Friday, October 30, 2009

UPDATED 2/1/2010: Coming Soon-Reviews of Julie Silver’s New REUNION CD, and Peri Smilow’s new CD BLESSINGS.

I’ve been listening to my new copy of Julie Silver’s latest CD, Reunion.  Expecting a copy of Peri Smilow’s new Blessing CD any day. Look for a reviews soon! Sorry for the delay in getting new review posted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Little Taste of Torah Is A Tasty Meal – Review of Peter and Ellen Allard’s New CD “Little Taste of Torah”

Review: Peter and Ellen Allard -- "Little Taste of Torah" 
Scheduled release date: Nov. 1, 2009
Available for pre-orders at
Artist website:

Little Taste of Torah Is A Tasty Meal

Jewish children's music has come a long way. There was a time when parents might politely tolerate listening to Jewish kid's music for the sake of their children. Times have certainly changed. While there are still plenty of Jewish children's albums that appeal mostly to kids, more and more artists are producing projects that add the quality songwriting and higher production values necessary to have their work appeal to the parents as well. The music of Peter and Ellen Allard has proven, over time, to enthrall adults as much as children. Perhaps some of that is because they help bring out the inner child in each of us (which, for anyone who has ever seen Ellen Allard's high-energy stage presence is no surprise.) I believe it is also because the Allards take their work seriously, and approach it with passion and intelligence. The Allard's latest project, "Little Taste of Torah" easily meets the listening (and value) test for both children and adults. It's a CD I highly recommend to both.

The songs from the Allard's previous two Jewish CDs, "Bring the Sabbath Home," and "Sing Shalom: Songs for the Jewish Holidays" have quickly become standards for the songleaders and music educators who are out there teaching our children, your humble reviewer included. This new CD has been long awaited and is a more than worthy successor to the previous two Jewish CDs (as well as the Allard's pantheon of secular children's CDs.)

Overall, the new CD has more of a rock than folk type feel to it, and that shows the Allards are working to keep up with their audiences. Peter and Ellen are clearly striving for a more mature listening audience, especially evident in songs like "Be Holy" and "There's a Time." If this CD is somewhat of a crossover attempt from the realm of children’s music to a broader audience , it is a successful one. The title song, "Little Taste of Torah" is itself a song that will easily appeal to young and old. There's truly something for everyone.

The themes explored (and taught) by the Allards on this CD are varied, as are the musical styles. They include environmental values ("For Trees",) gossip ("Lashon Hara") and our our obligation to "Be Holy." The Allards aren't afraid of tackling the subject of G"d, asking, in a style reminiscent of Native American chants, the musical question "How D'ya Know" that G"d is here? You can even find G"d in a peanut butter sandwich, say the Allards--uite convincingly, I might add.

The funniest song on the CD is actually one of most serious in the lesson it attempts to teach - about the power of language and the dangers of engaging in "Lashon Hara." Learning the lyrics and singing them clearly is as much fun (and perhaps as much of a challenge) as learning a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. You almost want to hear an encore where Ellen sings it really fast!

There are, of course, a few holiday songs. The touching "May You Be Sealed" is a thoughtful song for Yom Kippur, beautifully sung and accompanied. Even before appearing on this CD, "Shofar Blast" had already become a classic. Jewish children (and adults!) the world 'round are singing and learning the sounds of the shofar from it. Now, many more will get the opportunity to hear the song done by its creators, and that alone is reason to rejoice.  I was a bit disappointed to not hear children's voices singing, and the adults singing the backup instead seem to emote a feeling that is more self-indulgent studio fun than the enthusiastic sound of children imitating the shofar. This is a great song that perhaps deserved more than it got in production, especially given it's enormous advance popularity. Nevertheless, it’s still a winner.

