Book and Score Reviews

Solo Vocal Works on Jewish Themes: A Bibliography of Jewish Composers

By Kenneth Jaffe

An important new reference work has been published for identifying solo vocal works on all sorts of Jewish themes. This highly useful work gives an alphabetical list of composers with appropriate vocal works listed (not a complete list of works by each composer, but appropriately sticking to the scope of this volume). Many useful details, such as birth and death dates, place of birth, musical forces needed, first performance if known, translations of titles, and locations of scores. With some of the dramatic works, a lyricist might be named, as well as a brief synopsis of plot given.But the author doesn’t stop there; he provides useful “themes”, first based on the biblical texts, if used. In addition, he then provides themes such holidays, but also, “Jewish experience”, children’s material, philosophy, Holocaust or persecution, interfaith works, Jewish history, Yiddish theater, Sacred Services, and weddings.…

Jewish Traditions for Classical and Fingerstyle Guitar: Traditional Jewish Melodies Arranged for Guitar– Solos and Duets

By Ellen S. Whitaker

Ellen S. Whitaker, a guitar teacher in North Carolina, has created an excellent book of guitar arrangements of Jewish favorite melodies. The book is intended for intermediate to advanced guitar players, with a few easier pieces. It includes a key to the guitar notation used in the work, the texts to the songs in transliteration, occasionally in Hebrew text, with English and an annotation about the meaning of the song along with performance notes about each piece. The guitar music, both solos and duets are presented in a separate section, which is an excellent arrangement of the book for learning and performance. The end of the collection includes an appendix explaining the Jewish modes, a second appendix linking each piece with the mode used, a glossary of each of the musical terms, a bibliography and discography.…

Klezmer Fiddle: a how to guide

By Ilana Cravitz

Ilana Cravitz has released a new book exploring traditional klezmer music. It’s a teaching guide, accompanied by a CD, and helps the student delve into the style of klezmer playing. Seckund and bass parts pull out for handy playing with friends. Cravitz explains bowing techniques, includes a brief history of klezmer, and the modes of each piece. Each of the sixteen tunes has a listening track to help learn performance technique. She also gives suggestions for effective variations and interpretations from the written score. In the appendix is a helpful chart explaining the dance style that goes with the various tunes, a Yiddish glossary and pronunciation guide, a bibliography and a discography. She also gives helpful suggestions about arranging melodies in sets, or groups of tunes that will work well together without a break.…

Music in Jewish History and Culture

By Emanuel Rubin and John H. Baron

In a carefully chosen title, Rubin and Baron set about to teach not only Jewish music but to give the reader a handle to understand their working definition of Jewish music which is “Jewish music is music that serves Jewish purposes.” Thus Music in Jewish History and Culture is a title that tells the reader that any music “that serves Jewish purposes” in the course of time, various places and for various Jewish cultural or religious purposes might be construed as Jewish music. This is functional music. It must be at the service of those in the community for religious, spiritual, national, psychological, artistic or cultural matters. In the end, there are many Jewish musics. These are not only the product of the ages past such as cantillation, nusach or synagogue modes, but also the music of the streets of today’s youth in Israel or elsewhere.…

Irving Fine: An American Composer in His Time

By Phillip Ramey

This thoroughly researched biography, commissioned by Verna Fine, widow of the composer, is a highly readable entree not only to the life and works of Irving Fine, but to the history of the Brandeis University Department of Music. Irving Fine was a highly creative and innovative composer, and became the Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Music and Chairman of the School of Creative Arts at Brandeis. His inventive leadership of a newly formed Creative Arts Department would set the tone and course of study for the next 50 years. Fine had taught theory and music history at Harvard from 1939-50, when he joined the music faculty of Brandeis in Fall, 1950, as Lecturer in Music and Composer in Residence. Fine’s intellect led him to a style of “Stravinskian neoclassicism and romatically inflected serialism” that was to catch the imagination and close friendship of the American musical luminaries of the day, including Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky, composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, and his Brandeis colleagues Harold Shapero and Arthur Berger.…

What to Listen For in Jewish Music

By Charles Heller

Heller covers the basics. He does so in a rather quirky way with very short, self-contained chapters. On the one hand, the book presumes one can read notes and there are many musical illustrations. On the other hand, he has some basic music hints –such as an illustration on how to relate notes on the score to a picture of a piano, or what a major and minor chord sound like –examples which makes the book seem as if it’s intended for those who have a very hard time reading music and no music theory background at all. It does seem difficult to me to explain Jewish modal theory if one doesn’t have the basics of a western scale firmly mastered. Somehow I’m having a hard time understanding this book’s audience as the author envisioned it.…

Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography

By Leonard Lehrman

Even though Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography is large, with more than 645 pages, this review will be brief, because it’s very easy to describe this book. This is Leonard Lehrman’s labor of love. For years he has been a fan, promoter, musicologist, arranger, adapter, reconstructor and performer of the works of Marc Blitzstein. Blitzstein is a major figure in American music and his star continues to rise. Lehrman’s devotion of years of work is clear in this major reference work. The book is extremely thorough, comprehensive and filled with extraordinary minute detail. It is a must for any music library in a college or university setting, as well as anyone who is studying or working with the music of Marc Blitzstein.

