Melodic Migrations:
Global Jewish Music

Winter 2014

Program Notes

Medley: Tzur Mishelo / La rosa enflorece

Trad., arr. Jonathan Miller

Meditation

Ben Steinberg (b. 1930)

Im nin’alu

Yemenite, arr. Jonathan Miller

Uri Tzafon

Dov Carmel, arr. Yehezkel Braun

Shalom Aleychem

William Sharlin (1920-2012)

Dona, Dona

Sholom Secunda, arr. Elaine Broad Ginsberg

From Hallel Cantata:

Daniel Tunkel (b. 1962)
U.S. Premiere

1. Hal’luyah

 

2. B’tzeit Yisraeyl

 

3. Adonai Z’charanu

 

4. Hodu

 

Sim Shalom

A.M. Himelstein (1905-1974)

Tango Margarita

Jacob Sandler, arr. Stewart Figa

and Jonathan Miller

INTERMISSION

Birchot Havdalah (Havdalah Blessings)

Debbie Friedman (1951-2011), arr. Jonathan Miller

Global Medley:  Echad Mi Yodea (Passover)

Trad., arr. Jonathan Miller

Avinu Malkeynu

Max Janowski (1912-1991), arr. Patrick Sinozich

Sh’ma Yisraeyl

Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, arr. Jonathan Miller

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav

Naomi Shemer (1930-2004), arr. Eric Dinowitz

Hava Nagila

arr. Stacy Garrop
encore:  Eili, Eili David Zehavi, words by Chanah Senesh;
arr. Stephen Glass

 

From the Artistic Director

Welcome to Melodic Migrations: Global Jewish Music.

We are about to go on a unique journey together. The journey is over time and place—as far back as the medieval period, as far south as Argentina and South Africa, and as far east as Iran. The travels are also of language, as we will sing for you in tongues from Yiddish to Ladino to English to the delightful Hebrew dialect of Uganda’s Abayudaya Jews.

This program reflects my desire to share with you some of the best Jewish repertoire that I’ve found anywhere. Much splendid music had to be left off the program, or we’d be here for five hours. Therefore, I’m considering this to be something like Global Jewish Music 1.0, with the hope that there will be many more such shows in seasons to come.

The “global” part was exciting to find. From South Africa we have the Sim Shalom of A.M. Himelstein, courtesy of his son who now lives in Los Angeles. Cantor Stewart Figa introduced me to the genre of Yiddish tango and provided a lead sheet, translation, and historical background for the fantastic Tango Margarita. Through Daniel Tunkel’s prodigious musical gifts, we have the UK well represented. Ben Steinberg brings us a warm Canadian voice (particularly useful since it’s -13 degrees outside as I write this on January 6th). Of course we have the wonderful Israeli musical voices of Naomi Shemer, Dov Carmel and Yehezkel Braun, and Ofra Haza. Finally, we have the amazing music of the Ugandan Jews, the Abayudaya, a group that came into being about a hundred years ago and now numbers about 2,000 despite Idi Amin’s best efforts to wipe them out.

For this concert, I was confronted with a dilemma of having some songs that I wanted us to perform, but which were not available in any sort of choral setting. Music software and the arranging process to the rescue! I was particularly grateful that the estate of Debbie Friedman, which is being overseen by her kind sister Cheryl and a friendly group of lawyers, granted permission to create a new simple choral setting of Debbie’s beloved Havdalah blessings.

The program also features a few new medleys, self-contained compressed journeys in their own right. I put these together to help us stretch with our ears. The opening Tzur Mishelo shows what might have happened if a Middle Eastern singer showed up in medieval Spain and was affected deeply by listening to a Ladino love song. The Echad Mi Yodea Passover medley in the second half jumps back and forth between four versions of the famous counting song, with fun energy stemming from each tradition.

* * * * * * *

The older I get, the more I realize that there is no one thing called “Jewish music,” just as there is no one version of Judaism or of Jewish practice. With roughly 14 million Jews around the world, there are at least that many Judaisms, each person living out Judaism in his or her idiosyncratic way. I have experience with several musical Judaisms of my own: a “high-church” liturgical Judaism, a folksy guitar-based Jewish music, the joys of folk and ethnic Jewish music, and so on. Chicago a cappella’s more serious side of Jewish music can be enjoyed on our Days of Awe recording. Three songs from that album have snuck back onto today’s program; the remainder are new to us.

