Is There Such a Thing as Jewish Music?

The quick answer is ‘yes’, and the more complicated answer is that there are many kinds of Jewish music, often related to other kinds of non-Jewish music, and I had the opportunity to hear a lot of Jewish music at two recent concerts.  Both were a treat.

The first, an evening at Adas Israel which draw a very large crowd, featured Ari Brown, Adas’ cantor, and Zalman Mlotek, the guru of early twentieth century Yiddish show tunes.  Expert musician ship, songs sung by the great singers of the 20s and 30s, highlighted by a medley sung wonderfully by Brown, and Mlotek’s version of the Yiddish “Modern Major General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” and a novelty tune based on the immigrant experience called “Vatch Yur Step”. Also a few songs made popular y the Andrews Sisters. Yiddish theater was very big in the first part of the last century and not only in New York, but wherever there was a large Jewish population.  Mlotek, an historian of the subject and the son of perhaps the first scholars and preservers of American Yiddish music, accompanied his performance with both a narrative and a easy to read and see power point display that, among other things, showed both the Yiddish and the translations of everything that was sung.

After I got home, I went onto YouTube to see whether any of these songs could be found.  I discovered that they all could.

The second concert was at Ohr Kodesh, and it was the annual concert of the Kolot Halev choir, conducted by Hazzan Ramon Tasat, a Buenos Aires native, and also played to a very large crowd. The theme of this program was “Melodies of the Russian Jews” and it included liturgical pieces, Yiddish and Russian folk music, wordless niguns, music from contemporary composers, and “Adon Olam” sung to the tune of “Moscow Nights”.  A special guest was Hazzan Natasha Hirshhorn, in from New York, who both has a beautiful voice and writes beautiful, and clever, music.  Hazzan Tasat also soloed – his voice is magnificent.  I have not tried to find these works on YouTube, but I am pretty sure that they are there as well.



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