Days of Awe and Rejoicing:
Hidden Gems of Jewish Music

October 2007

Program Notes

 Prologue: Shalom aleichem

trad. Eastern European, attrib. Rabbi Isaac of Vorke, ed. Vinaver

 Psalm 112:  Hal’luyah, ashrei ish yarei et-Adonai

Salamone Rossi

 Im ein ani li mi li?

Robert Applebaum

 Hineni (Cantor’s Prayer)

Joseph Kurland,
arr. Max Janowski

 Uri Tzafon

Dov Carmel,
arr. Yehezkel Braun

 Four Motets

Paul Schoenfield

    I. Hateh HaShem aszn’cha aneni

 

    II. Sameach nefesh avdecha

 

    III. B’yom tsarati ekraeka ki ta’aneni

 

    IV. Horeni darkecha

 

 Shehecheyanu

Jonathan Miller

 Uvashofar Gadol Yitaka

Joel Feig

 Reader’s Kaddish:  T’filat N’ilah L’yom Kippur

trad. High Holiday liturgy, arr. Max Janowski

 Hava Nagila

Stacy Garrop

INTERMISSION

 Shirim L’Yom Tov (Four Festive Songs)

Shulamit Ran

    I. Shiru l’Adonai

 

    II. Yom ha-Shishi

 

    III. Ma Tovu

 

    IV. Hatzneia Lechet

 

 Ani Ma’amin

Melody from Vishnietz,
transmitted by Elie Wiesel;
choral arr. by M. Lazar

 Ashamnu

trad. Yom Kippur confessional

 Avinu Malkeynu

Max Janowski,
arr. Patrick Sinozich

 Hal’luyah

Louis Lewandowski

 Kiddush

trad. Eastern European,
ed. Vinaver

 (Encore:) Oseh Shalom

Nurit Hirsh,
arr. Elaine Broad-Ginsberg

 

I N T R O D U C T I O N

Do not separate yourself from the community;
Never be sure of yourself until the day you die;
Never judge another until you have been in that position.
—Rabbi Hillel (Pirke Avot [Sayings of the Fathers]) 2:5

It is with tremendous pleasure and pride that I welcome you to these concerts of Jewish choral music. This concert is designed to give you an “immersion” experience in Jewish music written for a cappella vocal ensemble.

This program celebrates Jewish liturgical choral music dating from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, and the concert opens and closes with chants that are likely much older. The concert also celebrates recent choral music designed more for concert performance than for liturgy. The songs on this program spring from the intersection of many people, Jewish and non-Jewish, in Europe, America, and Israel.

For those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, we hope that you will emerge from our concert with a sense of the breadth and depth of Jewish choral music. Most of the texts are in Hebrew, a glorious language for singing. To make the meanings of the songs clearer for you, we’ve provided complete translations here in your program notes. For those of you who come with more prior exposure to Jewish choral music and liturgy, we hope that this concert will expose you to some music you may not have heard before and deepen your appreciation of the musical and cultural riches all around us.

As is the case with most of our concerts, this program springs from a personal engagement I have had with these songs—as a singer, listener, conductor, and/or composer—which makes me want to share them with you. I have been personally involved with Jewish music since I joined Judy Maslin’s children’s choir at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation in the fall of 1972 where, as you might expect, we mostly sang music by Max Janowski. That makes thirty-five very happy years of being immersed in an incredible tradition. For me personally, Judaism is inextricably linked with the worship service, which in turn is connected to singing.

* * * * * * *

From what does this tradition spring? The history of Jewish choral music is complicated. You may have a picture in your head of a cantor leading a service, or of Jews praying primarily on their own. To be sure, until about 150 years ago, Jewish worship music was either done by a soloist (the cantor or service leader) or congregationally, in rather informal fashion. So how do we get Jewish choral music, and under what conditions?

Choral music is associated in the Jewish mind partly with the Temple in Jerusalem. The evidence from ancient times suggests that Jews had created a flourishing musical scene at the Temple under King David (roughly in the ninth century BCE). No musical scores come down to us from that era, so we have to base our sense of things on intuition and conjecture as well as the words of texts like Psalm 150, “Hal’luyah,” which call for timbrel and harp, song and cymbal, to be used in worship of the Lord.

The Jewish mind tends to also be a student of history. In that history, the beloved Temple in Jerusalem has suffered the tragedy of being destroyed not once but twice. These losses loom large in the Jewish imagination and have taken a strong evocative presence in Jewish liturgical traditions and even in the words of many prayers. Jews have traditionally abstained from having instrumental music in their worship services, because of reverence for the memory of the glorious Temple. There is a traditional hope that the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, at which point—one assumes—instruments would reclaim their role in worship.

