Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vesamachta Lead Sheet Analysis- Trio

Here are some more reader comments on the Vesamachta lead sheet I’d posted . (You can find the first three comments here.)

Reader # 4 writes:
A few thoughts if I were reading this sheet (as is, I had someone else's on Succos...'twas not all that much better!)

1. It is missing popularly-sung Part C! (So was mine)
2. It does not have a beat or tempo notation
3. I'm not going to address the syncopation (though others did), since most people on a Jewish bandstand would interpret this right.
4. 1st note in 2nd bar should probably be Gb
5. Chords that continue from bar to bar probably should be repeated on 1st note of the 2nd bar in which they appear
6. Chords in B should be:

G /// | Ab /// | Fm / F#dim7/| G ///| (I personally would play G7s for all those Gs but that's personal preference)

7. I do not understand the half notes in 1st ending of B. It should just be a whole note.
8. The chords should be printed in a larger font. (The horn players in my band go nuts when the chords are not printed in some large font -- YMMV.)
Reader #5 wrote:
Your second opinion is incorrect. Key signature is fine and considered acceptable (Harmonic minor, fraygish or ‘Mixolydian Minor’)

Your third opinion is incorrect for the most part because he’s trying to make it more interesting or ‘musical’. For me I like to reflect the sung lyric in it’s purest, original form. He’s right about that D7 chord though.
He also writes:
And it is harmonic minor (albeit having the 5th degree serve as it’s tonic), which is why some refer to it as Mixolydian harmonic minor
BTW, some call it Spanish Phrygian (raised 3rd degree)…
Reader #6 wrote:
My main criticisms of the lead sheet posted (chord choices I find to be more subjective and so will not comment on these):

1. Key signature is wrong, wrong, wrong – it suggests that this is in C minor (or I suppose, Eb), when of course it is actually G Phrygian (or “Fraigish”, as some insist). This error then requires the use of accidentals in bars 4 (1 and 2), 5, 6, and 8 (1), to “fix” what would otherwise be played as Bb.

2. Lack of expression A: No rests! Where does one breathe? Whoever did this probably writes sentences with no commas or semicolons!

3. Lack of expression B: Some phrasing marks in the low part, and accent markings in the first bar of the high part, would be helpful to a player who is not familiar with this tune.

4. Missing ties or wrong note values in bar 6 and 7, if the melody is sung using the traditional words and phrasing.
Reader #7 writes:
My 12 year old son didn't like the D7 chord at the end. He was voting for a G and then maybe an F at the end. (I may have gotten his suggestions wrong, but I think that's what he was voting for. What do I know? He's been taking piano lessons for a third of his life...I haven't.)
Reader # 8 writes:
You are picking up a relatively subtle point.

The key signature indicates C minor or Eb major, but the home base chord seems to be G. The reason is that the song is in a freigish key. One way to look at freigish keys is as an altered dominant of a minor key. That would put a G freigish song in C minor.

But that only holds true for certain songs. In Yiddish music, as in other folk idioms, Freigish is the "home" key, so the key signature should be constructed to reflect that.

Another interesting manifestation of this phenomenon is the G minor ending often sung on the Shenker Eishes Chayil. In the original recording, the song ends on a D. But our Western sensibility pushes us to hear the D Freigish of the first section as naturally ending in G minor, which was not the intention. That song is a bit misleading, because the tune does take a detour to G minor, but ultimately returns to it's proper home.
Thanks to all of those who took the time to send in their comments.

The reason I posted this was because I thought the errors/omissions in the Vesamachta chart were revealing of a common misunderstanding of this music. The indicators are the D7 chord, and to a lesser extent, the choice of F instead of E natural as the first note in measure two. (In the book 101 Hassidic Dance Tunes -- 2nd Ed. Pub. 1988 by Renanot, Jerusalem, Israel -- Andre Haidu and Yaakov Mazor have recorded both versions of the melody, the F and the E natural, as known variations.)

Here’s how I understand this (and similar) tunes.

