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Jewish Music - an Ever Changing Phenomenon

12/11/2014 12:28:56 PM


When I was a little kid in Winnipeg, the traditional European cantorial chant and the Yiddish folk song/Yiddish theatre song, were the music that we European Jews and their children knew and loved. By the time I was in my teens, as this music began to change, and was affected by modern liturgical music and Israeli folk song, I began to hear “Jewish music is dying.” Well, it didn't die. By the late 60's and early 1970's, the Chassidic Festival gave us songs such as Oseh Shalom, which became integrated into Jewish life, and Jewish simchas. Shlomo Carlebach gave us renewed musical energy. While his neo-Chassidic songs absolutely echoed the Chassidic music of European Jewry, they were arranged in more modern American popular idioms. Milton Okun, Harry Belafonte's arranger, arranged some of Shlomo's early albums. The fire of Jewish music was alive and well. Exciting new cantors, such as, Sol and Paul Zim mixed traditional cantorial music with the new exciting beat of Chassidic music.

Before we knew it, many young composers, some steeped in Jewish music, and some not, began to compose almost strictly in the idiom of popular American music. Many people felt you were now hearing Peter, Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger in Jewish music. However, a whole new generation was being deeply touched in their own way, and fulfilling their own musical needs in this new music of such people as Debbie Friedman. Once again I heard from people “This music is going to kill Jewish music.” But, it didn't. In the last fifteen years or so, there has been a whole new creative element both in Israel and America, blending many styles of old and new Jewish music. For example in Israel, “Shira Chadasha” and other groups offer exciting services, blending traditional davening with Carlebach melodies. All over America, young people have been revitalized by minyans such as, our Rimonim service, the happy minyan, Ikar, and on and on.

So you see Jewish music is alive and well. It didn't die. Indeed, “Netsach Yisrael Lo Yeeshaker”- the glory of the Jewish people will not be diminished. We have seen a great deal of creativity coming from young people of all religious persuasions. Each generation, I think, will find a Jewish musical expression fulfilling their needs, their dreams, and their Jewish musical soul. 

Sat, September 26 2020 8 Tishrei 5781