music has been part of the backdrop of my world. If you actually need evidence his impact and how much he's missed, here's his signature song, Imagine sung in Yiddish at a meeting of a group of (what appear to be) Sephardic Ladino speaking Jews.

The YouTube video contents only credit the performer as Frida and the translator as Moshe. Thanks to both them. This made my morning.

hat tip to YouTube user ironmaik22 for the posting the video.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hanukkah Day 5: A Hanukkah Sound Archive

So, we're 5 days into Hanukkah and you're thinking...yeah, I got this. Got my blessings back, warmed up my Ma'ot Tzur. Checked in on Teruah for that new Maccabeats video that everyone's talking about.

I hear you. Me too. So it's time to mix it up. How about switching to a Carlebach blessing melody?

Or a Ma'oz Tzur melody from Hungary?

Or maybe adding Dak il tas from Turkey.

The Sound Archive at the Jewish National University and Library has got you covered. It's Hanukkah page has a fascinating variety of audio recordings and maybe your new favorite melody.

The Library's aims are "To collect, preserve, cultivate and endow the treasures of knowledge, heritage and culture in general, with an emphasis on the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and the Jewish people in particular." There's a lot of great stuff in the archive, though you'll have to fight with a pretty terrible search interface.

Update: After posting this, I got a FaceBook note from Francesco Spangolo with more details about the JNUL. Spangolo is "a multidisciplinary scholar focusing on Jewish studies, music and digital media. Intersecting textual, visual and musical cultures, Spagnolo has contributed extensively to academia, cultural heritage and archival institutions, and live and electronic media in Europe, Israel and the United States. " Francesco and I have been crossing paths for a quite a while and I very hope to meet up with him someday.
"The National Sound Archives do not, unfortunately, maintain a dedicated website but they are currently digitizing the bulk of their collection in order to make it accessible online. The short story, off the top of my head: the NSA (aka Fonoteqah Leumit, or Phonotèque Nationale) were founded at the Jewish National and University Library in 1964 by musicologist Israel Adler (Berlin 1925 - Jerusalem 2009). They include thousands of archival recordings of the many musical traditions of the Jewish Diaspora, made on location and in studio, as well as non-Jewish traditions recorded in Israel (Samaritans, Druze, Beduin, Greek Orthodox, Syriac, etc.). Most of the recordings were made by fellows of the Jewish Music Research Center (JMRC) of the Hebrew University, which was also founded by I. Adler at the same time. The NSA are an amazing institution, and hopefully it will be known more once it fully goes online. The selections you posted were made by Ruti Freed, a longtime archivist at the NSA, who retired last year. The current director is Dr. Gila Flam.

They are my home away from home and I was just there last month, finishing to gather all the materials for a new CD project (an anthology of archival recordings) to be published next year. (The first one,
Italian Jewish Musical Traditions from the Leo Levi Collection (1954-1961), came out almost 10 years ago...). "
Thanks Francesco!

hat tip to the Miss Music Nerd blog, where I found the link to the JNUL sound archive.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hanukkah Day 4: The Fountainheads takes on the Black Eyed Peas- We're heading for meme, people

Ok, clearly the idea of doing a fun Hanukkah re-do of a pop song is going to be the meme this year. They're starting to pop up everywhere. Which is awesome... keep 'em coming

Today's is from the "Fountainheads, a group of Jewish students from universities around Israel who've all spent time at Ein Prat Academy, a pluralistic study place for secular and religious students to build mutual respect." The Fountainheads took on the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling." Ok..maybe it's not as polished or snappy as the Maccabeats or Six13 videos, but I dig it. It's got a irrepressibly fun DIY vibe. Happy Hanukkah gang!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hanukkah Day 3: A Disquieting Hanukkah - Marc Weidenbaum's Anander Mol, Anander Veig

Marc Weidenbaum is the author of Disquiet, a blog on ambient and electronic music. Recently he was commissioned by Tablet Magazine to put together an album of re-mixed Hanukkah music called Anader Mol ,Andander Vieg which roughly means, according to Weidenbaum, "another time, another way." The result is an intriguing, if highly uneven, collection. It's free for download from Tablet magazine, along with a excellent audio interview by Tablet's Sara Ivry. The Disquiet site has info on all the artists, both the remixed and the remixing. Check 'em out.

These tracks are not Hanukkah party music (at least not at your typical party). These tracks are intended as a more more nuanced exploration. The Mark Rushton remix of Dov Rosenblatt, Rosi Golan, and Deena Goodman's Ma'oz Tzur and Paula Duant's remix of Girls in Trouble's Sivivion Sov Sov are gentle, buzzing dreamscape. The Diego Bernal and Cut Loose remixes of the 4th Ward's "Ose Shalom" and of the Klezmer Reb's "Yishma" (respectively) are fun, but stiff, bounces.

Sadly, many of the tracks are just terrible. The OCP remix of the Alexandria Kleztet's Chanukah Chag Yafe sounds like a cheap Christmas toy. The Roddy Schrock Hava Nagial oscillates back and forth between a poorly executed baseball game mix and tinkly, but obvious and cliched piano. The XNTRXX and Diego Bernal remixes of Dave Tarras's "Die Golden Chasene" go no where.

This is one of those.. you're results will vary kind of discs. Give it a listen and see if something grabs you. Personally, I love to see experiments like this, even if the outcomes aren't always wonderful.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hanukkah Day 2: Matisyahu's Miracle on Ice

I'm about to head over to my little wigglers elementary school to talk about Hanukkah to their kindergarten and 3rd grade classes. Should be a hoot. Last time I did this, my wife came too and got a room full of first graders to pound their desks yodeling "sufganiyot! sufganiyot! sufganiyot!" (as we were, of course, handing out sufganiyot).