To their earlier song about the crossing of the reed sea, "Standing at the Sea," they have now added "Nachshon," and "Wall of Water." "Nachshon" is one of the songs on this CD that shows it's not just for kids, combining a hard rock style and maybe even a hint of Beatles. It might be the best and most mature cut on the CD, though I might have preferred a violin to electric guitar in the instrumental break. In contrast, "Wall of Water" is a bluesy-jazzy-country bit of fun, with its own built-in shtick and choreography which you won't be able to resist.

"Gotta Groove" is Peter and Ellen's clever homage to the asher yatzar prayer from the morning liturgy, and groovin' is what you'll do to this song. It starts out quite busy at the beginning, so it doesn't leave itself much room to build until the inevitable key-change near the end, and at times the lyrics "Thank You G"d" feel a bit understated. No matter--this one is sure to get you up and moving, and thinking about the miracle that is the human body and its workings.

Though Peter has always been featured singing on few songs on the earlier CDs, on this one Peter gets a real chance to shine. My first thought, when I heard "Baby Moses" was "you go, Peter!" I dare you to resist dancing, clapping, or otherwise enjoying this one. The rocking "Shake, Shake, Shake" (no, it's not yet another lulav shaking song-this one is about tzedakah, and shaking the tzedakah box,) also features Peter singing, with great instrumental backup. (The gratuitous little "shake it, baby" tag at the end didn't quite work for me, but kids seem to enjoy it.) "There's a Time," a setting of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:1 is well written and performed, and it's got a great bridge with some nice vocals, instrumentation, and a flute solo. It isn't as solid as most of the other offerings on this album, and, as a new setting of a familiar text isn't likely to eclipse the attempts of other notable songwriters and performers who took a "turn" setting it to song. This song still has its purpose under the Sun, so enjoy!

Overall, the production values are great, if a bit uneven in spots. There's some truly fine instrumental work on the CD, most notably Scott Leader's piano on "May You Be Sealed," "Baby Moses," "Be Holy," and the aforementioned flute solo on "There's a Time." There was one instrumental choice which I found odd, though I admit it is probably just my own personal taste - featuring a saxophone on the "Sh'ma Lullaby." The saxophone here has a mellow feel to it, but it is more the relaxed feel of a smoky jazz club than a child's bedroom. The instrumentation is a bit busy at times, obscuring the lyrics, and the EQ on Ellen's vocal sometimes has a bit too much on the high-end, more odd choices for my taste in a lullaby. All this will probably be just fine for most listeners, especially with the more lullaby-like keyboard patch and guitar sounds. It's a beautiful song, beautifully sung by Ellen, and a great way to introduce the practice of the bedtime Sh'ma to both children and their parents.

On this album there are a few abrupt starts, odd endings, and the like-at least for my tastes. Bear in mind that I'm a tough critic, and awfully nit-picky--so don't get me wrong. "Little Taste of Torah" bears all the hallmarks of the Allard's talents and the great production values we've come to expect from projects placed in Scott Leader's capable hands. I loved this CD, and you will too. Go out and buy a CD or down-loadable copy now. (Well, the official release date is Nov. 1, 2009, but you can pre-order copies right now at You’ll be glad you did.

When Peter and Ellen taught the new song “For Trees” at the annual Hava Nashira Songleading workshop last June in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, apropos to that great state, it was quickly parodied by Ross and Malka Wolman in the delightful “For Cheese.” Let me tell you, there is nothing cheesy about Peter and Ellen Allard’s new recording. Raise your hands up high--for all the world to see--every one stand up - for "Little Taste of Torah."

Adrian A. Durlester
October 19, 2009

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: Erik Contzuis' Teach My Lips a Blessing

Cross-posted from the Teruah Blog. Review by Jack Zaientz

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Erik Contzius - New Cantorial Music in the German Reform Style

There are other histories out there, if we know how to listen for them. Other musics that remind us of how complicated, and interesting, our trip has been and how brutally the 20th century disrupted that trip. But these histories are starting to reassert themselves. We all know about the klezmer revival, and I've written many times about reassertion of Sephardic musical culture in west, the explosion in Jewish popular and art musics, and the rise of the songleader folk pop-liturgy. Guess what..chazzanut, that great voice on the pulpit, still has it's champions and they're creating a new generation of liturgy work that is vital and compelling. And they're reconnecting current chazznut with historic traditions that have all but faded from memory in America.