When I was a boy, growing up at KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park, I was fed a steady diet of one kind of Jewish music in the formal worship service: repertoire either composed or arranged by Max Janowski of blessed memory. Max liked it that way, evidently. I never heard the words “Sulzer” or “Lewandowski,” so my view was a bit askew. However, despite Max’s dominance at my home shul, that was only one slice of Jewish musical life.

Because I started going to KAMII when I was ten—in fifth grade—I had the privilege of going to Israel to visit my father’s parents three times, when I was aged six, eight, and nine, before I’d ever heard of Max. These first visits to Israel were during the late 1960s and early 1970s. What a world of discovery that was for me! In addition to picking up a little Hebrew, I started listening to Israeli music. There was a little 33rpm record that I bought at our hotel gift shop in Herzliya; it contained about a half-dozen songs, including Naomi Shemer singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, the unofficial Israeli national anthem. My mother reared me on a diet of Joan Baez’s folk-song albums, and when recently I watched Naomi Shemer singing that song on an old video, I was struck by the similarities between the two singers; like Baez, Shemer was serious, focused, and possessed of a glorious vocal instrument as well as a golden skin color. (I recently learned that Debbie Friedman was immersed in the recordings of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary as a young person, just as I was.)

When I was in high school, going to Reform youth events with kids from all over the Chicago area, a favorite event for me was folk dancing. While I was largely interested in attracting girls, I was also introduced to wonderful melodies like Mah Navu and the ever-infectious Yo Ya by the iconic Israeli rock group, Poogy. We also had our own self-led worship services as part of these city-wide events. I didn’t know at the time that Debbie Friedman had composed virtually our entire folk liturgy, which in our case was usually accompanied by the enthusiastic and adept songleader, Bruce Herst, on the guitar. It was a relaxed and joyful communal experience. The whole thing was an early reinforcement of my personal sense that I’m not really praying, or praying fully, unless I’m singing.

Much later, when I was in graduate school and enjoying my first compact disc player, I had the privilege of hearing Ofra Haza on her Fifty Gates of Wisdom album. This phenomenal recording planted a seed deep inside me twenty-five years ago, and it’s a great joy to be able to share her Yemenite melody, Im nin’alu, with you. There are a few other songs on this program that, in a similar way, have percolated in my consciousness for some time, without a program to land on until now.

* * * * * * *

Many people have been involved in bringing this program to the stage. Thanks of course to our phenomenal team of singers, who carry these beautiful songs to your hearts so well. My gratitude also goes out to people who have been so helpful in making this expedition of discovery a success: Cantor Stewart Figa, Thea Crook, Lior Himelstein, Stephen Glass, Dr. Cheryl Friedman, Rachel Wetstein, Vivienne Bellos and Vicky Black, and Prof. Steven Muir. Ongoing gratitude goes to my longtime colleagues and collaborators, Rabbi Elliot Gertel, Jayson Rodovsky, Cantor Miriam Eskenasy and Cantor Julius Solomon, for their inspiration and encouragement. May each of you go from strength to strength.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

Notes on the Music

arr. Jonathan Miller: Tzur Mishelo Medley

This arrangement combines an Iranian melody, which we learned from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, with a famous Ladino love song. The result, which you’ll hear at the end, is a mishmash, using the tune from the love song and the words from the traditional Shabbat song.

Ben Steinberg: Meditation

Born in Winnipeg in 1930, the son of a cantor-conductor father, Ben Steinberg studied piano, voice, composition, and music education. In addition to serving Temple Sinai in Toronto for more than forty years, he has also been artist-in-residence twice for the City of Jerusalem. He is one of Canada’s most successful and prolific composers of all time, and his music spans both sacred and secular genres, choral and instrumental, largescale and intimate. Among his many settings of worship music is this lovely Meditation, intended for Friday night Shabbat services and originally scored for choral performance with keyboard; we have adapted it for a cappella performance.