The scope is enormous. It includes a brief biography of Blitzstein, including a genealogy; chronological list of musical works with bibliographies of studies, commentaries and writings about those works; a chronological list of text to the music; an alphabetical list of works with alternate titles; general articles; and information about performances of the works.…

Alexander Brott: My Lives in Music

By Alexander Brott and Betty Nygaard King

So many Americans are just unaware of the accomplishments and achievements of Canadians. Possibly this is more ignorance than snobbery, but sometimes it seems to be a bit of both, without good reason for either. This snobbery particularly extends, it seems, in music. Our friends in Canada continually prove themselves extremely worthy, and yet notions to the otherwise persist. Fortunately, Canadians are a patient people and their accomplishments continue to shine and speak on their behalf. One such accomplished and distinguished musician is Alexander Brott. If you haven’t heard of him, then perhaps this memoir, published on the occasion of his 90th birthday, and written with the help of Betty Nygaard King, will be an antidote.

The book is an autobiographical memoir about his life as a violinist, conductor, composer, teacher and producer.…

Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood

By Jack Gottlieb

Jack Gottlieb’s mission is to set the record straight. He wishes to clearly demonstrate through musical examples and technical musical means, that in fact, Jewish music from Yiddish song to synagogue melos, influenced American popular culture. This book could be a coffee table book, but it’s more. It could be the written record of years of Gottlieb’s programmatic material, but it’s more than that. Or, it could be the text of a course on Jewish influences on popular song, but it’s not quite that. It can be used as a broad reference work, and also has many elements of that. The book defies a neat categorization in terms of style, format and content, but has elements of each: an extensive, fascinating browse book, a music record with technical references, and a reference book with listings of hundreds of musical composers, lyricists, and songs of Jewish origin.


Twenty Israeli Composers: Voices of a Culture.

By Robert Fleisher

In 1986, Robert Fleisher spent two months at the center for visiting artists and scholars known as Mishkenot Sha’ananim opposite the wall of Jerusalem’s old city. There he interviewed twenty-four Israeli composers, and in the present volume he brings us oral histories of twenty of these, based on the interviews. The topics covered include the composers’ reflections on their own individual creative output, the place of their music within Israeli music culture, and life in Israel and how it affects their work. The reader gets a good picture of how the special character of modern Israeli history helps to create the culture of the land, a culture born in a relatively young country set in an ancient land, with a population drawn from every conceivable place on earth but at the same time sharing the commonality of Jewish identity.…

Bloch, Shoenberg, Bernstein: Assimilating Jewish Music

By David M. Schiller

For Jews, the terms “assimilating” or “assimilation” are charged. Many unpleasant associations arise with thoughts of Jews “assimilating into” or disappearing altogether into, general society; becoming like others. As Jonathan Sarna says in the introduction to his new book, American Judaism,: “Through the years, ‘assimilation’ has become so freighted with different meanings, modifiers, and cultural associations that for analytical purposes it has become virtually meaningless. In some Jewish circles, indeed, the term is regularly employed as an epithet.” But “assimilating” is a term that the dictionary states, also means, “absorbing”, or “to take in and appropriate.” It can mean a “healthy appropriation of new forms and ideas.” In this book, David Schiller bravely makes distinctions with something that “happened in a more or less remote past or that is happening now.” Using the term in the title is not only eyecatching, but essential to his thesis about the nature of Jewish art music.…

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song

By Jody Rosen

Writing a popular book about a popular song should merit some attention, so it’s not surprising that no less than four items appeared in The New York Times about this book. It’s supposed to be a book about one song. But, of course, it isn’t really. It’s a book about acculturation, assimilation and cultural impact. For readers of the Jewish Music WebCenter, these issues raised by White Christmas, may ultimately deal out the moral: we have only ourselves to “blame” –or– “congratulate” –as the view may be.

Irving Berlin, born as Izzy Baline, was of the generation of Jewish immigrants who wanted nothing more than to be thoroughly assimilated and thoroughly American. Berlin was one of the most successful examples of this, both in his personal and professional life.…

Discovering Jewish Music

By Marsha B. Edelman

We are fortunate to have a true educator involved deeply in the Jewish music. Marsha Edelman is that teacher, and she has given a book that will be appreciated for it’s straightforwardness, it’s completeness without too much detail, and for the clear explanations of a complex and involved history. Edelman has taken the subject of Jewish music history, distilled the essence in a judicious manner, and brought it out for anyone to read.

