Aminadav Aloni, a prominent personality in the Jewish musical life of Los Angeles, was especially revered in the synagogue world as a composer, arranger, pianist, and conductor. Born in Tel-Aviv to eastern European parents who had made aliya as pioneer settlers in Palestine, he showed pianistic gifts in childhood and later studied at the Haifa Institute of Music, concentrating on piano. In 1945 he came to the United States to further his musical education, initially at Los Angeles City College, where he expanded his studies to include music theory, composition, and conducting. With the goal of advancing as a pianist, he relocated to New York, where he attended The Juilliard School and New York University. After his return to Los Angeles, his musical perspectives broadened, and he began teaching piano, performing in jazz clubs, and using his talent for improvisation as an accompanist for two important dance companies: those of Bela Lewitzky and Gloria Newman.
As a composer, Aloni focused originally on the secular realm, beginning in 1964 with his original score (incorporating traditional tunes) for the CBS television show Like a Golden Thread,about life in an eastern European shtetl (market town), on whose script he worked as well, in collaboration with Francine Parker. He continued to write extensively for television and musical comedy and became known in the Los Angeles area as a creative jazz pianist and a skilled arranger.
In 1966 Cantor Samuel Fordis, a longtime cantorial figure in Los Angeles who had befriended Aloni, asked him to become his organ accompanist at Valley Beth Shalom synagogue, whose pulpit Fordis had served since 1959. Aloni soon became the congregation’s music director, conducting and composing for its choir, accompanying its cantors, and producing concerts and other musical events. He held that post until an ultimately fatal illness forced him to diminish, and then suspend, his activities.
Aloni’s venture into liturgical music, which became his eventual passion and for which he will likely be best remembered, was initiated by Cantor Fordis’s commission to compose a Sabbath eve service based on Hassidic idioms—Aloni’s first work of sacred music. Following its success, Cantor Fordis encouraged him to continue writing for the synagogue, and his prayer settings, in addition to being featured at Valley Beth Shalom, soon joined the cantorial-choral repertoires of numerous Conservative and Reform congregations in the Greater Los Angeles area and beyond. During those years he received dozens of commissions, not only for synagogue pieces but for larger works on Jewish themes, which included symphonic scores.
Aloni’s opera include more than one hundred works related to Jewish experience. Among these are choral-orchestral pieces such as Or Ha-am and Ecclesiastes; a piano quartet; a volume of art songs; nine full-length musicals, including a musical setting of the Book of Ruth; an unusually large body of synagogue music for Sabbaths, Festivals, High Holydays, and other liturgical occasions, and much other theatrical and film music. Beginning in 1982, he was closely involved with the establishment and work of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, whose objective is to encourage the composition of Jewish music through commissions and awards.
In his synagogue compositions, Aloni brought together his gifts in the areas of classical, popular, theatrical, sacred, and film music, as well as jazz in several forms, always with refined taste and attention to the liturgical texts with which he was thoroughly familiar. Whatever influences he allowed to manifest themselves in these liturgical endeavors, the music was ultimately at the service of communal prayer. Following his death, Valley Beth Shalom’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, described the impact that Aloni had and continues to have:
Ami’s immortality of influence is inextricably bound up with his music, music that has already penetrated the life of many synagogues and which is destined to inspire future generations.
By: Neil W. Levin
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