JoelNothman.com

18 November, 2009

Return us to you, o Music!

Filed under: Music by Joel @ 12:09 am, 18 November 2009.

This year, I have taken up a new hobby of writing music, among other things. This practice did not start out-of-the-blue this year; the first significant piece I arranged was a medley of Carlebach tunes (Hashiveinu Hashem, Uva’u ha’ovdim, Ki mitzion), contrasted with more traditional European synagogue music.

I wrote it as a 4-minute four-part choral piece while studying in Montreal, and always intended it for a medium-to-large community choir, like the Sydney Jewish Choral Society. Although I offered it to McGill’s New Earth Voices at the time, I then had little understanding of arrangement in terms of harmony and progression, and so the piece was littered with all sorts of musical “errors”.

I showed or played the score for a few people, but essentially it was shelved, aided by the fact that I lost the latest version I had worked on in Montreal. As of last last week, I’ve now gone through and brought the piece back to life, adding interesting texture, and removing problematic dissonance.

You’ll find Hashiveinu with Reb Shlomo among a growing collection of music I’ve recently composed and arranged on my new Music Page (all of which — so far — is Creative Commons-licensed for free reproduction, performance and modification).

I hope you enjoy them and would love to hear feedback!

31 July, 2009

To Sing

Filed under: General,Music by Joel @ 6:04 pm, 31 July 2009.

Music has become a rapidly growing part of my life over the past year. While I first soloed on stage singing Yerushalayim Shtot Fun Golt in year 1 with the Moriah Collage Yiddish Group, it was in June that I finally began receiving vocal tuition, with the wonderful classical teacher Sue Falk. Some do say that mid-twenties is the right time to start, but it’s common to begin much earlier.

Up from the first two choirs I joined as an adult in 2006, I’m now singing with five groups, each presenting different styles of music, ranges of talent and opportunities. Between the universal lack of confident tenors and my own curiosity, I just keep joining.

Most of my singing time is spent on Barefoot Musica Antigua, a small group (up to eight) singing early (up-to-17th century) music. Since our wonderfully successful March concerts, we’ve been focussing on the music of Salamone Rossi, a 17th-century Jewish composer of Mantua, Italy. Our concerts at the end of August will be well worth your while.

Rossi was controversial at the time for bringing polyphony to the Synagogue, and although it became accepted in 19-20th century European choirs, his Renaissance-Baroque settings of Hebrew prayers were a first and a last; no other composers seem to have followed up on his choral approach to the synagogue service. But his works are simply emotive, creative, beautiful to the ear (Dad always thought they were the best the Madrigal Society offered), and Barefoot will not merely be singing “white notes”; we intend to interpret and feel the music.

Our director Jenny’s attention to historical context has involved finding and identifying manuscripts of Rossi’s music and Rabbi Leone Modena’s poetry; reading an autobiography of the latter; and constant communication with Rossi expert Don Harran debating, among other matters, the significance of breaks in the music. In preparing other traditional Hebrew tunes for contrast, I have made my first attempt at arranging a full piece of music for the choir; I’ve had to get a grasp on the idea of maqam; and Jenny has lost much sleep listening to the wonderful library of music at piyut.org.il (and thus acquiring another 15 concerts of repertoire). We’ve unfortunately also dipped into controversies of Kol Isha, which will aid the Orthodox Jewish community in persisting to not hear Rossi’s works.

I do hope to see everyone and anyone at our concerts, entitled Songs of Ascents: Barefoot in Venice on the 28th and 29th of August, and the 2nd of September.

One down.

At the Sydney Jewish Choral Society, the tenors are the strongest in ability but the weakest in number. Our eclectic repertoire under Rose Grausman’s direction would be better served with a more proficient choir. The group has a habit of not learning the music until the last minute, leading to some stressful rehearsals. Hopefully we’ll do a good job of our next couple of concerts for the year, in which I’ll probably have a solo or two, and maybe next year I’ll consider asking the choir to sing some music I arrange… we’ll see.

The Sydney University Madrigal Society lacks men in general. In fact, the first rehearsal this semester indicates that almost all it has is altos. So if you know someone at Sydney Uni who’d like to sing, send them along! The Madrigals have been a wonderful group in the past, and our last concert under Jehan Kanga was a treat, so his upcoming Italian Tenth-Anniversary Spectacular has much potential.