For my Hanukkah day 2 pick, here's a video my wife and older wiggler were enjoying this morning. It's Matisyahu, showing that he can go head to head with Lipa Schmeltzer for awesome over-the-top Hanukkah silliness. Here's the official blurb. (I love blurbs).
"An uplifting pop gem arriving just in time for the holiday, "Miracle," produced by Dr. Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), is drenched in a joyful spirit and features chiming synths, bouncing beats and an irresistible chorus.

Matisyahu says, "There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!"
Here we go then....

Miracle: Matisyahu on Ice

Sigh. If you click through to the video page at YouTube scroll down through the comments you'll see a lot of cranky antisemitic and anti-Israeli diatribes. Hanukkah is, in part, about the need to stand up for the right to believe as you choose. It's sad to see how current that need still is.

Oh...and it's worth pointing out that you can buy a copy of the Miracle track and pre-order Matisyahu's new album & DVD set "Live at Stubbs II" at his website. If you're on the East Coast, you can also check out his Festival of Lights tour schedule.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hanukkah Day 1: Maccabeats vs Six13 & NCSY in Hanukkah A Capella throwdown

Woot!!! Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah! My kids are spazzing out and I am too. I've been listening to Hanukkah music for a couple of weeks now and am ready to roll with a ton of great Hanukkah music. To kick this off, here's a battle of the bands between the Maccabeats and Six13, two great Jewish a capella groups. Both are whooping it up with a pair of fun Hanukkah rewrites of recent pop tunes.

First, here's The Maccabeats with Candelight, a redo of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" (inspired by Mike Tompkins' a cappella version.) The video's been getting a lot of distribution, including a shout out from the Huffington Post.

Candlelight - The Maccabeats

Second, here's Six13 with I Light It, their redo of Justin Beiber's "Baby," Kanye West's "Heartless," and "I Like It" by Enrique Inglesias. The song was written in collaboration with NCSY, the Orthodox youth organization, as a Hanukkah howdy. Check the video website for full lyrics.

I Light It - NCSY Chanukah Musical Remix 2010

Hat Tip to Immanuel for emailing me about the Maccabeats video and Duvi Stahler of NCSY for emailing me about the NCSY/Six13 video.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jewish liturgical work the Vatican

Cantor Erik Contzius recently debuted his lovely new composition, "Mah Ashiv Ladonai - quid retribuam Domino" on November 16, 2010 at, off all places, the Vatican. According to the New York Jewish Week, "Twenty cantors of the American Conference of Cantors(ACC) will present for the first time a concert of Jewish music at the Basilica of Santa Marie degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome on Nov. 16 before Vatican officials, hoping to use music as another way to achieve closer relations between Catholics and Jews." The composition is a setting of Psalm 116. I find Mah Ashiv Ladonai, like Contzius' compositions, to be quite moving. Check out his website and, in particular, his recording "Teach My Lips a Blessing." I'm a fan.

Mah Ashiv Ladonai - quid retribuam Domino Premiere

Update: I just got a note from Ruth Ellen Gruber pointing me to her article in the JTA on the concert. It's a great read and provides a lot more detail and context for the concert. On of the elements of the story that she picks up on is dynamics of Jewish movements (denominations) and how they played out. While Italy has a Jewish community, their cantors have never sung for the Vatican. Why? Because they're Orthodox and wouldn't sing in a church. The ACC is Reform and didn't have an issue with it. Also, while Italy has a chief Rabbi, he didn't attend the show. Why? Because the ACC group included women cantors, which violates the Orthodox kol isha rules about women singing in public. Again, the ACC is Reform and have no such restrictions. What makes this double fascinating is that, in the four or five different articles on the even I read, only Gruber's draws out this critical detail.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A White Goat Under the Bed. A night of Jewish lullabies.

I just got back from a fun night at my synagogue which included a talk on Mussar by one of the congregants and a talk (and concert and singalong) on Jewish lullabies by our Cantor Annie Rose. Mostly I enjoyed the lullabye part. Go figure. (The Mussar talk seemed to be well received by everyone but me. I found the speaker to approach it from a fuzzy faux-spiritualized self-help perspective that was sadly disconnected from any Jewish meaning. I'm just cranky I guess) The lullabies were great, though.

I know a bit about Yiddish and Ladino lullabies but Cantor Rose brought up a number of points that I didn't know including....

1. Lullabies typically express the yearnings of the mother, sometimes for the return of an absent father, sometimes for the future of the child, sometimes for love or peace

2. Lullabies typically tell a story, even if it's just the story of the day's activities and dilemmas

3. Yiddish and Ladino lullabies have a strong sense of Jewish culture and community, with common references to rabbis, prayers, and Torah study, Jewish superstitions (white goats are lucky), and Jewish experiences (the father conscripted into the army, merchant trades)

4. Did I say that white goats are lucky? Yep. Having one under your bed is a good thing. Really.

My favorite of the night was Unter Dem Kinds Vigele (Beneath the Baby's Cradle). The lyrics, which include a white goat, are:

1. Unter dem kinds vigeleBeneath the baby's cradle
Shteyt a vayse tsigele.Stands a white kid.
Di tsigele iz geforn handlenThe kid has gone away to trade
Rozhinkes mit mandlen;In raisins and almonds.

Rozhinkes mit mandlen iz zeyer zis,

Raisins and almonds are very sweet,
Mayn kind vet zayn gezunt un frish.My child will be healthy and alert.