Erik Contzius has a new recording, Teach My Lips a Blessing, of cantorial music in the German Reform tradition. For someone growing up in a mid-20th century Conservative American synagogue, it sounds like it could be from the moon. Shabbat prayers sung over pipe organ, backed by a large mixed choir? It's a distinctive soundscape that violates Orthodox and Conservative halacha (use of instruments on the Shabbat) and my sense of history (the role of the cantor fading as community prayer practice has become communal and participatory). But that sound!

Contzius has done something magical. This isn't the mighty voiced lion of a cantor praising and supplicating as the voice of his community. It's also not a call and response prayer leader. It's something different. Contzius has a strong clear voice, without the operatic theatrics I've heard in many cantors and cantorial recordings (If anything, his voice tends toward Broadway a bit too much at points. ) It's warm and inviting, and with the choir and organ behind him feels like he's singing both for and with the community at the same time. This is a very different sensibility than a songleader grabbing a guitar to lead a hundred congregants through an out of tune Shalom Rav. (which is a wonderful thing, too). There is a sense of leadership here, Contzius reaching out through his voice, showing us the way, and bringing us along. I don't feel the urge to sing when listening to Contzius, but I feel that his singing includes me already. While I love communal singing, there is a power to this way too.

Amazon has graciously provided us with a chance to hear some clips of Contzius recording. In particular listen to V'Shamru. I've relistened to it about a dozen times. (I get to cheat. Contzius sent me the album so I get to hear the full recording). It soars, but never so high that it leaves the choir voices behind. And that's pretty special and may help breath new life into chazzanut.

You can hear more Contzius compositions, learn more about his approach, and purchase this recording via his website or download the tracks through the Amazon player.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review-Abby Gostein's Each Blessing

Cross-posted from the Teruah Jewish Music Blog

Review by Jack Zaeintz

Monday, August 31, 2009

Abby Gostein's "Each Blessing"

Abby GosteinI'm listening to Abby Gostein's "Each Blessing" right now. I've got a lot to say, but am not sure where to start. How do you review an album this is as much an advertisement for sheet music as a recording to be listened to? How about this....
This past Shabbat I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at the local Reform synagogue. Not as a guest, but as a member. Yep. I'm a life-long Conservative Jew who recently became a member of a Reform synagogue. I'm not going to get into why I switched membership from the local Conservatice synagogue, it was just time for a change. (For the record, I also will be davening regularly at the local Chabbad house too). I was pretty impressed by how much traditional (by my standards) Hebrew liturgy was part of the service. I also enjoyed the contemporary English readings in the new Mishkan Tefillah. They're direct and meaningful, if a bit vague about God and Torah. Sitting there I felt recharged and happy.
When I sit back in my chair, Gostein's "Each Blessings" playing through my headphones, I'm right back there. Her gentle vocals and piano playing pick up the quiet warmth of the service and her more driving pieces are invigorating and make me want to sing along. Just right for a contemporary Reform service.
Each Blessing album cover
And that's the point of the album, right? Gostein describes it as ....
"Contemporary Jewish music, moving and accessible, with memorable melodies and riveting harmonies; prayer and blessing settings intended to be flexible in nature and easily usable by cantor or soloist, congregation and/or choir"
This isn't music for a concert, for listening to a car, or even for listening to over headphones in a comfy chair (though I've happily done the latter two already and would go to a Gostein concert if given a chance). It's for singing in a group. At synagogue. That's what the albums for. If you go to her website she's got lyric sheets ready, and if you want the sheet music, she's got it.
As long time readers might remember, I've always had mixed feelings about Reform style songleader recordings. Part of it, I'm realizing, is that since I'd never been to a service that included them it was hard to understand their natural home. Part of it, though, is that I've often found them to be underwhelming rehashes of 1970's folk-pop with shallow feel good lyrics. Gostein's album, though, manages to avoid those traps. While some nod back to the 1970's, others pick up much more current musical influences and rhythms. There's drive and passion, but it never overwhelms. It creates a sound that is timeless, not dated.
Good stuff. Really.
And an album that I'll hand off to my choir director next Friday.