Add to this history one more element: during the Middle Ages, Jews had often to worship in private to avoid persecution. When one is worshipping in private, in other words, it’s not a great idea to draw attention to yourself with choral music. In addition, traditional Jewish worship services have evolved to consist either of prayers recited to oneself, albeit in the presence of others (with a minimum of ten, called a minyan, required in order to say certain prayers), or of prayers led by a sheliach tzibbur (representative of the community), such as a rabbi or cantor.

I find it fascinating that, as soon as composers were encouraged by rabbis to begin creating choral-music liturgies, the practice took off. The first time in the Common Era was around the year 1600, at the flourishing of the High Renaissance in northern Italy, chiefly in the city of Modena. In that city, perhaps because of his sheer talent, the musician Salamone Rossi managed to achieve a status and privilege denied to most Jews. Rossi was given a ducal exemption in 1606, allowing him to refrain from wearing the yellow “Jew badge” that all other Jews were required to wear at that time.

At the same time, there was a movement within the Italian Jewish community to bring polyphonic choral music into the synagogue. The leader of the movement was a liberal interpreter of scripture, Rabbi Leo of Modena. Rabbi Leo argued in print that polyphonic music was permitted in synagogue. The Venetian assembly of rabbis, which seems to have had jurisdiction in the matter, eventually ruled in favor of choral music. It is not clear whether or not Rossi had composed some or all of his motets by the time this happy ruling came down, nor how much lobbying he had done behind the scenes with music he may have composed while the debate was raging. In any event, it was not until 1623 that his landmark collection, Ha-Shirim asher li-Shlomo (The Songs of Solomon), was published. This collection is a monument in music publishing as well as in repertoire. The invasion of Mantua by Ferdinando II in 1630 included the expulsion of almost 2,000 Jews from the city, a military event in which Rossi likely perished. Thus ended in one stroke the flourishing of choral polyphony in the Hebrew language for the next three hundred years.

The more recent Jewish choral tradition, one with which more people are familiar, comes from the Reform synagogues in Germany. It began when Louis Lewandowski became the first modern-era “Jewish choir director” at two synagogues in Berlin, starting in 1840. Lewandowski was the first Jew permitted to study at the Berlin Academy of the Arts. He and his mentor, Salomon Sulzer, began composing choral liturgies, many of which incorporated traditional cantorial chant (called nussach). The tunes came from the Old Synagogue tradition and from the Eastern European tunes that Lewandowski learned from immigrant cantors.

Jewish choral music took a large step in the direction of mainstream European music when the Oranienburgerstrasse Temple (Reform) was built in 1864 with an organ, allowing Lewandowski and others to write and perform accompanied sacred Jewish choral music for the first time. Never before had a Jewish composer been given the opportunity to compose a complete choral liturgy with organ.

Unfortunately, this new tradition had less than a hundred years to take root and flourish before the Third Reich destroyed most of European Jewry. Hitler’s forces eliminated synagogues, assets, writings, and communities, as well as six million Jews. A deliberate effort was made in America after the Holocaust to find ways to preserve the traditional melodies in new musical compositions, giving rise to the “creative retrieval” movement which so strongly encouraged the work of Samuel Adler, Max Janowski, and others. While somewhat isolated—musically and geographically—from what was happening on the East Coast, Janowski managed to create his own tradition, even his own complete liturgies, much like Lewandowski before him—that dominated liturgical music in Chicago’s thriving Jewish community for decades. One result was that, when I got to college, I had no idea that what I had sung for ten years in synagogue was, apart from camp songs and folk music, almost exclusively compositions, editions, arrangements, or transcriptions by Janowski. One has to look to Richard Proulx in Catholic music for a composer who similarly held sway during a time of great change and growth in new liturgical music.

The fact that Judaism has survived at all, with the vigor that it has, is astounding. Jewish choral music is now alive and well, from American and European compositions to the thriving choral scene in Israel. Even the Ethiopian Jews who have settled in Israel have their own remarkable tradition of call-and-response choral music in their community in Dimona, in the south of Israel, as I was happy to learn last week.

In addition to my Shehecheyanu, there are many other light moments in our program. One that may come as a surprise is the community confessional prayer, Ashamnu, which is sung every afternoon at Yom Kippur by the entire congregation. In contrast to Christian confessional, which is done in the singular narrative voice, the Jewish confessional is done as a group. (Sing along with us on the refrain.)