I’ve also found myself singing with the overflow High Holiday choir at South Head Synagogue, which is a different experience altogether (no sheet-music, but little improvisation); and I am occasionally singing contemporary a cappella tunes with my friends Dan, Mud and Saritha.

Unfortunately, more time spent on music means less time spent on writing blog posts (among other things). So once again excuse my lack of recent insights into Bible, Judaism, Hebrew, linguistics, technology, society, or whatever else I might otherwise have had a moment to ponder and prosify.

10 May, 2009

Finally, a zemirot wiki

Filed under: Chazanut,Music,Siddur,Technology by Joel @ 4:07 pm, 10 May 2009.

Of sorts. One project I no longer need to do because someone else has. I don’t know how long zemirotdatabase.org has been around, but I’ve long intended to create a site where people can share Jewish tunes with each other. And break down a monopoly of tunes from the Virtual Cantor, who is being over-used now that taped chazanut is no longer as popular.

Of course (in my way of doing things), my idea was somewhat more ambitious. Which is why it never got done. I’d like to see:

  • More annotation of the origin of lyrics and tunes
  • Links between tunes which are applied to different prayers

Essentially this means that the tune and the words are separated, and each of them could be annotated with Hebrew, transcription, translation, authorship/variant notes… and somewhere in the intersection people would upload recordings. Maybe I can ask Mendy and Gabe to work on it. Or mabye it was just too much to ever make a site out of and they’ve got it right.

Either way, I’ll need to find some time to record some tunes. (Because most of their voices are terrible…)

24 April, 2008

Memorial prayer — now in English

Filed under: Chazanut,Siddur by Joel @ 9:58 pm, 24 April 2008.

I’ve updated the chart linked from my previous post to include an English translation. Thought that might help some people.

Memorial prayer

Filed under: Chazanut,Siddur by Joel @ 12:12 am, 24 April 2008.

I will be singing next week at one of the communal commemorations for the Holocaust next Wednesday night. At first I was going to only be singing with the Sydney Jewish Choral Society (my usual Wednesday night entertainment), but they invited me also to sing El Male Rachamim (the memorial prayer) alone.

Not only do I have to work out the tune, but there seem to be a variety of texts for the purpose. This chart compares a few samples. Any bits people particularly like or don’t like??

  • Is God a dweller on high, or a father to orphans?
  • Should God procure space upon or under the wings of His presence?
  • Do we mourn “6 million Jews”, or “our brothers, Children of Israel”, or “multitudes of thousands of Israel”, or the “holy and pure”?
  • Do we specify “men, women and children”?
  • Do we state that their death was “in the sanctification of God’s Name”?
  • What different means of death should we list?
  • Do we name the holocaust, or list the camps, or mention Germans, or Nazis, or that their name should be erased?
  • Do we give attribution to our prayer for them, or to our charity on their behalf?
  • Do we mention that among them were the righteous and learned?
  • And why is יום pluralised irregularly as ימין when it follows the word קץ?

23 December, 2007

Evening’s roses: erev shel shoshanim

Filed under: Hebrew,Music,Poetry by Joel @ 5:41 pm, 23 December 2007.

Another upcoming wedding, another song. Erev shel shoshanim is a classic. Unfortunately, the first few results for translations of its lyrics are far too literal and hardly able to be sung to its beautiful tune.

The original song also approximately rhymes the 2nd and 4th line of each of its three stanzas, which none of those translations do. So here is my go at a singable translation of Erev Shel Shoshanim:

Evening of roses
Let’s go out among the trees
Spices, perfumes, sweetest myrrh
Furnish beneath your knees

Slowly the nighttime falls
A rose-scented wind above
I whisper to you, my love, a song
Softly a song of love

At dawn, a cooing dove
Your hair’s filled with moisture’s beads
Your lips to the morning are a rose
The rose that I pick for me

Erev shel shoshanim
Netze na el habustan
Mor besamim ulevona
Leraglech miftan

Layla yored le’at
Veruach shoshan noshva
Hava elchash lakh shir balat
Zemer shel ahava

Shachar homa yona
Roshech malei telalim
Pikh el haboker shoshana
Ektefeinu li

ערב של שושנים
נצא נא אל הבוסתן
מור בשמים ולבונה
לרגלך מפתן

לילה יורד לאט
ורוח שושן נושבה
הבה אלחש לך שיר בלאט
זמר של אהבה

שחר הומה יונה
ראשך מלא טללים
פיך אל הבוקר שושנה
אקטפנו לי

26 November, 2007

Strength and yearning: translating Hebrew poetry

Filed under: Hebrew,Music,Poetry by Joel @ 12:23 am, 26 November 2007.

