This column will feature opinion pieces and articles on issues and events surrounding Jewish music today.
Others who would like to contribute pieces to Der Kukvinkl are invited submit them via email to JMWC
- **Whither Ethnomusicology?by Geoffrey Clarfield (August, 2006)**
- Zimriyah: A Celebration of Jewish Music by Ilene Bloch
- Champions of Chazzanut, by Sam Weiss,
- Judaic European Music Foundation,(JEM) by Anton Molenaar,
- Mah Yofith by Arthur G. Sapper,
New material added, February, 2002
New material added, June, 2003
Ariber Di Shotns/Crossing the Shadows a review by Dena Ressler
Champions of Chazzanutfrom Cantor Sam Weiss, May, 2001
The following item originally appeared in March 2001 as part of a thread (discussion) on the Jewish Music List. Thanks to Cantor Sam Weiss of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, NJ, for giving the JMWC permission to reprint it here.
"Well, I don't know that that's at all anomalous on an Orthodox record. Fact is, much of the Orthodox world is I think *very* comfortable and at ease incorporating/integrating contemporary musical styles into their music. Perhaps because they feel grounded enough Jewishly they don't feel at all threatened. Compare -- though this is certainly not the last word on this by any means; it's not black-and-white -- the unease/distaste/disgust with which non-Orthodox champions of hazzanut react to folk and popular, etc., styles of rendering liturgy."
Allow me to add some shades of gray to this topic.
I believe that there is little difference between non-Orthodox Champions of Hazzanut and Orthodox C.O.H.'s insofar as they both worry about =displacement= of Hazzanut, and they both are unworried about the =co-existence= of all types of liturgical singing. An important distinction also exists between Champions of =Hazzanut in the synagogue= (these tend to be non-Orthodox, and are predominantly cantors) and those who simply champion Hazzanut =as an art form= (these tend to be Orthodox, and are predominantly lay people). The reason why the former category usually does not comprise the Orthodox is because the virtual displacement of Hazzanut in the general American and Israeli Orthodox synagogue, other than on the High Holidays, has already occurred. (I lack sufficient information regarding the European situation.)
Needless to say, C.O.H.'s in the synagogue, if they are cantors, have as one reason for their campaign simple economics (e.g. my daughter's college tuition). Leaving that sub-category aside, there remain other factors in championing Hazzanut -- none of which, I believe, relates with statistical consistency to one's Jewish groundedness/threatenedness quotient.
Civilization: Hazzanut is arguably the most original contribution of the Jewish people to the world's musical art forms. It merits preservation at least as much as any item on the Endangered Species list or any item usually enlisted in the service of establishing our place in the world's civilizations.
Art: Hazzanut is a highly sophisticated art form that uniquely integrates and rewards textual awareness, musical sensitivity, vocal refinement, improvisational skills, and other areas of intelligence and Jewish education. Nevertheless, it once had the power to attract to its charms Jews (and a few Gentile cognoscenti) of all levels of society, while today all levels of Jewish society are oblivious to it. Of course, as in the case other unappreciated art, this does not suggest a deficiency in the art form.
Religion: Hazzanut, particularly in the context of a synagogue service, has the capacity to engender unique moments of religious inspiration in the singer as well as the listener. This capacity is directly related to one's Jewish, musical, linguistic, temperamental and spiritual skills and capacities. The temperamental factor is probably the most under-appreciated one in the list, as it accounts -- in tandem with the four other factors -- for the many fervid Orthodox Champions of Hazzanut well as the widespread Orthodox apathy towards Hazzanut. Moreover, while most Orthodox C.O.H.'s are devoted to Hazzanut only as an art form outside the synagogue, it is important to remember that many of these people pursue religious inspiration outside as well as inside the synagogue.
Aesthetics: To paraphrase The Byrds and Kohelet... There is a time to nosh and a time to dine; a time to notice and a time to absorb; a time to participate and a time to be overwhelmed; a time to sing and a time to shut up and listen. To take an example from another realm of aesthetics: There was a time when black- and-white photography reigned supreme in artistic circles as well as in the pages of mass journalism, and color photography was relegated to the "snapshot" and the experimental. Each type of photography met a specific aesthetic need. Gradually, with technical progress and changing aesthetics, color practically displaced B/W photography, creating the assumption or the illusion that color was an =improvement= over B/W. In actuality, all that was happening was that an aesthetic hunger was left unsatisfied.
Architectural and devotional aesthetics are yet another factor to consider. A grand synagogue interior, a highly structured service, extensive Hebrew liturgy, a formal sermon -- all of these demand, aesthetically, one kind of music. A Khavura or Shtiebel setting demands another. That today's mainstream congregations usually do not appreciate the incongruity between simplistic musical tastes and elaborate worship settings is an aesthetic joke or an aesthetic crime, depending on your outlook.