Yemenite, arr. Ofra Haza / Jonathan Miller: Im nin’alu

Israeli pop sensation Bat-Sheva Ofra Haza was born in a poor section of Tel Aviv to Yemenite parents. She gravitated early on to a mixture of pop and folk, coming in a close  second in the 1983 Eurovision song contest and gaining a strong following within and outside Israel. Her popularity expanded in 1984 with an album of traditional Yemenite songs that she had heard in childhood. Her true breakout song was this one, “Im nin’alu” (1988), which topped the Eurochart for two weeks and became a dance-floor favorite across Europe. She continued to live in both the pop and folk worlds, gaining fans until her untimely death in 2000 and thereafter.

Dov Carmel, arr. Yehezkel Braun: Uri Tzafon

Yehezkel Braun is the elder statesman among living Israeli composers of choral music. This is his a cappella setting of a love song by Dov Carmel, who emigrated from Budapest to Israel at the age of 17 and has taught high-school music in the north of Israel. The song is lyrical and warm, loving and sensate.

For the record: Yehezkel Braun’s arrangement of “Uri Tzafon” appears on our CD Days of Awe and Rejoicing.

William Sharlin: Shalom Aleychem

Cantor William Sharlin was born in New York City in 1920 to parents who had emigrated from Palestine. His musical pursuits and his intense Orthodox observance were intertwined, as he called the synagogue his “natural environment.” He not only studied music and cantorial arts but also attended Hebrew Union College as a rabbinical student; while in Cincinnati he studied voice and later became Cantor of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. A lifelong teacher, deeply loved by his students, he communicated the essence of worship music in everything he did. His Shalom Aleychem, a joyful welcoming of the Sabbath, provides an unusually upbeat, rhythmically vivid setting of these timeless words.

Zeitlin/Secunda, arr. Elaine Broad Ginsberg: Dona, Dona

This song has often been believed to have originated in the Warsaw Ghetto. The fatalism of the lyrics make it easy enough to assume that the song was created in the face of European persecution. However, according to Elaine Ginsberg’s research, it was actually written and premiered in America, for the Yiddish stage. Sholom Secunda composed the song to be featured in Aaron Zeitlin’s play, Esterke, which was produced in 1940-1 in New York. It quickly became one of the most popular Yiddish songs ever, with performances by Theodore Bikel, Joan Baez, and others. The song’s heart-wrenching tenderness transcends time and place. Elaine Ginsberg, a New England-based choral conductor and composer, created this sensitive a cappella setting in 2001 for the choir Kolot (Voices) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Daniel Tunkel: from Hallel Cantata

Daniel Tunkel (b. 1962, Bristol UK) is a lawyer by profession, but is actively involved in music in his spare time, in particular the Jewish musical and choral scene in London. He has created a number of compositions and arrangements chiefly for the Zemel Choir, London’s leading Jewish vocal ensemble. He sings regularly with the Zemel Choir and various other London ensembles. He has sung with the Zamir chorale, New York, and regularly leads workshops on aspects of Jewish music at the North American Jewish Choral Festival.

Hallel is the sequence of 6 psalms (113 to 118) specially recited as part of the morning service on most Jewish festival days. As a sequence, it seemed appropriate to score a cantata-type work that addresses them in turn, setting a different atmosphere for each part but effecting a connection between them all. The full composition is in 8 sections, of which sections 1, 2, 3 and 6 are being performed in this program. The composition took shape in 2005-6. The Zemel choir featured sections 2 and 6 at various points in their 2006-7 season, but the remainder is heretofore unperformed; Chicago a cappella’s performances are the U.S. premiere.

Tunkel’s musical voice is unique. He creates melodies with strong direction and character, and his counterpoint is appealing. His rhythmic sense of Hebrew is superb, giving life and breath to each movement; the opening takes special advantage of the accents of the Hebrew, moving in irregular meter (11/8) to best sing the Psalm’s praises. The third movement features a glorious, slow solo. We end with his “Hodu,” subtitled “Rustic Dance.”