Gezunt iz di beste skhoyre,Health is the best of goods,
Mayn kind vet lernen toyre,My child will study Torah;
Toyre vet er lernen,Torah is what he'll study,
Sforim vet er shraybn,He will write holy books.
A guter un a frumerA good and a pious person
Vet er im yirtse hashem blaybn.will he stay, God willing.

Unfortunately, I can't find a good version online to share. So here's Hannah Roth singing the lovely Yiddish lullabye "Shlof Mayn Kind (Rest my kid)," Lyrics by Shalom Aleichem.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beyond the Pale nominated for the 6th Annual Canadian Folk Music Awards

Just a quick pre-shabbat shout out to the Canadian klezmer band Beyond The Pale. As reported by the Vancouver Sun, they received the most nominations of any Canadian folk band in this years Canadian Folk Music Awards. They were nominated in four categories... instrumental group, world group, ensemble and pushing the boundaries. Way to go guys!

According to the CFMA website, the awards are going to be handed out on Saturday, Nov 20, so I'll report back soon with how BTP did.

Here's a recent video of BTP at the legendary Freight and Salvage folk club in Berkley California. None other than the also legendary Theodore Bikel came out to see them play, and then got coaxed on stage to sit in.

Hat tip to YouTube user ellyrocs for uploading the video

A Contemporary Kabbalistic Kabbalat Shabbat: Shir Yaakov & The ADVA Network Reunion

Hi folks, Shabbat shalom.

I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit and his many musical adventures. He's a deep and soulful guy. For this week's 'get in the Shabbat groove' music, I want to share a lovely Shabbat service that he uploaded to Soundcloud. This is a wonderful example of where a Jewish community can go with Shabbat service that includes instrumentation but isn't a folk-pop guitar focused songleader or piano accompanied communal sing (not that I have an issue with that style). It's something else entirely and not something that can be easily replicated on your average Shabbat. But it really took my breath away and dropped me right into a Shabbat zone in the middle of a work-a-day Tuesday. Wish I was there.

Here's the short description Shir Yaakov's provided on SoundCloud. After the player, is a longer explanation of the event and how the service was conceptualized and planned.

"Friday, November 12, 2010 about 100 alumni of the ADAMAH Jewish Environmental Fellowship and the Teva Learning Center joined their hearts and voices together in prayer at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center"

ADVA Reunion Kabbalat Shabbat 2010 by shiryaakov
Shir Yaakov - "Two years ago the ADVA Network was combined to bring together alumni from two programs of Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center: the ADAMAH Jewish Environmental Fellowship and the Teva Education Center. (Adva means ripple in Hebrew.) I lead Kabbalat Shabbat for our Reunion last year but didn't post the whole service. I posted almost all of this year's service, except one song which became very loud and overloaded the recording.

For the first time this year there were three Friday Night davvenen options: orthodox, traditional egalitarian w/o instruments, and the service I led. This gave me more freedom to move away from the traditional matbeah and develop a kabbalah-inspired form. It was parshat vayetzei, where Jacob has the dream of the sulam/ladder, so I built the service around the sefirot in the Tree of Life array....

The first song we sang — Hareni Mikabel Alai/Dear Friends — corresponded to Chesed/lovingkindness. The matches liturgically with it's theme of love, and also with the essence of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, first developed by the Tsfat kabbalists; the Ariza"l (R' Isaac Luria) taught his students that taking on the mitzvah to love thy neighbor as yourself was a pre-requisite to prayer. Also, the traditional Friday Night service begins with Lechu Neranenah (Psalm 95); the letters of "lechu" — לכו — are an acronym for v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha, so I see this as a allusive correspondance. This simple, one part chant also, musically, corresponds to the simplicity of mitzad chesed in the Tree of Life.

I chose a two part, "digging" melody — Lulei Siroscha by R' Shlomo Carblebach — for gevurah/strength-limitations. I wanted to use two-part melodies for mitzad gevurah, seeing as the left-side has the aspect of duality and judgement, sifting. This is apparently one of the only Carlebach niggunim that are still sung in the yeshivish world because he composed it before leaving Lakewood.

As I mentioned above our three-part melody is not in the recording because it became too full and loud for the recorded. I used another Carlebach niggun — Ki Va Moed, which is often sung to Psalm 96 on Friday nights. It's in a major key, and it's three parts allude to the balance, integration and harmony of tiferet/compassion-beauty.

For Netzach/endurance-victory, we return to the simple, one-part chant Yachid Ge'eh. I composed this on 18 Elul, the birthday of the Ba'al Shem Tov. The liturgical source is Ana B'choach (Tefilat R' Nechuniah ben Hakana) and we repeat the work zochrei/rememberers. Memory is linked with netzach and this piyyut has the supplicatory tone of Moshe, who often is voiced in the text as an interceder, and is linked with this sefirah.

Hod/glory-submission comes from a root meaning thankfulness, so I chose Modeh/Modah Ani as the text and this two-part melody to correspond with the side of duality. I also chose this (and other melodies) knowing they'd be familiar to the group I was praying with.

Yesod/foundation was linked with another composition of mine (written 2 Elul 5769); another three-part melody, as yesod is the synthesis of Netzach and Hod. Shabbat is often linked with malchut, however, I placed the two parts of Lecha Dodi there.

I had planned a longer meditation for ma'ariv, but as you can here, this part of our service went much longer than I'd expected.