Special thanks go to Brian Streem for editions of some of the pieces, and to Patrick Sinozich for arranging “Avinu Malkeynu” for this program and for his masterful musical direction of this program. Thanks also to Jayson Rodovsky from Transcontinental Music in New York, and to the composers themselves whose music we share with you now.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director


NOTES ON THE MUSIC

trad. Eastern European, attrib. Rabbi Isaac of Vorke, ed. Vinaver:
Shalom aleichem

This setting of a familiar Shabbat text comes from the oral tradition of East European Jewry, as transcribed from memory by the scholar Chaim Vinaver. The opening and closing chants on today’s program come from Vinaver’s “Treasury of Jewish Music,” which is a valuable printed resource for tunes not documented elsewhere.

According to this tradition—a local rite of sorts—this joyous song would typically move right into the Eshet chayil prayer (A woman of valor, who can find?) and then into the Kiddush. Our program uses these chants as bookends, starting with “Shalom aleichem” and ending with Vinaver’s Kiddush chant.

Salamone Rossi: Psalm 112: Hal’luyah, ashrei ish yarei et-Adonai

This is a joyous double-choir piece by Rossi, which we performed a decade ago on our program called “Christians and Jews in the Renaissance.” This setting of Psalm 112 is joyous, almost madrigalian in its aesthetic. The style is clearly indebted to the secular Italian madrigal and to the double-choir motets of the Gabrielis from Venice.

Robert Applebaum: In ein ani li mi li?

Robert Applebaum has made a lasting contribution to choral music both within and outside the Jewish realm. His talents as a composer are familiar to longtime Chicago a cappella audiences, and his music appears on two CAC albums. In 1980, he began composing choral music for the Jewish liturgy. Since then Bob has written three complete Sabbath services, including one for choir and jazz trio. Bob has composed choral settings of many psalms as well as non-secular texts. E.C. Schirmer, Opus Music and Transcontinental Music publish several of these pieces. His setting of Rabbi Hillel’s timeless words—“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” and so on—is poignant and dramatic at the same time.

Joseph Kurland, arr. Max Janowski: Hineni (Cantor’s Prayer)

The afternoon “additional” or Musaf service on the High Holidays features this stirring prayer, with dramatic, powerful words. The cantor sings this prayer, which in this setting is interspersed with choral responses. The deep humility of the poem lends a gravity and a seriousness of purpose to the whole proceeding, in keeping with the theme of the Days of Awe. There are many tunes to this text; this one is by Joseph Kurland, with a choral a cappella accompaniment suitable for use in Conservative worship.

Dov Carmel, arr. Yehezkel Braun: Uri Tzafon

Composers from Israel are represented in good form here. Dov Carmel, who has composed in most major classical musical genres and film music has received accolades in Israel and abroad for his work; his tune “Uri Tzafon” has been arranged for choir by Yehezkel Braun, who has lived in Israel since 1924 (when he was two) and has become one of that country’s foremost musicians, winning the Israel Prize for Music in 2001.

Paul Schoenfield: Four Motets

Paul Schoenfield has made a splendid contribution to the field with his Four Motets, which are unusually sensitive to the penitential nature of the texts. Schoenfield, a native of Detroit, began studying piano at age six and wrote his first composition the following year. He eventually studied piano with Julius Chajes, Ozan Marsh, and Rudolf Serkin. A man of many interests, he is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew. He held his first teaching post in Toledo, Ohio, lived on a kibbutz in Israel and was a free-lance composer and pianist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. Among his recordings are the complete violin and piano works of Bartók with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. Mr. Schoenfield and his family currently have homes in Israel and the United States.

The Four Motets cycle was written in 1995, commissioned by a consortium of choruses that included Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, the Phoenix Bach Choir, and La Vie. The text comes from Psalm 86, with a style the composer calls “neo-Renaissance.” The vocal lines sing themselves unusually well for modern music, and the composer’s feel for counterpoint (harmony created by independent melodies) is superb.

Notes from the composer on the text of each movement:

In the first motet, the psalmist refers to his deprivation, which is a paucity of good deeds, in spite of which the psalmist seeks divine acceptance. The anticipation itself is an utterance of service. . . . the “dedicated” one comprises aspects of the Divine in his or her character. The dedicated person is altruistic, does not advance his or her own cause, but rather cares for others.