From the beginning you know this is going to be an excellent book. There is a 13-page glossary that astutely includes not only terms about Jewish culture, but musical terms that may be unfamiliar to a reader. In this way Edelman realized that some of her audience would be non-Jews who would need the Jewish vocabulary about holidays or liturgy, but there would also be a Jewish and other audience that would need musical terms to make those discussions intelligible.…

The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore

By Yale Strom

Yale Strom has written a book with enormous effort that supplies the reader with good access to extensive quotations by klezmer musicians, translations of previous scholarly works into English, 3 superb appendices, a bibliography, a very nice discography and an index. The purpose of the book is to give an overall history of klezmer music, with its growth in Eastern Europe and a look at the current scene and it’s meaning today.

Strom spent several years researching the material, conducting interviews of klezmer musicians in America and Europe, and having materials translated into English. Over a twenty-year period, he made some fifty trips to Eastern Europe doing ethnographic research. Details supplied by photographic plates and the extensive quotations from his interviews abound in the book.

A highlight of special note in this book is Appendix 1, “Klezmer Zikhroynes in di Yizker Bikher,” (Klezmer remembrances in the Memorial Books).…

Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation

By Joshua R. Jacobson

Precision. Thoroughness. Clarity. Devotion to Torah.

These are some of the thoughts that define my reaction to this new and excellent work by Joshua Jacobson, Professor of Music at Northeastern University in Boston, and Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts. This large guide may additionally properly be called a “handbook”, a “textbook” or a “teacher’s manual ” in the pursuit of learning to chant the Jewish holy texts with understanding and correctness. Accompanying the book is a CD with demonstrations of the te’amim chanted– featuring the pleasant voice of the author. An index to the sung examples is included in an appendix at the back of the book. This work can be used as a teaching tool or resource for professional or lay cantors, and other teachers of synagogue chant.…

Mordechai Gebirtig: His Poetic and Musical Legacy

Edited by Gertrude Schneider

A biography by Sara Rosen about Gebirtig (17-38) gives a very good picture of the life of the composer. Included in the book are songs with score, and poems and songs with only the texts surviving. Also included in the introductory section are pieces that the editor speculates are written by Gerbirtig.

Mordechai Gebirtig was a folk composer of Yiddish song who lived in and around Crakow, Poland, and died during the Holocaust. He was a poor carpenter who was self-taught in music and composed songs completely by ear, remembering them all in his head. Because he was illiterate in music, friends notated his songs. Despite the handicaps, Gebirtig’s (also spelled Gebertig) songs grew wildly popular and were picked up, even in the United States, to become part of folk, popular theater and sheet music repertoire.…

The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust

By Jerry Silverman

Subtitle reads: “110 Songs in 16 Languages with Extensive Historical Notes, Illustrations, Piano Arrangements, Guitar Chords and Singable English translations. Includes a CD of 14 Songs”.

The songs are in “Yiddish, German, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Ladino, Greek, Norwegian, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian and English.” Texts appear in each language’s transliteration and English translations. An introduction to each song is given. Often there are illlustrations or other documentation that accompany a song. Histories of the songs are given if known. Authors of texts and composers are attributed when known.

An announcement about this book on HaSafran from Aviva Astrinsky states that this is “a major collection of Holocaust music. Most of the songs have never appeared in print before. Over 300 pages.
The book is divided into three main sections:

  1. The Gathering Storm: 1933-1939
  2. Shoah: 1940 – 1945
  3. Kaddish: A Post-War Retrospective


Sephardisches Liederbuch (The Sephardic Songbook): 51 Judenspanische Lieder (51 Judeo-Spanish Songs)

Collected and edited by Aron Saltiel With Transcriptions and an introduction by Joshua Horowitz

The Sephardic Songbook is an academic work, based on original fieldwork taken between 1976 and 1996 in Bat-Yam, Sarajevo, Thessaloniki, and Istanbul among other places. The transcriptions are based on vocal traditions taken from informants, usually performed without any accompaniment. The book attempts to “be true to” the performance style of the informants. Standard notation is used. Harmonies are not provided in order to preserve the “modal character of most of the songs”.

An extensive and detailed introduction discusses the difficult issues surround vocal style, modal performance practicies, tempi, meter and rhythm, vocal ornamentation, microtonality and other factors affecting the true nature of the works.

The Songbook is completely bilingual in German and English, providing translations into both German and English for each song, as well as the text of the Introduction and the ‘Annotations’ description section at the back of the book.…

Music in Lubavitcher life

By Ellen Koskoff

Did you every want to know what all the da di di di da and bam bam bam were really all about in the nigunim of Lubavitcher Hasidim? Do you know how the music reflects their philosophy of the two souls?

Let me recommend “Music in Lubavitcher Life” by Ellen Koskoff. I can tell you it’s something that it will fascinate a lot of people.

There are so many questions about Hasidism and their music that are answered by this book. It’s insightful and full of information presented in a very clear, understandable and readable way. While the book is academic, with plenty of research and bibliography, it’s still quite easy to read. And there are lots of specific musical examples and explanations. Ellen has done original ethnographic fieldwork among the community as she’s been interested in the music and working in the Chasidic community for over 25 years.…