The musicians involved were:
Cassia Arbabi, violin
Jonathan Dubinsky, percussion
Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit, guitar, vocals
Ilan Glazer, percussion
Joanna Kent Katz, harmonica
Rebecca Lemus, clarinet
Elisheva Margolis, flute
Yoshi Silverstein, octave mandolin
Tali Weinberg, vocals
Casey Baruch Yurow, mandolin

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting smart about Jewish art music

I'm going to be giving another Jewish music talk at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor in January, this time on Jewish Art Music. I suggested the topic because a) it has a rich and misunderstood history and b) I richly misunderstand it as much as anyone. I know a lot less about Jewish art music than I do about other aspects of Jewish music. This has a bit to do with my taste in music and a bit to do with the challenges in tracking performers and composers in this space. I'll be writing a number of blog posts over the next couple of weeks that touch on Jewish art music, both as a way for me to get my thoughts in order and as a way for people to dope-smack me when I go astray. Which, I'm sure, will be often has already started.

Let me start by explaining what I mean by art music. Here's a pretty reasonable starting point, from Wikipedia. * (There is also a Wikipedia article on Jewish art music but I find it way too narrow.)
"Art music (or serious music or erudite music) is an umbrella term used to refer to musical traditions implying advanced structural and theoretical considerations and a written musical tradition. The notion of art music is a frequent and well defined musicological distinction, e.g. referred to by musicologist Philip Tagg as an "axiomatic triangle consisting of 'folk', 'art' and 'popular' musics." He explains that each of these three is distinguishable from the others according to certain criteria. In this regard, it is frequently used as a contrasting term to popular music and traditional or folk music."
In this sense, according to Tagg, Art music (as opposed to folk and popular music) is characterized by professional musicians, written scores, limited distribution, an agrarian or industrial culture, written musical theories and non-anonymous composers. It's a mouthful but you get the idea. This is fancy stuff, not the anonymous and ubiquitous oral folk tradition or mass-produced & distributed recorded pop stuff. A variety of different musics fit under this heading including orchestral and chamber music, opera, choral, and arguably more challenging versions of (sometimes) jazz and (rarely) rock music.

Thinking about Jewish art music raises a question that exists, but is less interesting, for Jewish folk and pop musics. Why make it at all? There are Jewish folk, who make music, so you get Jewish folk music. There is a Jewish populous and bands that play for them, so you get Jewish pop music. But in the theory-rich and abstracted compositional space of art and why do you end up with Jewish art music?

There seem to be a couple of answers.

First, you don't. There is a long history of extremely talented and famous Jewish musicians, composers, and conductors that have been central to the Art music tradition but did not typically or ever produce recognizably Jewish art music. Some famous examples include Giacomo Meyerbeer, Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn, minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Leonard Bernstein, and 12-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg. Professionally, it was often not advantageous to advertise their Judaism and musically it was often irrelevant. (Note I said typically, my buddy Daniel just pointed out that both Reich and Schoenberg have composed Jewish works as well as non-Jewish works. That's also true for Meyerbeer and Bernstein.)

Second, you do if the composer is interested in liturgical compositions. Western art music (classical music) traces its history back to Gregorian chants which trace their history back to Jewish liturgical music. Art music and liturgical music have been influencing each other ever since. While there is a sense in traditional Judaism that our liturgical melodies go back to Sinai (and are referred to as "Mi Sinai" melodies), in truth these melodies have evolved and changed over time. In the 19th century, Samuel Naumbourg, Solomon Sulzer and Louis Lewandowski documented Ashkenazi liturgical music and added their own, now ubiquitous compositions. New liturgical works are constantly being developed. Some, such as the works of Hugo Chaim Adler and Samuel Adler and Aaron Blumenfeld fit well into the mainstream of Jewish liturgical works as well as art song. Some are quite idiosyncratic. I'm personally a fan of the Herbie Hancock composed Jon Klien composed, Herbie Hancock performed "Hear O Isreal, a Sabbath Composition in Jazz" which was composed in the mid 1960's as commissioned work for Rabbi David Davis. For a wonderful, focused, exploration of the evolution of Jewish liturgical music, check out Cantor Andrew Bernard's "A Guide to Kaddish in 16 Tracks."

Third, you do if, as a composer, you're interested in the development of national music or cultural identify. There was a fascination in the 19th century, and to a lesser degree the 20th century, in developing cultural and nationalistic identities through the development of identifying cultural art, including music. For example, the "New Jewish School*" of music, represented by the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music,
"can be compared to other national currents, forming the European musical landscape since the middle of the 19th century. While Russian, Czech, Spanish or Norwegian national music was able to unfold and establish itself in the cultural conscience, the development of the Jewish school was violently terminated by the Stalinist and national-socialist policy after only three decades.

The history of the New Jewish School started in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1908 the Society for Jewish folk music was founded in St. Petersburg - the first Jewish musical institution in Russia. Important composers, such as Joseph Achron, Michail Gnesin, Alexander Krejn , Moshe Milner, Solomon Rosowsky, Lazare Saminsky and others joined it. In contrast to Jewish composers from Western Europe these young artists did not lose their connection to the Jewish community. The more than five million Jews in Russia (at that time about half of the Jews in the world) lived in old traditions, which remained a nurturing soil and a source of inspiration for musicians. [Musica Judaica website]

In the 20th century, outside of Israel, diaspora composers have often substituted the idea of Jewish identity for Jewish nationality but followed the same compositional lines... developing non-liturgical compositions inspired by Jewish religious practice, Jewish events (often the Holocaust), or themes from Jewish folk and/or popular music. Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13, for example, was inspired by the poem Babi Yar, by Yevgeni Yevtushenko, which tells the story of a massacre of Jews in Kiev by the Nazi's but is also the story of Russian pogroms and of callous hate. (You can read the poem at, and hear a performance of the poem and the symphony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage website. Avant-garde Jazz saxophonist and composer John Zorn developed the Masada Songbook of over 200 individual compositions based on a set of composition rules derived, largely, from his analysis of Jewish liturgical and klezmer modes. You can listen to an NPR spot on the Masada project on the NPR website. To develop an American Jewish identify, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music has produce well over 50 CDs of American Jewish art music ranging from Yiddish Theater music to contemporary symphonies. My personal favorite so far is Ofer Ben-Amots' etherial "Celestial Dialogues / Hashkivenu / Shtetl Songs"