* Update: Sigh. Another fact-checking goof. Abby just emailed me to let me know that while she loves the piano playing too, she can't take credit for it. Scott Leader, Jewish musician and proprietor of Southwest Studios, played piano on most of the album (including the two tracks above). Martha Mortensen Dudgeon took over the keys for the last two tracks. Dudgeon is an Austin pianist and artistic director of the Austin Chamber Ensemble. Thanks for the update Abby

For more info on Abby Gostein's "Each Blessings" check out her webpage and CD Baby. For her sheet music see OySongs and Transcontinental Music Publications.

Reviews/Reviewers Wanted

The contemporary Jewish folk/rock/pop liturgical music scene (or whatever we're going to call the Debbie Friedman to Dan Nichols to Todd Herzog and beyond genre) is blossoming with ever new recordings. We need to help ourselves get the word out, and posting reviews on this blog could be one way to do that.  If you'd like to review something (new or old) please get in touch with me ( It would be best to have reviews from reviewers of of several types:

  • those who are NOT primarily songwriters/performers/songleaders
  • those who are songleaders or music educators
  • those who are songwriters/performers/producers/publishers

There are so many new recordings out there just crying to be reviewed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Abby Gostein: Each Blessing
  • Dan Nichols & e18hteen: To the Mountains
  • Josh Nelson Project: Lift:
  • Debbie Friedman: As You Go On Your Way-Shacharit-the Morning Prayers
  • Todd Herzog: Everyday Blessings

and so much more. (Please don't be offended if I left your latest and greatest off this short list of suggestions. If you want your new project reviewed, send me a copy!)

Also, it would be nice to have all parts of the genre covered, including children's music, teen music, music for worship, adult listening, etc.

Let's all work together to help our community thrive.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Carroll, Taylor, & United Profit When United Breaks Guitars ?

While I’m sympathetic to Dave Carroll, of the Sons of Maxwell, I'm not particularly swayed to righteous indignation against United Airlines by his supposedly viral "United Breaks Guitars" video.  He really SHOULD have opened the case when he arrived in Omaha, and, at the very least, taken pictures. I’ve known since I was a child that shippers always say that one should inspect packages upon receipt even if there is no outward sign of damage. Mr. Carroll does bear some responsibility for the outcome of his situation. I don’t know about you, but when I travel with one of my pianos on a plane, I damn sure open the case at the destination airport to check it. Frankly, I do the same even when I transport it myself in my car!

(One also has to wonder why no one snapped a photo with their cell phone on the tarmac at Chicago, showing the offending instrument throwing/throwers.)

FWIW, this article contradicts Mr. Carroll’s statement on his web site. He never actually saw *his* guitar being mishandled. By the time his bass player looked, Carroll surmises with no basis of proof,  that his guitar had already been thrown.

Also, the “we were on the road away from Omaha” is a lame excuse for having not contacted the airline immediately when the damage was discovered the day after they arrived in Omaha, at the sound check. Sounds like they did a week of touring gigs with his broken guitar in tow. Hard to be sympathetic for that. Especially in this day of cell phones, email, etc.

Sounds to me like Mr. Carroll and his gang were too lazy to bother to check things, too follow-up on things, and too focused on their career path itself and less on the material items like their guitars. (Personally, I have heard stories from roadies-who take meticulous care of player’s instruments-about how the performers then mistreat those same instruments.) Obviously, Mr. Carroll had other guitars to play which he then used. Did his audiences feel cheated because he didn’t play his $3500 Taylor? Would they even know? A consummate musician can make good music on even the worst of instruments, and somehow I doubt Mr. Carroll’s alternate guitars were cheapies from Sears. In fact, turns out that Taylor supplied him with replacement guitars, hoping to get some good publicity out of this whole story (which they have.)