This song (as well as many other Klezmer and Chassidic songs) is a modal song. That means that it is not in Cm or Eb; the keys usually indicated by this key signature. It is also not in a mode of C harmonic minor, although the written melody in the example I’d posted shares the same notes as the C harmonic minor scale.

This melody is in a Jewish mode called either Freygish or Ahava Raba by klezmorim and chazzonim. It differs from the Greek Phrygian mode in that it has a major third rather than minor. (There's another difference I'll get to shortly.)

When playing this kind of modal music, it’s important to understand that it is modal, rather than diatonic. Doing so allows the musician to make better melodic and harmonic choices when harmonizing or embellishing the melody. A good understanding of how modes traditionally work lets the musician make educated choices about harmonies and improvisations. Modal music differs from diatonic music, even when the notes in the mode are the same as the notes in a diatonic scale. Nowadays, people sometimes use some contemporary harmonies and chord substitutions over modes, but that’s not how they were traditionally accompanied.

You can step out and also choose harmonies from outside the mode, if a more contemporary sound is desired, but, it’s important to understand what the traditional approach would be in order to understand how/why to choose another approach. In other words, it’s helpful to take a look at the roots of the music, before moving on to advanced explorations.

Many Simcha musicians meet this music on the bandstand in a more modern context and so they never really get into a full exploration of the modes. They just play the “hip” changes the other guys are all playing, without necessarily gaining a full understanding of how this music works. Alternatively, they just play the “bad changes” in the charts they might be given and assume that the changes are right and their “ear” is off. Then they get used to playing that way.

In modal music, the mode is strong and essentially supports itself. Modes do not have “avoid tones” as opposed to diatonic music which has "avoid" tones that are harmonically dissonant (unless you play out jazz etc.). For example, try playing a C or Eb melody note against a G major chord. In diatonic music, this is very dissonant. Yet, in Freygish, you’ll see this frequently. (Take, for instance, the first bar of Ben Zion Shenker’s Yosis Alayich.)

A modal tune can use just one mode throughout, or it can shift modes without strong harmonic modulation needed to do so. This is because the tonal center of each mode is so strong. A mode just is. It doesn't need to have tension and resolution via Western dominant-tonic harmony.

It’s possible to notate this mode in several ways. For those interested, I wrote about the question of which key signature to use here a while back.

For this example, I’ve used standard key signatures and indicated the accidentals where they occur. This approach works well for the “standard” Klezmer keys that are commonly used on the bandstand; where only a few accidentals are needed. I might choose a different approach for a melody in Bb Freygish, for example. Using standard key signatures, instead of the more obscure ethnomusicology ones, makes the music more immediately accessible to the non-klezmer player who is sight-reading it for the first time on the bandstand.

When notated this way, the key signature alone does not give a good indication of the mode. Instead, it is the melody itself that indicates the mode. An experienced Klezmer musician will recognize the mode by ear, but many musicians, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, might not recognize the mode if they haven’t played a lot of these melodies. And, if they think of it as C harmonic minor, their improvisation over it might technically work, but they miss a chance to add additional coloring using the “optional” notes.

Now, lets take a look at the mode. Here’s how it looks on the staff.

You’ll notice that the first two notes in my example are in parenthesis. That’s because the mode actually begins on the third note G. Those first two notes are only used when the melody dips below the root of the melody; the E natural is not used in ascending the scale. In other words, the E natural is the choice a Klezmer musician can make when dipping below the tonic and improvising around it. It would be used as a leading tone back into the F. That E natural is simply not available in C harmonic minor and that’s why I don’t view the scale as a mode of C harmonic minor. It’s also why using the E natural in bar two sounds so natural to me. It’s a melodic choice that more clearly helps to define that we are in Freygish.

To more clearly illustrate this, here is a klezmerish melody fragment I improvised. I’ve set it in both G Freygish and C Harmonic Minor. Play it over the indicated chords to hear the difference.