By the way...what comes around goes around. Two of my favorite albums are pianist Uri Caine (and his ensemble) exploring Gustav Mahler from both an improvisational jazz perspective as well as a Jewish music perspective, including klezmer styled horns and vocals by the extraordinary Cantor Aaron Bensoussan. The studio album, Primal Light, and the live album "I Went Out This Morning Over the Countryside: Gustav Mahler in Toblach" don't necessary show that Mahler had Jewish themes, which is questionable, instead they show how good a vehicle Mahler is for improvisation, Jewish themed or otherwise. But the irony, as well as the music, is delightful.

As I noted earlier, keeping up with Jewish art music is difficult. Here are some of my favorite resources, but all have frustratingly narrow focus areas.

1. The Milken Archive of Jewish Music: The American Experience
2. John Zorn's Tzadik label (look for the Radical Jewish Culture sub-label)
3. - "The Global Website to promote Jewish Theatre and Performing Arts"
4. The Jewish Music WebCenter - an online forum for academic, organizational, and individual activities in Jewish music.
5. American Society for Jewish Music - which "serves as a broad canopy for all who are interested in Jewish music. Its members include cantors, composers, educators, musicologists, ethnologists, historians, performers and interested lay members - as well as libraries, universities, synagogues and other institutions."
6. The Klezmershack, Hava Nashira, and Jewish Shul Music mailing lists. While no one list focuses on Jewish art music, each occasionally has something interesting in this area.

* The Wikipedia article has lots of useful and cluttering footnotes and citations. Check 'em out if you want further edification. The Tagg article "Analysing popular music: theory, method and practice" is particularly fascinating.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jewish Rock Radio

Jewish Rock RadioThere's a new Jewish internet streaming radio station in town. Helmed by Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Ron Hoffman, and musician Rick Recht, Jewish Rock Radio is a slick and glossy website and iphone app that's now streaming slick and glossy Jewish rock music 24/7. To give you a sense of their playlist, in the last 20 minutes or so I've heard Orthodox rapper Eprhyme, and Orthodox college pop band Blue Fringe, Israeli world-beat rockers the Idan Rachel Project, singer-songwriter Todd Herzog, and Reform camp rock superstar Rick Recht ('s his station, right?). It's is a really nice pop-radio mix with a liberal Jewish orientation but drawing some great frum-pop and secular Israeli pop. Good for them.

And yeah.. I said slick and glossy twice. I can't help it. I'm so not a slick and glossy guy. I like my pop indie and my rock punk. I want them to play The Shondes and Girls in Trouble. I dislike Rich Recht's music so much it makes my eyes cross. But that's my deal. I honestly hope and expect JRR to take off and finds it's audience.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kol Achai at Shea Stadium. Spoiler Alert...The Cubs Lost

Everyone once in a while I think I've got this Jewish music thing, and then the rug get's pulled out from under me again. My buddy Noah did that to me when he introduced me to a strand of Orthodox pop music that I didn't know anything about. It includes bands like Kol Achai, Abie Rotenberg & D'veykus. Let me start by saying I'm practically clueless about these bands and will be trying to piece it together over the next few months. What I know is that these bands were primarily active in the 80's, played a lot of NCSY camp events, and had a very (for the time) contemporary pop sound. They're connected, I think, with the Israeli scene that produced seminal Jewish rock pioneers Diaspora Yeshiva band and their repertoire includes Israeli tunes as well as original. But I'm really not sure about any of this yet. These bands have little presence on the web other than discographies on some of the Orthodox Jewish music catalog sites. What I do know is that I'm a fan. They're some great material in these discs and they're a pointer to a part of Orthodox Jewish culture that I was completely unaware of.

As I said there's precious little material on these bands on the web, but here's a great clip. It's Kol Achai singing The Star Spangled Banner at Shea Stadium on Sept 13, 1993. Spoiler alert...the Cubs lost.

Hopefully I'll be back with more info on this scene. If you were part of it, as a musician or audience, please get in touch with me.

Update: I just got an email from Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. He pointed out that while he respected mainstream Orthodox groups like Kol Achai and "Abie Rottenberg's soulful tunes" that DYB was part of a very different ba'al teshuva scene that "The Megama Duo, Piamenta, Yitzhak Attias, The Baal Shemtov Band and Rava Mehemna were our contemporaries- all returnees to Torah observance. " I really appreciate Avraham's update. For someone who wasn't there piecing this together is tough. By the way...I should note that DYB just released an awesome DVD of one of their 1982 concerts. It's great.

We sang Misheberach for the cat. It died. An interview with a Debbie Friedman Cover Band

And you shall be a blessing...oh yeah!

Debbie Friedman is a seminal figure in American Jewish music, with a huge influence on Reform liturgy and camp music. She's inspired song books, movies, and now...the cover band Not By Might.

Ok. Not really. The guys in the video, Jason Mesches and Jacob Perlin are actually the musical comedy duo Mesch and Cod. But their mockumentary is brilliant and absolutely spot-on. If you've spent any time around Reform songleaders, you'll be in stitches.

NOT BY MIGHT - Debbie Friedman cover band interview

And because it's Shabbat and because it's been a long week, here's Debbie Freidman performing her classic Misheberach at LimmudLA on Sunday, 17 February 2008.

Debbie Friedman Performs 'Mishebayrach' Live at LimmudLA'08

All fixed and back online.