The second motet is concerned with “the joy of the soul.” This joy, the emotion of the soul as it increases its righteous and transcendental strength, does not require outside conditions. It is achievable when one discovers the strength to endure travails with composure.

The third motet alludes to the main concept of Psalm 86. The psalmist says,
“In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, so that You will answer me,” like an offspring who is comforted by the closeness of a parent.

In the fourth motet, a plea appears: “make my heart one,” or, rein in my impulses so that I am afraid of nothing but the chance of abusing the holiness due Your Name. Sometimes, one is of “two hearts.” Here, the psalmist appeals for assistance in walking the course of sanctity.

Jonathan Miller: Shehecheyanu

The composer writes: “A personal note about my own piece, Shehecheyanu: this piece was written to honor the dedication of the new sanctuary at Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park, where I have had the honor of serving as choir director for the high holidays and more recently of leading Kabbalat Shabbat services. I knew that I was going to choose that text, which is used when something is done for the first time (celebrating the first night of Chanukah, for example). Composing it literally came to me as I was walking down the street, and the rhythm of my feet on the pavement gave rise to the quarter-note pulse for the melody. Once that was done, the piece pretty much wrote itself.”

Joel Feig: Uvashofar Gadol Yitaka (And the Great Shofar is Sounded)

This piece comes from a New York connection. Joel Feig’s dramatic composition “Uvashofar Gadol” for cantor and choir is a stunning piece of liturgical theatricality, bringing home the theme of Yom Kippur as the Day of Judgment. Feig was involved as a choir director in several Yiddish films created in New York during the 1930s. The piece has been championed for many years by Cantor Julius Solomon of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park, who hails originally from Brooklyn and brought the piece with him to Chicago.

trad. chant, arr. Max Janowski: Reader’s Kaddish from the N’ilah Service (T’filat N’ilah L’Yom Kippur: Kaddish)

Music by Max Janowski occupies a central role in this concert, as Max himself did—and still does—in Jewish choral music in Chicago. There is no other composer whose music is more dominant in the choirs of Reform and Conservative synagogues in the Chicago area than Janowski. Having fled Nazi Germany for a piano professorship in Japan, Janowski made his way to New York and shortly thereafter to Chicago, where he had won the composition contest whose first prize was the position of director of music at KAM Temple on the South Side. Max served KAM from his appointment in 1938 until his death in 1991, a remarkable run of 53 years, serving many rabbis, training and hiring hundreds of aspiring and accomplished singers, and providing choirs for at least a half-dozen other synagogues on the High Holidays (rehearsing all of them at the same time, on different nights of the week). Among his soloists at KAM were future Met stars Sherrill Milnes and Isola Jones, and other superb local singers such as tenor Kurt Hansen and contralto Beatrice Horwitz. (An ecumenical spirit, Max also served the All Souls Universalist Society in South Shore for several decades, playing the organ, conducting a small choir, and arranging music from folk songs to spirituals.)

Here is the Reader’s Kaddish for the final service of the Yom Kippur liturgy, N’ilah, whose unique melody is heard at no other time in the Jewish year and whose haunting lines make ever poignant the sense of the closing of the heavenly gates at the end of the High Holidays. Janowski’s feel for cantorial chant (nussach) comes to the fore in this simple setting of great power.

Stacy Garrop: Hava Nagila

A composer creating music of great expressive power and masterful technical control, Stacy Garrop has received several awards, commissions, and grants, including the 2006/2007 Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s 2006/2007 Harvey Gaul Composition Competition, the 2005 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize, 2005 and 2001 Barlow Endowment commissions, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 1999-2000 First Hearing Composition Competition, Omaha Symphony Guild’s 2000 International New Music Competition, and the New England Philharmonic’s 2000 Call for Scores Competition. Chicago a cappella is fortunate to have been able to commission her this season, not only for the rollicking Hava Nagila on this concert but also for a haunting setting of the familiar Jewish melody Lo Yisa Goy for our Holidays concerts in December, with a theme of light and peace.

While the Hava Nagila tune appears to be very old and of folk origin, the text in current use seems to have originated around 1917-18 with the British victory in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration at the end of World War I.

INTERMISSION

Shulamit Ran: Shirim L’Yom Tov (Four Festive Songs)

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran was born in Israel, where she began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven. She formerly performed extensively as a pianist in the U.S., Europe, Israel and elsewhere, and is presently the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago, where she has taught since 1973. She is also artistic director of Contempo, formerly the Contemporary Chamber Players. She lists her late colleague and friend Ralph Shapey, with whom she also studied in 1977, as an important mentor. Truly a world-class composer, Ms. Ran holds several honorary doctorates and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003. Her works are published by the Theodore Presser Company and by the Israeli Music Institute. Recordings have been released on more than a dozen labels, including Albany, Angel, Bridge, Centaur, CRI, Erato, Koch International Classics, New World, Vox, and Warner Classics, with several all-Ran discs available.