Mr. Carroll clearly had the $1200 needed to repair the guitar. He was fond enough of it to keep it and use it in its less than perfect repaired state when he could have purchased a new guitar (and Taylor was giving him all these nice freebies in return for the publicity.) Also, he could have left the guitar damaged to offer as evidence to the airline. He doesn't say when he had the guitar repaired. I somehow doubt it was during this week-long tour.

I’m glad Mr. Carroll is past angry, because he’d have to save some of that anger for his own mistakes and tunnel vision. Somehow, though, he seems to have turned his misfortune to his advantage. United wants to make things right to Carroll financially, has apologized to him, and wants to use the video as training to change its corporate culture. Millions of people have seen the video, and now know of Mr. Carroll and his band. My heart bleeds.Not.

If he’d checked his guitar at airport in Omaha and filed a claim, I’ll bet he would have wound up with a substantially smaller settlement than he will now probably get from United (plus he won’t have all this great publicity for an up and coming singer and his band! Aw, shucks.

Gee, what a clever publicity ploy. So, did any of this really happen? Can we be sure? I’ve seen no evidence that this story is anything but invented or apocryphal. Perhaps United and Taylor are in on it? Taylor is making hay of the story. In a way, so is United. And clearly, so are Mr. Carroll and the Sons of Maxwell band.

Has anyone interviewed other passengers that were supposedly on this flight, or tried to locate the person who supposedly claimed “they’re throwing guitars?” All the news stories seem to have been about the “viral” nature of the video, and not the actual facts of the story. Anybody interview baggage handlers at O'Hare?

Also, there are always sides to a story. Were all the United agents and employees truly surly or dismissive? Was Mr. Carroll always polite and respectful to them? We're the baggage handlers really "throwing" guitars in an irresponsible manner, or was that simply one person's perception? I'm not even sure throwing luggage between handlers is wholly inappropriate if they are taking care to catch it and make sure nothing hits the ground or gets hurt. Probably not the best idea, but there are possibly extenuating circumstances. These low-paid baggage handlers are under a lot of pressure to get luggage moved quickly and efficiently. I know I've seen for myself, and also heard stories of UPS, FeDex, DHL and other carrier's employees moving packages via "airmail" - i.e. toss them to one another. Tell me you've never tried a potentially risky shortcut or two at work or home in a situation in which you felt confident and secure, and wanted to get something done faster. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost. That's what taking a risk is all about. Sometimes, fate just steps in and intervenes in an unexpected way. I'd say Dave Carroll is trying to turn lemons of fate into lemonade, and doing it quite successfully. (United is following suit, as is Taylor.)

I pay a shipper (or an airline) to get my items safely from one place to another, unharmed. I also know that there is always some risk. No employer can be sure 100% of its employees do everything 100% correctly 100% of the time. I'll certainly opt for the company with the best record, but I can't expect perfection. (Stores build in losses from expected shoplifting, accidental stock breakage, and cashier errors when they budget, and factor that into the pricing.) Planes crash, trucks get into accidents, delivery people trip or stumble and packages get damaged.

Now, fact of the matter is, smart businesses compensate customers even when damages happen due to circumstances that are random or beyond their control. United is not entirely off the hook here, in my view. A smart company would have acknowledged and come to a quick settlement with Mr. Carroll right from the start-even if there was no clear proof the damage was their fault. This action on their part would have been the smart play.

Taylor played nice by providing replacement guitars for Carroll. Didn't hurt their bottom line, either. Win-win for them--they get to play nice company, and get huge coattails publicity from the "viral" video.

Also, it does seem a shame that Mr. Carroll had to endure such a runaround from United, Air Canada, et al. They should apologize for that, and should address the corporate culture that is responsible for it.