Tradition: Hazzanut is one of the ingredients that makes "us" who we are ethnically and culturally as Ashkenazic Jews, whether we are aware of it or not. (The current renewed interest in Hazzanut in the wake of the Klezmer revival is an example of how awareness can be raised.) As a musical ingredient it takes its place among the myriad other ingredients in such areas as genetics, religion, cuisine, linguistics, etc. etc. It is thus something worth championing if we champion Ashkenazic Jewish culture.
Cantor Sam Weiss, Jewish Community Center of Paramus, NJ
from Anton Molenaar, Director of the JEM Foundation
Judaic European Music Foundation
(You must have Adobe Acrobat to read this file.)
"Making Jewish music accessible to a broader audience is a key towards understanding the significance of Jewish culture for European history and civilization." So writes Dr. Anton Molenaar, of the Judaic European Music Foundation. Dr. Molenaar prepared this article for Der Kukvinkl of JMWC to let us know more about the important work of his foundation. It's enlightening and exciting to view the growth and resurgence of Jewish culture in The Netherlands, and overall in Europe.
NOTE: You will need Adobe Acrobat to read this file.
By: Ilene Bloch
Jews are a people of the Book as much as we are a people of the Note. The Musical Note, that is. We can trace the first Jewish choral work to Biblical times, where the entire nation made their choral debut in a paean to God for saving them from the hands of the pursuing Egyptians.
"My victory and song is G-d, that was my salvation."
Ch. 15, verses 1-2, Shemot.
That can certainly help to explain the waves of passion and excitement that filled Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium during the Zimriya¹s, the world assembly of choirs, 50-year jubilee concert celebration that took place last month. Our roots run deep.
It's not rare that the 3000 seats in Mann Auditorium should be filled to capacity. After all, this hall hosts some of the world's finest conductors, singers, instrumentalists and performers. But, to watch the seats being filled by what can only be described as a genuine cross-section of Israeli society that loves choral music was warming and encouraging.
The notion of a Zimriya -- a world gathering of Jewish choirs -- was first sparked in the soul of Latvian born A. Z. Propes. It was Propes idea, as early as 1935, to bring together Jewish choirs from Europe with choirs in the nascent Jewish State. The idea did not get off the ground until nearly 20 years later, and unfortunately, many of the European choirs had been decimated by the Holocaust. Nevertheless, in 1952 a hearty group of 450 Jewish men and women from the USA and Eastern and Western Europe disembarked in Haifa and began spontaneously singing on the pier.
They brought with them their music sheets along with their bed sheets, and spent the next week traveling and singing throughout the length and breadth of Israel. Their first concert took place in Ramat Gan Stadium before 40,000 enthusiasts, who sat and listened to choral works sung by 13 international choirs and 38 Israeli choirs.
Since then, the Zimriya, which means the "song of God," has been taking place every three years. And, since 1961 dozens of choirs, many non-Jewish, have been coming to Israel to perform, learn, sing, work with conductors from here and abroad, and travel throughout the country. In fact, in the annals of choral history, Israel's Zimriya is the first international choir assembly.
Israel has hosted choirs from every continent. Choirs from southern Africa whose performances in native tongue, in native dress and accompanied by native dance have proven to be among the most exotic.
The October 31st concert, while not exotic, was a titillating entree to the next Zimriya scheduled for August 2004. With more than 2,000 singers in the hall, we were entertained by works largely based on lyrics from Jewish sources.
The evening closed with an excellent rendition of Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" sung by five different choirs who joined forces under the baton of Maestro Stanley Sperber, a long-time Zimriya participant and current board member.
Maestro Sperber's first Zimriya performance took place in 1967, shortly following the Six-Day War. "That concert changed my life. We sang at the newly liberated Western Wall and it is one of the most vivid memories of my life." A few years later, Stanley Sperber left the Zamir Chorale of New York, which he founded, and made Aliyah.
The audience was nearly as colorful as the singers themselves. Former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Zimriya since Propes first approached him with the idea, has attended every Zimriya performance. And Moshe Katzav, President of Israel, opened the evening's events and personally welcomed the more than 100 people sitting in the hall who had also participated in the first Zimriya. Today they may not be able to sing, but remain devotees of choral singing.
I was invited to the concert by my friend, Ryna, who has been an avid choir singer for several decades. She was actually the youngest member of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which also appeared at this concert, when she was still in high school.
More than just the common international language as Stanley expressed, choral singing is ecstasy for my friend, "just being in the middle of these masses of sound, orchestra and harmonies swirling around you and singing with many others is just an unbelievable feeling."
This unbelievable feeling can be re-sparked in August 2004 when the 20th international Zimriya will take place in Israel. There will be no need to bring bed sheets -- Israel happily accommodates the thousands who attend the Zimriya's workshops and sessions throughout the two week period, but participants will surely be arriving with plenty of music sheets. I look forward to being in the concert hall again to hear those voices rise in unison in a paean to beautiful music.Der Kukvinkl wishes to thank WZO for kind permission to reproduce this article online.