Examples of familiar Klezmer tunes that use these lower notes include “Old Sher” off the seminal Andy Statman/Walter Zev Feldman recording "Jewish Klezmer Music", as well as “Sherele”, “Fun Der Khupe”, and “Ot Azoy”.

You can check out some recorded examples here:

It’s important to understand that modal harmony is not the same as traditional Western harmony and that it doesn’t use the same chord progressions or resolutions. Understanding how modes work will help to choose appropriate chords from within the mode. (It is also possible to choose chords from outside the mode, but this does change the feel of the piece. I’ll give examples of popular Freygish songs with sections that are typically harmonized this way later on.)

In the traditional approach, one would use chords from within the mode to accompany this melody. In this mode, the chord used in place of the dominant in cadence is a minor chord built on the seventh of the scale; in this case Fm-G. In Greek music, the similar cadence often used resolves from the second instead (Ab-G). Contemporary Simcha bands use both approaches. (Ironically, Bock and Harnick used the Greek approach in “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.)

The D7 error in the chart I posted comes in the context of the transcriber attempting to fit standard Western harmony over a modal melody. It looks like he was trying to fit a I-iv-V-I progression in (G-Cm-D7-G). In this case, as many pointed out, it doesn’t work.

This can work backwards too. Klezmer musicians might view certain Jazz chord progressions as modal when they needn't. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) When I first sat down with a jazz teacher for some lessons, he asked me to blow over Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” So, I took a look at the F and F# chords over the A of the tune and proceeded to play a Freygish-based improv. Not exactly the approach a typical jazz musician would take to playing over those chords.

Here’s how I’d notate this melody. I’ve included the E natural in the melody, changed the chords on the B section, and changed the phrasing on the B section to match the lyrics. I could have made other chordal and phrasing choices without being “wrong”, but this seems like a nice basic approach.I also added slurs to match the lyrics.

With regard to some of the suggestions offered...

I would not substitute G7 for the G chords in the B section because, to my ear, the G7 implies a different mode, Mixolydian or as the klezmorim/chazzonim would call it, Adonoy Molokh, which is not the mode the melody is using in the rest of that phrase.

Similarly, the F#dim7 chord suggested as the 2nd to last chord in the B doesn’t work, to my ear, because it leaves the mode.

I chose to use an Ab chord instead of a Cm, because that indicates the mode more clearly, by making use of one of its defining notes, the Ab.

As I mentioned, outside choices are possible when harmonizing Freygish melodies, but they still need to make musical sense. Examples of tunes often harmonized using outside harmony include Naftule Brandwein’s “Firn Di Mekhotonim” (in the C section), “Moshe Emes” (in the B section), and “Kumi Roni" (in the C section).

There are many melodies that will shift modes for a short time and then shift back. This works without a strong harmonic progression to support it. That’s because each mode is strong and supports itself. There are lots of Klezmer and Chassidic melodies that do this. A classic example of this that occurs on the Simcha circuit is the melody known by some Lubavitchers as “Shimu”, which is also commonly used for “Baruch Keil Elyon.” When I played with a Lubavitch band years ago, we used to play this one.

(Incidentally, this tune can be used as an example of how songs can be played wrong if the modes it uses aren’t recognized. Check out this song, "Sfashkenaz." It uses the modal melody described above for the “Baruch Keil Elyon” part of the song. Yet, every time through, on the words “Hashomer Shabbos/Shabbat”, it misses the modulation to G major for those two bars until the words “Lakeil yeratzu…” The melody note should be a B natural there, not a Bb and the chord should be a G major not a G minor. This is a typical Klezmer modulation. Omitting it makes the whole section less interesting.)

It is also possible to play diatonic melodies using modal harmonizations too. But that’s another discussion…

A few additional comments on your emails:

Reader #3 wrote a much more specific response that I’d expected. Let’s set his syncopation suggestions aside, as this is meant to be a simple lead sheet, not an arrangement.