Yet, in the end, do I want the cost of my airline ticket going up because United has decided to settle every claim submitted, even a week later, and when there is no evidence or proof to back up the claim? That's a selfish question, and the wrong one. If we are to ask that question at all (and I'm not entirely sure we should) shouldn't it be if all of us, United's current and future potential customers, are willing, for the good of the entire community as a whole, pay slightly higher ticket prices so that United can compensate all claimants for damaged luggage regardless of circumstance? That answer might be, and dare I say, perhaps ought to be, yes. Much as I believe in personal responsibility, I also believe companies do better when they satisfy their customers by making sure they're always right (even when they're possibly not.) On the other hand, might a better solution be that we all agree that it is prudent to check our luggage for damage (especially when we have good reason to suspect a problem) and report it immediately or as soon as we can so that companies can properly process claims, and not have to pass on to customer the costs of paying unfounded claims?

Seems, based on the "virulence" of this "United Breaks Guitars" video, most people are siding with the upset customer (who failed his requirement fro due diligence.) Is this the choice we really want to make?

Was this truly a “viral” video as claimed, where “the public” forced an outcome on the despicable airline company, or is it a shameless sham? Food for thought.

Also, for the record, I once flew United on a vacation to Hawaii. On the return trip, they mis-routed a grass mat we had purchased for a few bucks as a souvenir. We reported it at our home airport, and the personnel were not dismissive of our claim in the least. United located the mis-routed mat, sent it back to our local airport, and had it delivered to our house by taxi, and sent a letter of apology. Admittedly, this was some years ago. Nevertheless, it represents most of my own personal experience with United Airlines, which have generally been positive. The missing grass mat was the only luggage problem I have ever had flying United. (I won't say I haven't had other problems with them, still overall, United has fared better in my esteem than many other airlines I fly.)


Adrian A. Durlester (aka Migdalor Guy)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Life of a URJ Camp songleader...the beginning

Shalom Hava Nashira goers, friends of the internet, and to anyone who kind of just stops over this page! 

Let me introduce myself, I am Rachel Wolman. I hail from the DC metropolitan area and have finished my first year of college. This summer I will be working at the URJ Camp Newman-Swig located in the beautiful town of Santa Rosa, over a hour north from the San Fransico bay area and right outside of Napa Valley. This is where I will be spending my Summer as a songleader. I couldn't even begin to tell you how excited I am for this Summer. I am also excited to give you all an insiders view of the life of a working summer camp songleader. I plan on updating once a week during the summer about all the things I go through, experience, and anything I feel that this group will find of interest. 

I have a lot of goals for this Summer. I also have an amazing new songleading team that I get to work with this Summer. As the only songleader who has songlead at Newman before, it's going to be a very fresh feel this year. It's also a privilege that Newman feels we should have a lot of great mentors coming over the summer.  For the first two weeks of camp Dan Nichols will be here. I am not sure who is coming after him, but I know it includes Rick Recht, Noam Katz, Alan Goodis, Cantor Wally, and a few others. Not to worry I will keep you updated on everything! 

Hava Nashira gave me a lot of ideas and great contacts to help me this Summer. I want to bring every song and thing I learned from Hava, but I know I won't be able to do it all. There are for sure some songs that I want to teach. 

Anyways, if you want to know more about my Summer between updates of this blog feel free to follow me on twitter because I update that like it's my job. 

And if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything with me you can always email me at

Expect lots of updates over the summer! I leave for Newman tomorrow. 


Monday, June 8, 2009

So Many Things

Gosh, there are just so many things to say. Hava Nashira 2009 was so overwhelming I am just now getting around to posting to the blog! For now, just some information and stuff. I'll get around to posting thoughts, reports, summaries, reactions, opinions, etc. over the next few days and weeks.

Items of note:

  • Hava Nashira 2010 - June 2-6
  • Jerry Kaye announced that the staff and faculty are discussing offering a second workshop during the year (at another time.) This one will likely focus more of just "those who like to sing" and less on the pedagogy. More news as things develop
  • We're tweeting on Twitter as havanashira
  • Website ( updates are underway. If you have new recordings or other stuff, be sure to get that information to me at  Be sure to check obver your current listing (if you're listed.) Check the links page, the recordings page, and the songbooks page.
  • We have a Facebook group. Look for "hanashir" (and not havanashira or hava nashira.)
  • I'm looking for folks who are willing to review recordings to post to htis blog. Contact me
  • Pictures are getting posted. Stay tuned.

