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