That was weird. Google decided that my blog was involved in suspicious activity and shut me down. I jumped through the hoops and it's up again. No explanation of what exactly the suspicious activity was, though.

I'd say "if anyone is still having problems please let me know" but if you were having problems, how would you know I wrote that?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Israel's Yemin Orde Youth Choir on PRI's The World

On Monday, PRI's The World did a feature on Israel's Yemin Orde Youth Choir. Most of the kids at Yemin Order, are Jewish, but not all. All are immigrants, some from Ethiopia, some from Sudan, some from Poland and Russia. The school is not a boarding school, but "a village, a community" that gives stability and grounding to "more than 500 immigrant, disadvantaged and at-risk children and youth from 20 countries around the world."

Here's the 5 minute program, hosted by Matthew Bell. (Download MP3)

The Youth Choir is on Tour right now. Here's a link to their tour schedule, which includes LA, NYC, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

Here's a video of the choir singing a medley. If you enjoy it and can't make it to a show, consider clicking through to the YouTube page and making a donation.

There are a number of additional videos about Yemin Orde on Youtube, including "Yemin Orde Youth Village" a 10 minute clip from the PBS documentary "The Visionaries."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cantors Assembly puts the Journal of Synagogue Music online

If you're a Jewish music nerd like me, this is big news. The Cantors Assembly, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement, has put their Journal of Synagogue Music and Conference Proceedings online in downloadable .pdf form. The Journal has annual issues dating back to 1967 and the conference proceedings go back to 1947! There is some seriously good scholarship in these pages, some of which is still highly relevant and some of which makes a wonderful time capsule of changing ideas about Jewish music.

As Samuel Rosenbaum says in the intro to his 1982 essay collection Words About Music, which is also included
Music plays a unique role in the life of the Jew. Certainly, it enhances life; but it is far more than that. We study, pray, celebrate and mourn in the language of music. It is a part of life's fabric. In many cases it is the fabric itself.
Ain't that the truth.

It's fitting that I found out about this today. I'm on my way to a Cantors concert featuring Cantors Alberto Mizrahi, Meir Finklestein, David Propis, Simon Spiro, Rebecca Carmi and Daniel Gross, among others.

Here's a video of Cantor Meir Finklestein to get me in the mood.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cafe Noah - Aljazeera writes about Jewish music

So this is a first. I get ideas for blog posts from a lot of different's comes from an article and video on the English website of Aljazeera, the Arabic language news network. The article and video are part of Aljazeera's "Witnesss" television program which (if I undrstand correctly) produces short tv length bio-pics of interesting Arabs around the word. It's most recent episode is "Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel. A reminiscence of a by-gone era for a group of Jewish Arab musicians and their struggle to keep their music alive."

Cafe Noah is a 1996 documentary by Israeli film maker Duki Dror. It's available through Amazon (I just ordered a copy) in a double set with Dror's film Taqasim, which was "shot in the streets of Cairo, is a voyage to the hidden treasures of Arabic music and to the participation of Jewish musicians." The Amazon description of Cafe Noah isn't as heavy handed as Aljazeera's and doesn't talk about the Jewish Arab musician's "cultural exile," instead describing Cafe Noah as "the Jewish musicians from Baghdad and Cairo have immigrated to Israel. They were masters in Arabic music, but their music was not valued in the new homeland." But the idea is the same. Israel in the 1950's and 1960's valued European influences over Arab and home-grown pioneer songs over either Ashkenazi or Jewish-Arab (mizrachi) folk music. It wasn't until the rise of pop Mizrachi music (described as "Central Bus Station Music" in Amy Horowitz's excellent book "Mediterranean Israel Music") that Jewish music with Arabic origins began to play a more prominent role in the Israeli music scene.

Here's the full Algazeera video. It paints a fascinating picture of the end of an era of Jewish Arab music.

Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel

It's important to note, though, that while it was an end of an era the resurgence of Mizrachi music in the pop arena has helped a resurgence of interest in Mizrachi music in other areas. Since 2000 Israel has hosted the International Oud Festival and a wide variety of Israeli musicians ranging from traditional folk to progressive metal bands have explored the sound.

As an added treat, Aljazeera put a video up on YouTube of a performance of "The Cafe Noah band" including Abraham Slaman (Kanun), Albert Elias (Flute), Felix Mizrachi (violin), Ezra Barhum (Oud).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Even More Jewish Music in Michigan this fall

I've added some updates to my listing of Jewish music in Michigan this fall. New on the list are my fav's the Afro-Semitic Experience playing in Lansing and Grand Rapids on Nov 5 and 6 and a lecture on Sephardic Jews with a flamenco performance by Scott Mateo Davies in West Bloomfield on Nov 7. Check the listing for full details.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Songs at a Table

Recently there has been a wave of new recordings of interesting approaches to Chassidic music. In recent posts, I've written about Jeremiah Lockwood's Niggun Project and Brook and Harkham's Darkcho album. Coming up soon will be the Breslov Bar Band's debut album. These recordings are all interesting because they are, to a large degree, neo-Chassidic. Or, Chassidic inspired. Today's album, Songs at a Table, is straight up Chassidic niggunim and I'm pretty exited about.

As I've mentioned any number of time, I'm a big fan of niggunim. As such, you'd think I'd have a pile of fantastic recordings to thrown on anytime I get the urge to listen to some. Sadly...not true at all. Partially, I'm fine with this. To a large degree niggunim are music to be sung, not listened to. They're not a performance music, so why would I expect lots of recordings? Partially, though I'm pretty frustrated. Most niggun recordings I've run across miss the mark by either adding instrumentals (for check the amazing, but highly orchestrated Chabad nigun collection) or by presenting them as part of a musicians performance (e.g. the many Carelbach recordings).