A.M. Himelstein: Sim Shalom

A name not well known in the USA, A.M. Himelstein was Choirmaster of the Great Synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was born in Warsaw in 1905, learned synagogue music at the feet of Reb Yehoshua Reichstaler, and studied and sang with the top cantors and choirs in Poland. At age 21 he was invited to become chazzan at Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Cape Town, thus beginning a distinguished career as a leading light in South African synagogue music. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, his book of compositions, Lamnatzeach, was published, including this delightful setting of Sim Shalom. His son, Lior, was most cooperative and helpful in providing us with an updated choral version of the score, which—much like the way we perform the music of Max Janowski here in Chicago—preserves a glimpse into an oral tradition and gives us interpretative details that would not have been obvious from the original score alone.

Debbie Friedman, arr. J. Miller: Birchot Havdalah (Havdalah Blessings)

Just as we sing psalms and other songs to welcome the Sabbath on Friday evening, and enter into the holiness and separateness of Shabbat, we also have prayers to return to the “regular” week, in a sweet and brief ritual known as “Havdalah” or “separation.” Traditionally, one waits until three stars are visible on the Saturday evening sky before commencing Havdalah and saying goodbye to the Sabbath. The ceremony consists of three tactile rituals: the drinking of wine, the shaking and smelling of a box of spices, and the lighting of a multi-wicked, braided candle. Each of these has its own short prayer. After the prayers, the leftover wine traditionally is poured into a small dish, and the candle is turned upside down and extinguished in the wine.

Debbie Friedman, who single-handedly revolutionized Jewish congregational singing in the Reform movement, composed this sweet, strophic setting of the Havdalah blessings. Usually performed a cappella or with guitar, this melody has been set by Jonathan Miller in a new a cappella arrangement, created especially for these performances. Friedman captures the sweetness of Havdalah in her lilting melody, the easy familiarity in a rocking triple meter, and a niggun (wordless melody) that starts each of the prayers.

Arr. Jonathan Miller: “Echad Mi Yodea” Medley

The Passover holiday commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. In addition to laying out when the participants are to partake of certain foods and glasses of wine, the traditional Passover seder (or “order”) for the meal specifies that many things be sung and read to help everyone, including children, remember this central event in Jewish history and to reflect on its relevance in the present day. Questions are encouraged, especially from the children, and the famous “four questions” occur early in the seder, the most well-known of them being, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Toward the end of the seder, we find this lively “counting” song, Echad Mi Yodea (“Who Knows One?”). The song takes the singers through thirteen different verses, each adding a number and its corresponding concept; one example is the number “five” referring to the Five Books of Moses, or the Torah. Each verse builds on the previous ones, in the manner of The Twelve Days of Christmas or Green Grow the Rushes, O! In some traditions it is encouraged to try to sing all of the verses in a single breath.

We have decided to present four different traditions within our single performance: one in the traditional Hebrew; one in a combination of Hebrew and Arabic from the Sephardic tradition in Jerusalem; one in Yiddish, perhaps from Russia; and one in Ladino/Spanish, from Gibraltar. Hold on to your kipah!

Max Janowski, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Avinu Malkeynu

For some people, this song has some to symbolize the solemnity of Yom Kippur almost as much as the Kol Nidre chant itself. Max Janowski was born in Berlin and trained there as a virtuoso pianist, organist, and synagogue musician. Hitler’s rise led Max and his father to flee to Japan, where Max had been given a professorship of piano. He made his way to New York City, which he used as a home base while touring the USA with a cantata that he had written. Along the way, he heard that KAM Temple in Chicago was looking for a new music director; he got the job in 1938 and kept it until his death in 1991, creating along the way a remarkable new body of sacred music for the Reform and Conservative liturgies. He brought back the cantorial tradition in Jewish choral music that almost had been “reformed” out of Reform worship, instilling a love of great singing in generations of musicians in the Midwest. This is his best-known work, with an opening melody originally written on a napkin. While Avinu Malkeynu was created for performance by solo, choir, and organ, our Music Director Emeritus, Patrick Sinozich, fashioned this a cappella version for our “Days of Awe” program in 2007, and it has now been published by Transcontinental Music.

For the record: Patrick Sinozich’s arrangement of “Avinu Malkeynu” appears on our CD Days of Awe and Rejoicing.

Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, ed. Jonathan Miller: Sh’ma Yisraeyl

This music comes to us through a remarkable turn of events. Around the year 1880, the Muganda military chief, Semei Kakungulu, had conquered two territories on behalf of the colonizing British, who earlier had promised him the kingship of those territories. Kakungulu had converted to Christianity but lost faith in the British after they denied him the kingship and gave him a much smaller territory. Distancing himself from them, he joined the Balamaki sect, whose faith combined Christian, Jewish, and other beliefs; upon a careful reading of the Torah, he decided in 1919 to have himself circumcised. The Balamaki refused, saying that this would make him a Jew. His reply was, “Then I am a Jew!” He circumcised himself and his sons, fled to the foot of Mount Elgon, and created his own neo-Jewish sect. Remarkably, a foreign Jew named “Yosef,” who seems to have been European, showed up six months later and taught the Abayudaya (“People of Judah” in the Luganda language) pretty much everything they needed to know to become observant Jews. An Israeli named Arye Oded, who was studying in Uganda in 1962, visited the Abayudaya and explained to them much about the ways that Judaism was being practiced in Israel. The community has been embraced by the Conservative movement, which brought spiritual leader Gershom Sizomu to Los Angeles to train as a rabbi.

The music of this amazing group is largely chordal, homophonic congregational singing, with a form of Hebrew that is influenced by the Lugandan tongue, which has vowels at the end of every syllable. Therefore, “Yisrael” becomes “Yisirael,” and so on. The effect is completely charming, and the music easily works its way into the ear and the heart.

Naomi Shemer, arr. Eric Dinowitz: Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold)

This achingly beautiful song is considered the second or unofficial national anthem of Israel. It was written in 1967, when songwriter Naomi Shemer and four of her colleagues were invited to write a song on the theme of “Jerusalem” for the non-competitive part of the Israel Song Festival, to be held on Independence Day (May 15th). The other four demurred, as the situation was a complicated one.

The lyrics are more sad than one might first imagine upon simply hearing the title of the song, and they reflect the reason that the other songwriters took a pass on the project. It was a little awkward to write a song celebrating the city of Jerusalem in the year 1967, because the city was divided. Jews were not able to worship at the Kotel (Wailing Wall), which was in the Arab-held section of the city. The sense of the city being “deserted” meant that no Jews were there, although of course that part of town was full of Arabs; the song’s website (www.jerusalemofgold.co.il) gives an excellent summary of the thorny issues surrounding the song’s composition.

The song was initially performed and recorded (with guitar) by Shuli Natan, a singer who was also a soldier. Her job in the army was that of Hebrew teacher for immigrant women. She also sang folksongs. Naomi Shemer heard Natan on the radio and decided that she and she alone would perform the song at its premiere. The song was a huge success at the Song Festival, with Mayor Teddy Kollek asking for an encore.

The situation became more complicated still when the Six Day War broke out a mere three weeks after Jerusalem of Gold was first performed. It became a rallying cry for the Israeli troops, who sang it as they took over the part of the city that had been closed to them. Shemer and Natan went to the south and sang the song to encourage the troops there. While there, Shemer composed a fourth stanza; she said that, although she believed that the song was complete in its initial form, she worried that others would append their own new stanzas after the events of the war, and she created a pre-emptive strike of her own.

This a cappella rendition (with only the three original stanzas) was created by Eric Dinowitz, one of the singers and creative forces behind the Jewish pop a cappella group Six13. He brings an upbeat energy to the anthem, and his new triple-time rhythm (not found in the original) almost gives it a gospel feel.

trad., arr. Stacy Garrop: Hava Nagila

The origins of this tune are obscure, but its fame is not! The lyrics seem to have been written by the musical scholar A. Z. Idelsohn in 1918 to celebrate Britain’s victory in Palestine. The tune is a Rumanian variant of the traditional hora dance. Originally recorded by Idelsohn in 1922—and later by singers from Lena Horne and Josephine Baker to Bob Dylan and Glen Campbell—the song was made most famous by Harry Belafonte’s 1959 recording, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. Belafonte once said, “Life is not worthwhile without it. Most Jews in America learned that song from me.” The song has become a favorite of figure skaters from around the world.

Chicago’s own Stacy Garrop wrote this joyous, virtuoso, rollicking arrangement on a commission from Chicago a cappella to celebrate the ensemble’s 15th anniversary season.

For the record: Stacy Garrop’s “Hava Nagila” appears on our CD Days of Awe and Rejoicing.