He added an additional measure 9A as a correction to the repeat of the B. As with many folk melodies, there are often several common variations sung and these two demonstrate that fact. There is not necessarily one correct notation of the melody. I’ve heard both versions sung. (Haidu and Mazor do not record this second variation in their book.) Another reader suggested a different variation for that bar as well.

I think the “missing part C” a reader referred to is actually a different “Vesamachta” melody. They're just often played together.

Many of the other criticisms are of design/typography choices. Those aren’t errors, per se, just “house styles.” Different people have different font and layout preferences. They are valid points, but that was not the point of this exercise.

The beat/tempo indication is useful, but in the context of when this lead sheet would typically be used, it is not really necessary.

Most lead sheets of this type lack notation of short breath rests, etc. The assumption is that the musician understands how to phrase idiomatically. Here's a website that describes how this works in pop music. Check out his section on "Style" near the end of the page. Here's a taste:
In addition to knowing how things should sound, you need to know how your players are going to interpret what you write on the page. For example, if you write an isolated quarter note on a page and put it in front of an orchestral trumpet player, he will play a full note starting on one beat and ending on the next. If you put the same page in front of a funk player, he will give it a much harder attack and will cut the note short. In order to get the orchestral player to produce the same sound you would have to put an accent and a staccato mark over the note (and he still might not play it quite as short as the funk player).
Expression and phrasing markings would be helpful, for sure, but I don’t think their omission is a critical flaw here. Personally, I often like to put slurs into my lead sheets, but the original posted chart does work acceptably without them.

There’s a difference between a lead sheet for a club date, which is designed to get the job done in the least confusing way possible, and a "record copy" or a more nuanced sheet for when more specificity is required. The more “bits” of information added to the page, the more the musician has to process while playing, and the greater the likelihood for errors. If I was transcribing a specific performance off of a record, for example, I’d be a lot more detailed about the phrasing, embellishments, etc. For this context, though, less is more, as long as the musicians understand the style/genre.

With regard to Eishes Chayil, Shmiel ranted about that here a while back.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vesamachta Lead Sheet Analysis- Part Deux

A number of folks emailed thoughts about Vesamachta Lead Sheet Analysis

One reader wrote:
I don't read notes well but the chords sound a'ight. The rests smack-in-the -middle of the notes does not look familiar, though
Another wrote:
OK, I'll take a stab at it (could be very wrong though). At first glance - the key signature and the chord notations don't "shtim".
A third wrote:
Not being a musician myself I'm not sure of the technical aspects of the chart, e.g. whether the key signature is correct or not; this may
simply be me not remembering the right way to write sheet music from my lessons that ended thirty years ago. However, I would make the following changes. Not to say they're mistakes exactly, but if I was singing it I'd do it thus:

Measure 1: Change the last note (F) to dotted-1/4, and insert an 1/8 note on E. (I like a little syncopation.)

Measure 2: Change the first note to E, and tie it to the preceding 1/8 note. Change the last note to dotted-1/4, and insert 1/8 note on G.

Measure 3: either tie the first note to the last note in preceding measure, or just replace it with 1/8 rest (the dancers are gonna stomp there anyway). Change last note to dotted-1/4, and add 1/8 note on D.

Measure 4: Change first note to D, tie it to last note of preceding measure. Change last note to dotted-1/4, insert 1/8 note on G, and tie it forward to the first note in Measure 1 on the repetition (are you allowed to do that without having to re-write the whole bar?)

Measure 5: Change first note to D.

Measure 6: change last note to 1/8, add 1/8 note on F, and tie it to first note in measure 7.

Measure 7: Tie 4th and 5th notes.

(Alternate: leave measure 6 as is, and in Measure 7 tie 2nd and 3rd notes, and 6th and 7th notes. Or do it one way the first time around and switch on the repetition.)

Measure 8: similar to Measure 7, depending on which option you picked, you might want to do the opposite here. Also, extend the overhead line (the thing indicating repetition, I forget the right terminology) to cover this measure, since you're gonna play it differently next time around.