At last, Songs on a Table gets it right. This is a collection of niggun recorded in the wild, at a table, with nothing more than a bunch of guys* singing, clapping hands, and banging the table. The niggunim presented are a diverse set, including traditional Bobover, Breslover, and Lubavitch niguns as well as more contemporary compositions. The guys voices are well practiced and authoritative. And, most importantly, it sounds nothing like a well mannered performance. Most interestingly, while niggun are intended to be spiritual songs, they are as often as sung joyful rowdy table songs. This album is on the joyful rowdy side. Great fun. Pass the schnapps.

Berl's Niggun(Breslav)"

The one caveat, and my one annoyance with the album, is its production. Which I don't like. At all. Between poor microphone placement (which made it hard to pull out the occasional harmonies) and the addition of a layer of lacquer (e.g. studio effects including reverb), it's just not recording it could have been. The result is solid and appreciated, but not brilliant. (For an outstanding, but not Jewish, recording of similar music check out the Tsindali Choir singing Georgian table songs [video] [album])

I should mention that the Songs at a Table recording is a fundraiser for Leket Israel, Israel's national food bank.
"With the help of 45,000 annual volunteers and a dedicated staff, Leket Israel supports hundreds of non-profit organizations caring for the needy. Leket Israel:
· Rescues over 110 tons of food a week that would otherwise be destroyed from hundreds of food producers.
· Coordinates the largest food purchasing cooperative for non-profit organizations in the country.
· Provides professional guidance to non-profit organizations in nutrition and food safety.
· Supplies over 5,000 volunteer prepared sandwiches a day to school children from dysfunctional homes in 24 cities."

Chanukkah is coming up folks... good music, good cause. How about it? You can get more info at Songs at a Table.

*Ok, let me be clear. I have nothing against women singing niggunim and would be very receptive to hearing a recording of such. But all of my experience with traditional niggunim has been with guys, both in personal singing and in recordings. The only recordings I've heard with women (e.g. the really mediocre UJR / Transcontinental recording "Niggun Anthology") have been really poor stuff. C'mon sisters. Get you're niggun on!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Michigan Jewish Music - Upcoming events

Hi folks...Fall is falling. Kids are back in school. It's a great time for Jewish music on the North Coast. Here are a couple of concerts that I know of coming up. If you know of others, let me know! In particular, I haven't found any Jewish pop bands hitting Detroit this fall. Which is wrong. So very wrong.

Oh..and apologies to my friends in the Heartland Klezmorim, who played on Sunday. Um. This was supposed to get written a couple of weeks ago and...well. sorry.

Oct 21: Jerusalem String Quartet at Ann Arbor's Rackham Auditorium

Jerusalem String QuartetFounded in 1993 when its members met in high school, this still youthful, internationally acclaimed quartet is known for playing well-worn classical standards with attentiveness, freshness, and vigor. The group tends to perform its program selections on the high end of the tempo range without losing control, resulting in excitement that doesn’t degrade into haste. Program: Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E Minor, Mark Kopytman’s String Quartet no. 3, and Brahms’ Quartet in C Minor.

Oct 24: The River Raisin Ragtime Review and the Kol Halev choir plays "The Music of Tin Pan Alley: Jewish Contributions to American Popular Music" at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor

River Raisin Ragtime ReviewJoin this outstanding ragtime-era orchestra as they present important American works associated with Tin Pan Alley. R4 surveys important Jewish composers, performers and publishers at the forefront of a commercial music industry that lasted decades. R4 features Tin Pan Alley pioneer Charles K. Harris’ 1891 sensation “After the Ball,” as well as music of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Jean Schwartz, Harold Arlen, Gus Kahn, Grace LeBoy, Ted Snyder , Y.P. Harburg , Jay Gorney and Dorothy Fields. You’ll want to sing along with hits including “Toot Toot Tootsie, Good Bye,” “Swanee,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “The Sheik of Araby,” “Avalon” and many other period songs that have become American standards.

The River Raisin Ragtime Revue is based in Tecumseh and is comprised of professional musicians from throughout Michigan. R4 is dedicated to educating and entertaining through the performance of significant American music. Utilizing meticulously researched and engaging narratives, R4 transports audiences to the cultural and social conditions of by-gone eras. The orchestra has issued important historical recordings that have received international praise. Fanfare Magazine writes R4 offers “…education, entertainment and a sonic blast rolled into one.”
R4 will be joined by the Kol Halev Choir and soloist Cantor Annie Rose. Ms. Rose will perform her signature rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Yiddle, on your Fiddle, Play Some Ragtime.”

For more info see the R4 schedule page. By the way..this is my shul and I wouldn't miss it. If you come by, say howdy.

Oct 25: Teruah Lecture: Music of the Diaspora

Jack ZaientzI'll be teaching a class on Jewish music titled "Music of the Diaspora" at Temple Beth Emeth as part of their Beit Cafe adult education program. Here's the blurb. I love blurbs. Particularly when I write them.
Topic: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of secular and religious music from around the Jewish world including Ashkenazi, Sepharidic, Morrano/Converso, Ethiopian, Israeli, Mountain Jews, and Mizrachi Jews.

Discussion questions: How much of our view of being of Jewish comes from our immediate surroundings and culture? Now that the internet has made unexpected corners the world immediately available, how might that change our sense of Jewish culture? How will that change our sense of being Jewish?
Oct 26: "An Evening To Remember" Cantors Concert at Adat Shalom Synagogue

Alberto Mizrachi Whew. After the River Raisin show and my lecture, I'm not sure I'll have the energy to make it to this. But I really want to. The show pays tribute to Cantor Larry Vieder and will feature Hazzan's Alberto Mizrahi, Meir Finklestein, David Propis, Simon Spiro, Rebecca Carmi and Adat Shalom's Hazzan Daniel Gross. I've wanted to hear Mizrahi sing for years. Maybe this will be my chance.