That's all for now. More updates to follow soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Hava Nashira Workshop-A Real Success Story

Wow! The annual Hava Nashira songleading workshop has become so popular, that the desirable semi-private housing was gone with just mail postmarked on earliest possible day after applications were available. Even though yours truly was caught in this snare, having had his application mailed and postmarked the second possible day, I can't really complain. I'm just thrilled with the success and notoriety that Hava Nashira has achieved. Even enduring communal bath and toilet facilities is not too high a price to pay. Even though I've been attending since the workshop's second year, it is still the most useful, informative, and inspiring opportunity I have each year. Each year is a unique experience. Though many of us "vatkim" (veterans) miss the special environment that existed and the individual attention and bonding that was possible when only 30-50 were attending, the folks at OSRUI and the Hava Nashira faculty have worked hard to keep Hava Nashira a meaningful experience for all who attend. Early on, it was recognized that there were two major constituencies each coming from slightly different places. The genesis of the workshop was the idea of training young songleaders to work at the various Reform movement camps (though, from the very beginning, Hava Nashira was open to people of all ages, and from all the movements of Judaism.) Yet something special and unique happened each year at Hava Nashira that kept older, more established amatuers and professionals coming. Over the years, Hava Nashira has managed to satisfy the needs of both these major constituencies-and that's no easy task. Sure, there have been bumps along the way, but if there is one thing the folks at OSRUI are god at, it's getting feedback and finding ways to respond to concerns.

So here's to the success of Hava Nashira. Long may it continue and prosper.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'll Finally Have Some Time to Blog

Well, it's a mixed blessing. Since starting up this blog, I've had little time to spend listening and blogging. Well, when G"d closes a door, a window gets opened. I've lost the synagogue position that was giving me the bulk of my work hours-not great timing in today's economy. The up side is, now it looks like I'll have the time to blog. So look for a stream of posts in the next few weeks, as I start to build a history of the genre, recommended listening, and artists to keep you eyes on.

Friday, January 9, 2009

We'll Have Hava Nashira, But What Will Replace CAJE this summer for Jewish Music?

As some of you may have already heard, our harsh economic conditions have forced the cancellation of the 2009 CAJE Conference this August. Aside from Hava Nashira, CAJE has been one of the primary places where creators and performers of Jewish Music (and Drama, Comedy, Dance, et al)  have had a chance to demonstrate and share their talents with the greater Jewish community, and enjoy camaraderie with each other.

I'm hopeful that, in the absence of CAJE this August, our community can collectively create opportunities to replace what will be missed. Over the decades, there have been many positive aspects to entertainment/edutainment at CAJE, as well as many issues and concerns. This may be our opportunity to shape an event that can include the best of what happens at CAJE while addressing some of the issues and concerns.

If you are interested in exploring these possibilities, please e-mail me at

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's About Time- A Blog About Our Kind of Jewish Music

I've realized for some time that I needed to create a blog to parallel my efforts on the Hava Nashira web site and email discussion list. I've put it off until now because I know it is going to take time that I know I won't always have.

What has prompted me to start this blog is a notice about a new Jewish Music blog, Shirim Khadashim, being written by George Robinson, music critic for the Jewish Week and many other Jewish papers around the country.