About Four Festive Songs, the composer writes:

My four songs were composed in 2003 and 2005, two at a time, for the Bar Mitzvah occasions of my two sons, David and Yaron Lotan, for Koleynu, the enthusiastic, amateur choir of Beth Shalom Congregation in De Kalb-Sycamore, where our family resides. Koleynu is directed by Harvey Blau, a Professor of Mathematics at Northern Illinois University. The texts were extracted by me from my sons’ Torah and Haftarah portions – the biblical passages a Bar Mitzvah celebrant learns to chant, and comments on, as part of becoming an “adult” member of the congregation.

I was filled with a sense of awe and joy upon discovering, both times, that the texts were amongst the most pivotal of biblical texts: from the story of creation – sixth day, to passages such as Ma Tovu (“How fair are your tents…”) and Hatzneia Lechet (“and to walk humbly with thy God”). This made composing these songs all the more exhilarating for me. Yet it must be said that whenever I am present at a Bar Mitzvah and hear the 13-year old celebrant’s commentary (or D’var Torah), I am struck anew by the realization that even the most seemingly dry of biblical passages, such as the enumeration of laws or listing of generations, contains in it the seeds of great and eternal wisdom and inspiration.

While these songs are a bit of a departure from Ran’s usual compositional practice, they are infectious and lively, displaying a refreshingly deft feel for Hebrew and superb rhythmic life. Yom ha-Shishi (The Sixth Day) has a jaunty, friendly character almost like a nursery melody in the best sense—memorable and wedded superbly to the words. Ma Tovu feels both old and new, evoking medieval music as well as Bartók.

Note on the lyrics: The Haftorah is a segment of scripture that is read as an accompaniment to the weekly Torah portion on Saturday morning, when Bar Mitzvah services are held. The Torah portion itself is called the Parashat Hashuvah, or portion for the week, and each Parashat has a name.

1. Shiru l’Adonai (Sing Unto God)

2. Yom ha-Shishi (The Sixth Day)

3. Ma Tovu (How Fair)

4. Hatzneia Lechet (Walk humbly)

Melody transcribed by Elie Wiesel, arr. Matthew Lazar: Ani ma’amin

This setting comes to us from Matthew Lazar, the tireless founder and artistic director of the Zamir Choral Foundation, the powerhouse of Jewish choral music in the eastern United States and abroad. Mati Lazar has lovingly and sensitively set in choral form a Chassidic version of the “Ani ma’amin” prayer that Elie Wiesel brought to these shores from his homeland of Vishnietz in Transylvania. Wiesel himself stole the show when he sang the solo at the May 2004 performance of this piece by the Zamir Chorale in New York City. A more familiar tune to these same words became known as the song that many Holocaust victims sang as they went to their deaths in concentration camps. The text is a prosaic adaptation of the writings of Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar and commentator, on the thirteen points of Jewish faith.

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah,
and even if he be delayed,
I will await him.
—Maimonides

trad. Yom Kippur liturgy: Ashamnu (group confessional)

The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters. The confessional prayer enumerates one sin for each of the letters of the alphabet (and two extras for the final letter), for a total of 24. The idea at work here is that everyone has done something wrong—nobody is blameless, we all make mistakes—and that in a group, surely all 22 sins would have been covered at least once. Hence, in part, the light tone of the prayer, especially of the chorus, in which you are invited to sing along.

Max Janowski: Avinu Malkeynu

Max Janowski’s best-known work, “Avinu Malkeynu,” was originally scored for solo, choir, and organ. For some people, this song has some to symbolize the solemnity of Yom Kippur almost as much as the Kol Nidre chant itself. Patrick Sinozich has created an a cappella version, filling in the organ harmonies much as Max taught singers to do in unaccompanied choral liturgies.

Louis Lewandowski: Hal’luyah (Psalm 150)

Lewandowski published a monumental collection in 1882 titled Todah v’Zimrah (Thanks and Song), for cantor, four soloists, and organ. He also published more than a dozen psalm settings, of which this is one.

trad. Shabbat liturgy, from Rabbi Isaac of Vorke: Kiddush (prayer over wine)