Friday, September 10, 2010

The Music Mr. Hoffman Ignored

This is the text of a letter I sent to the Editors of the NY Times in response to an OpEd piece by Miles Hoffman that appeared in the 9/8/10 edition, entitled “The Music You Won’t Hear on Rosh Hashanah” which can be found at:


Re: "The Music You Won't Hear on Rosh Hashanah" by Miles Hoffman, 9/8/10 OpEd


I'm not sure where Mr. Hoffman attends synagogue, but his familiarity with and knowledge of the spectrum of Jewish Music seems limited at best, snobbish, at worst.

Near the end of the piece, Mr. Hoffman mentions that "many synagogues have fine choirs..." Exactly what music does he think these fine choirs are singing? Well, I can tell you that it is an entire class of music that Mr. Hoffman has callously and carelessly omitted from his survey. Perhaps it doesn't fit his definition of classical, or of serious composers. It is a grievous error.

As a start. perhaps Mr. Hoffman needs to pay a visit to, the Milliken Archive of Jewish Music.  And even that august collection has many omissions.

Let's begin with the music of those who wrote for the early liberal Jewish synagogues. Great composers like Louis Lewandowski, Solomon Sulzer, Hugo Adler, Samuel Adler, Israel Alter, Abraham Binder, Paul Ben-Haim, Juliuis Chajes, Hebert Fromm, Max Helfman, Max Janowski, Gershon Kingsley, Frederik Piket, Heinrich Schalit. More contemporary composers like Ben Steinberg, Stephen Richards, Charles Davidson, Michael Isaacson, Meir Finkelstein, Bonia Shur, Benjie-Ellen Schiller, Rachelle Shubert, And so many more-no slight intended against any composers I failed to mention in this brief list of serious composers of synagogue music. At many Reform and other liberal synagogues, you'll certainly hear the music of these composers, which most listeners and congregants would view as classical in style, during the High Holy Days.

There's a whole new crop rising as well. Look to the likes of the Shalshelet Festival ( or the Young Composers Award competition of the Guild of Temple Musicians (

Finally, Mr. Hoffman (and the Milliken Archive) overlook the vast field of contemporary folk/pop/rock-influenced liturgical (and secular) music, much of it written with the same skill and passion as any classical piece ever was, and which is the music you'll hear in most of today's liberal Jewish synagogues.

I hope Mr. Hoffman will avail himself of the opportunity to expand his Jewish musical horizons so that in his next OpEd piece, he can give a more complete and accurate picture of synagogue music in the 21st Century.

Adrian A. Durlester
Amherst, MA