In his initial post, George talks about what you won't find critiqued and reviewed in his new blog, and why. George writes:
"I have an enormous respect for Debby [sic] Friedman and her many musical followers, and I know that many Jews find her music moving and spiritually profound for them; but I do not, and while I won’t stoop to lashon hara against her, I also won’t review her music or much of the Reform songleader style that developed parallel to her. (For the record, I was raised as a Reform Jew and still am one, albeit more observant now than when I was young. My objection is not to the ideological/theological content of the material; I feel the same way about the ‘60s folkies, too, with the notable exceptions of Dylan and a very few others.)"
With one swoop of the keyboard, George has labeled an entire genre of Jewish music uninteresting. OK, I'll accept that, and the premise that therefore it's probably best of he doesn't review and critique music from that genre. What troubles me is how he has lumped an entire genre in one apparently homogeneous class, as if all of the music of this type is similar in style, and all based on the camp songleading model. Clearly, he's not familiar with the broad scope of
styles that can be found in the genre that Jeff Klepper identifies as the "new American nusakh" but that is really so broad it defies a single label. I myself don't know what to call it. I've tried. "Contemporary Jewish Liturgical Folk/Pop/Rock" is one name, but it assumes all the music is liturgically based, which it is not. It's NOT all camp music or songleader music-there are hundreds of songs that just don't fit that description. Some of it is "spiritual," I suppose. Some of it is classic folk. Some of it is rock. Some of it is bubblegum. In a genre that runs the gamut from Debbie Friedman to Josh Nelson to Joshua Nelson, how can you find a single label that applies?

Yet that's not the worst of Robinson's condescension to this untitle-able genre.
"I tend to review almost any Jewish music CD that crosses my desk, but I will admit that I hold professional musicians recording professionally to a higher standard than I do people who clearly are making a recording as a way of preserving their synagogue’s minhagim (or raising money by getting their Hebrew School parents to buy a record that their kid is on). Incidentally, I generally don’t review children’s music either; I don’t have kids of my own, the children of my friends from shul are all too old by now and it’s been a long time since I was young enough to appreciate the stuff myself."
Oh, so that's what we're all about? Preserving our synagogues minhagim, or selling schlocky home-made CDs to parents as fundraisers? Look again, Mr, Robinson. I think you'd find the reality quite different from your impression of it.

So I guess there are no professional musicians working in this genre? Yes, there are a lot of amateurs, semi-professionals, hobbyists, and weekend warriors involved in this genre. Yet I can think of a goodly number who might take great offense as being labeled less than professional. No professional studios? Tell that to Sam Glaser, Scott Leader, Fran Avni and others who have studios and/or produce for others as well as themselves. Our work deserves a blog.

So that's what this blog is going to be about. It will be an exploration of this seemingly untitle-able genre - its roots and history, its present, and its future. My goal is for the betterment of the genre overall, and to insure that the genre receives its due recognition (which includes that still elusive Grammy category.) I'll talk about events, recordings, and more.

OK-so what you won't find is a lot of Klezmer music talked about here on this blog (though I won't rule it out.)

Unlike George Robinson, I'm not a professional music critic. My comments will reflect my personal tastes--but those of you who know me already know that my tastes are pretty broad. I'm also completely open to guest posters, guest reviews, etc.

There are others out there doing similar blogging. Jack Zaientz's Teruah-Jewish Music blog is one example. At least he's willing to include this un-nameable genre in his explorations.

So what qualifies me to do this? I can't say that I'm a professional musician in that I make my living full-time as a musician, though I do derive a substantial amount of my income (and pleasure) from playing, performing, and accompanying. I'm not a songwriter, though I've worked with others as a collaborator. I'm not one of the originators of this genre (like Debbie Friedman or Jeff Klepper) but I am part of their generation. I do songlead, and I do love this genre of Jewish music. That's why I started coming to the Hava Nashira songleading workshops of Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, WI almost 15 years ago, and why I keep going to them. It's why I've worked so hard at many CAJE conferences to support the musical component. It's why I created the discussion list and the web site. Over the years, many performers and songwriters have shared their new recordings (both pre and post publication) with me for comments and feedback. I'm happy to continue doing that, and promise I won't be reviewing your new CD on this blog unless you're OK with that.

The first challenge is going to be coming up with an all-inclusive name for this genre, one that won't exclude but also won't offend those it might not fully include. Share your thoughts with me at adrian at