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Gather your lulov and etrog, as the festival of Sukkot is now in full swing. While not everyone has the time, space or temperature conditions to enjoy a full sukkah experience this week, we all can enjoy a musical accompaniment for the holiday. Although it was composed in America and aimed primarily at American orthodox and traditional services for Hoshana Rabba – the seventh day of the Festival of Sukkot -- Moshe Ganchoff's setting for Hosha na even sh'siya reflects the spirit of the solo cantorial style one might have heard in the modern khor shul (choral synagogue) of eastern Europe. Aside from its purely musical attributes, the text—a piyyut written as an alphabetic acrostic comprising 22 synonyms that refer to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem—provides another point of interest. Listen in. (Photo by Gilabrand, via Wikipedia Commons)
September 27th marked the death of Herman Berlinski, a major figure in the world of Jewish music in America who ardently advocated for innovation in synagogue music. His body of work, which comprises full-scale orchestral liturgical services, symphonies, suites, and numerous works for organ, is as fascinating as his biography. Born in Leipzig to a fundamentally eastern European Jewish family, Berlinski moved to Paris where he studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger and worked with a Yiddish art theater troupe before immigrating to America in 1942. (He recounts his Parisian years and his narrow escape from Europe in an oral history excerpt.) Once in America, he became the first recipient of a doctoral degree in composition from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and went on to become the musical director at Washington Hebrew Congregation. While he never restricted himself as a composer of music on Jewish themes, he once reflected, “I do not think I can write a piece of music, no matter what I do and what I try, that does not bear the stamp of my Jewish existence." Learn more about Berlinski and his music in our extensive collection of music, photos, videos, and oral history excerpts.
In the liner notes to his Psalm 81, composer Ofer Ben-Amots points out that T’hillim, the biblical Book of Psalms is an important source for the little we know about music and performance practice in Jewish antiquity. Ben-Amots explains that when he endeavored to set this psalm to music, he took inspiration from its parallel structure and employed antiphony, or call-and-response. Yet he also drew on the irregular meter of ancient Hebrew, and chose to use shifting and complex meters. The result is an exciting and captivating piece that combines the choral musical traditions of eastern Europe and the Balkans, and sporadic yet highly affective percussion. Listen in.