I just came back from the first in a series of close friends’ weddings. All in all it was beautiful and a lot of fun. As the bride entered, I and another three (including her grandmother) sang (two verses of) a setting of a 17th century poem, based on the Song of Songs, which I also had the opportunity to translate.

Having never tried to translate poetry before, it was an exciting challenge. Some poems require a literal translation; others need to have the right sense but also the rhythm and rhyme. In this case, I chose the latter.

With the help of others, especially Simon Holloway, this is what we came up with:

Chishki Chizki (חשקי חזקי) by Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605-1693)

My strength, my yearning day by day:
O king, dispel my dark away!
My source, my sun, though still so bright:
Your sun, my king, shall give me light.

Awake; Awake! O ten-stringed lyre:
Sing all your songs in voiced desire.
Your moon, your glow, need not return:
Here comes your light; my light is born.

חִשְׁקִי חִזְקִי מִדֵּי יוֹם יוֹם
מַהֵר הָאֵר מַלכִּי חָשׁכִּי
רִמְשִׁי שִׁמְשִׁי עוֹד לֹא יִכְבֶּה
יָאִיר לִי אוֹר שִׁמְשֵׁךְ מַלְכִּי

עוּרִי עוּרִי נֵבֶל עָשׂוֹר
בְּקוֹל זִמְרָה שִׁירִים שִׁירִי
יַרְחֵךְ זַרְחֵךְ לֹא יָבוֹא עוֹד
כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ קוּמִי אוֹרִי

21 November, 2006

Sung with conviction

Filed under: Montreal,Music,Religion by Joel @ 11:57 am, 21 November 2006.

One of the first things I did when I got to McGill was find out what singing groups I could join. After all, I had decided a couple of years ago that 2006 would be the year for singing: having been involved in Hineni, people would ask me (mostly after synagogue), “so what are you doing with that voice of yours Joel?” and I replied, “too busy… after Hineni”. So this year was set aside for singing. I led a lot more services in synagogue than ever before, got a couple of paid jobs as a chazzan, and joined two choirs in Sydney: the Sydney Jewish Choral Society (finally capitulating to Warren), and the Madrigal Society (under the leadership of Anthony who I encountered regularly, although he gave me no pressure to join). I enjoyed them a lot. I was even a little surprised to do so. (more…)

3 November, 2006

Deluge and peace: the dove, the olive, the rainbow

Filed under: Music,Semiotics,Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 4:37 pm, 3 November 2006.

According to an article forwarded to me by my USyd teacher Shani Berrin, excavations in Israel’s north (at Allone Abba) have recently uncovered a stone seal engraved with an image of a bird and an olive branch. It was found within an olive press used during the Hellenistic and Roman periods (4th-1st century BCE), and while its purpose and meaning have not been identified, it is a beautiful reminder of last week’s torah reading.

Shani had sent me this article in response to my asking: Where do these symbols of peace come from? Is the origin within the biblical story of Noah? Is their adoption much earlier, or much later? (more…)

23 October, 2006

Hakafa hopping

Filed under: Chazanut,Judaism,Montreal by Joel @ 12:50 pm, 23 October 2006.

By the end of a week (now two weeks ago) of eating in fairly cold and mildly damp poorly-covered huts; of such fascinating and inebriating events as the Ghetto Shul’s sukkah, sushi and sake night Me and kate with sakeSushi making and Westmount Chabad’s very Chabad-like sukkot party with clown, sausage sizzle, popcorn and fairy floss (cotton candy / candy floss / grandma’s hair)Sukkot @ Westmount Chabad; of not going to an Avraham Fried concert due to lack of interest and excess of work… by the end of that week, Arié had convinced me to come with him on a bit of a journey on Saturday night: Simchat Torah. (more…)

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