Nov 3 David Broza at the Ann Arbor Power Center

David BrozaDavid Broza is Israel's number one export and sometimes referred to as Israel's answer to Bruce Springsteen. "For thirty years now, Israeli superstar David Broza has been considered one of the most dynamic and vibrant performers in the singer/songwriter world." He's a regular on the Jewish music fest circuit and draws big crowds. He'll be playing the Power Center in Ann Arbor. Here's a recent Billboard article on Broza's latest album.

Nov 5 and Nov 6: The Afro Semitic Experience in Lansing and Grand Rapids

The Afro Semitic Experience, from my home turf of Connecticut, is one of my favorite groups exploring the intersection of Jewish music and jazz. I saw them play last year at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music and they were wonderful. Check 'em out.

November 5, 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. Friday night service with the Afro-Semitic Experience at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 1924 Coolidge Road, East Lansing, Michigan, for more info please call: 517-351-3570 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 517-351-3570 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, or visit

November 6, the Afro-Semitic Experience in concert, Temple Emanuel, 1715 East Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, for tickets and more info please call (616) 459-5976 or visit

Nov 7: ¡Viva Sefarad! Flamenco and the Jews of Spain at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield

"Internationally acclaimed guitarist Scott Mateo Davies" and his group will be performing and lecturing at Congregation Beth Ahm. The event at 2:30pm and is free and open to the public.

What is significant about flamenco is its cultural mix. It represents the influences of extremely divergent cultures: the Moors, Sephardic (Hebrew for Spanish) Jews, Gypsies, and the dominant Spanish culture. For example, many of the melodies used in flamenco have both Sephardic and Arabic roots, the "letras"(texts) are in a characteristically Gypsy poetical form while the guitar is typically Spanish. (From Davies website)"

Nov: 11 - The Cantors Assembly documentary "100 Voices: A Journey Home" playing in a theater near you

The first national showing of 100 voices in September was a big success, with lots of sold out theaters. So the promoters are going for round two on Nov 11. Here's a listing of all the theaters in the US that are participating, including 20 Michigan theaters ranging from Port Huron to Benton Harbor.

"100 Voices" will offer a unique and moving look at Polish/Jewish history and culture and highlight its current resurgence. The story is told through the personal reflections and musical performances of Cantors Assembly members and acclaimed composer Charles Fox who made an important historic mission to the birthplace of Cantorial music. The documentary will give generations the opportunity to learn about and re-embrace the Jewish culture that produced one of the most artistic and educated societies that once flourished in Europe. Above all, the Program will celebrate the resilience and the power of Jewish life, while telling the story of two peoples who shared intertwined cultures"

Dec 5: The Mama Doni Band brings some Chanukah Fever to Temple Israel

Mama Doni Mama Doni, a.k.a. Doni Zasloff Thomas, is a mom, educator, performer, songwriter, and lead singer in The Mama Doni Band, winner of the 2008 Simcha Award for “Inspiring Joy Through Music,” in competition with more than 100 bands from 15 different coutries at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, Holland.

Doni will be playing at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Dec 5 at 1:00pm.

Jan 13: The Red Sea Pedestrians play the Ark and pretty much everywhere

Red Sea PedestriansThe Red Sea Pedestrians, Kalamazoo's own klezmer-tinged roots rock band hits the Ark on Jan 13. The RSP is a family favorite and was in heavy rotation in the car for a month after seeing them live two summers ago. I'm pretty sure they've got a new album out. Can't wait.

"The Red Sea Pedestrians are a one-of-a-kind, full-blown, instrument-swapping fusion between tradition and the here-and-now. We’re talkin’ high-energy world-beat grooves, hypnotic laments from the earth, songs of celebration and wonder: a warped and beautiful blend of Klezmer, Greek, Gypsy, Celtic, Jazz and American Roots, all filtered through the band’s original vision"
Here's their handy-dandy touring schedule widget.. They'll be playing near you at least once. Promise.

Band website design

Feb 5 Yiddishe Cup plays the Ann Arbor Ark

A klezmer band by way of Catskills cha-cha. I saw them live two years ago and had a blast. They hit Ann Arbor every winter. Not a purist's klezmer band, but a lot of fun.

"We dare you not to dance!" Reviving the wacky Jewish humor of the '50s and '60s by parodying everything from cha-cha to doo-wop to rock, Northeast Ohio's Yiddishe Cup is also one of the tightest, most vigorous klezmer bands around. Year after year they wind up on Jewish-music ten-best lists, and their live shows are legendary. Get ready for songs like "Gentile on My Mind" or "Meshugeneh Mambo"! But they can also play it straight, bringing the energy and tradition of klezmer music to their delighted audiences"

Feb 24 Yasmin Levy at Lansing's Wharton Center

Yasmin LevyOnce heard, Yasmin Levy’s voice is never forgotten! Her passionate vocal delivery and striking good looks continue to entrance fans new and old. In her deep, spiritual and moving style of singing, she preserves and revives the most beautiful and romantic songs from her Ladino heritage, the Judeo-Spanish language and culture of the Sephardic Jewish communities who were driven from Spain in the late 15th century. Born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1975, London’s Guardian raves, “Here surely is the next world music superstar.” Levy will be joined by an exceptional group of musicians including Yechiel Hasson, guitar; Vardan Hovanissian, flute, duduk, ney, clarinet; Miles Danso, electric double bass; and Ishay Amir, percussion.