Measure 9: replace the second note with four 1/8 notes B-G-Ab-G, and tie the 1/2 note to the following 1/8 note.

Insert measure 9a: 8 eighth-notes, first four notes same as measure 9, last four B-F-G-Ab. Put overhead line connecting it to measure 10.

Measure 10: keep the same.

As for the chords, lemme go get my autoharp...

OK, I'd change that G in measures 6 and 9 to a G7 (works either way, just personal preference). In measure 8, that D7 has gotta be a typo, I'd say Fm belongs there.

(If I was playing it for myself and not in public, I'd consider using Eb at the beginning of measure 7 and go to the Cm at the midpoint; but that's just me. I can't get any fancier than that without hauling out my accordion, the autoharp has only 21 buttons...)

Did I do OK for an amateur, or am I full of you-know-what?
The first guess is incorrect. The second and third answers both touch on the main reason I posted this exercise in different ways. That's your hint. Anyone else want to try? I'll give it another day or so and then 'splain.

What Would Shlomo Say?

Ever since he died 14 years ago, there has been a resurgence of interest in Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's music. In fact, he's composed more hits since he died. Obviously, I'm kidding, but the reality is that there are many melodies he composed that have only been discovered on private recordings since his death, and some have been popularized throughout the Orthodox world.

One of the most popular of these melodies is a tune called "Nigun Neshoma". It's a short and simple melody. For some reason, it has become common for singers and instrumental soloists to, er, take liberties with the song. Probably, like on the Dm Keitzad Merakdin, (which, contrary to popular misconception, I did not compose), they get bored with the melody and feel a need to stretch out.

Lets see how they do so. Here's an overview of many of the available performances of the tune on YouTube. You'll notice a common trend among singing styles (and sometimes "dance moves" such as they are) in these clips.

Nigun Neshoma vocal clip #1
Nigun Neshoma vocal clip #2
Nigun Neshoma vocal clip #3
Nigun Neshoma vocal clip #4

For variety, here's a Nigun Neshoma instrumental clip.

Here's the inevitable Nigun Neshoma rip-off clip. (It's the 1st tune in the clip.)

Whad'ya think o' these? Is it just me? Why approach the song this way?

Finally, for those who made it through all those clips, here's a palate cleanser.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I

Recently, the topic of Rabbi Ephraim Luft's ongoing attempts at controlling/banning certain kinds of Jewish music have been attracting some attention, in part due to this BBC NEWS article (which we blogged here), and in part due to recent concert bans .

There have been several approaches towards Rabbi Luft's efforts suggested by Jewish musicians.

1) Ridicule
2) Ignoring them
3) Respect

Some examples:

In this YouTube clip, MBD calls him sick.

I was forwarded an email by another JM performer who wrote "I think the appropriate reaction is to deeply respect the intent of our very frum brothers and sisters to retain an ambience of purity in their lives. And then to crank up some good rock and roll and get on with our own."

I disagree with these approaches.

1) I think the MBD clip makes MBD look bad. I do think it's fair to point out that Luft's ideas are ridiculous. I intend to do so myself, as I have done in the past. Sarcasm is an effective means of commentary. I do not intend to ridicule him personally, though.

2) I think ignoring Rabbi Luft leaves some in the community with the impression that his grievances are accurate and sanctioned by gedolim so therefore "da'as torah." The rational members of the community need to see that there is another side to the debate.

3) Although I think it is important to respect those who, upon hearing Rabbi Luft's representation of Da'as Torah, attempt to follow it, even though I think they are being mislead, I have no such respect for Rabbi Luft.

Over the course of a series of posts, I intend to take a close look at Rabbi Luft's book on the subject, "The Torah Is Not Hefker", as well as revisit some of his other essays.

I intend to demonstrate the following about Rabbi Luft.

1) He is musically ignorant.
2) He is intellectually dishonest.
3) He is a manipulator.
4) He uses "junk science."
5) He is a racist. (This is relevant because he builds his music criticism on racial theories.)
6) His approach is, in the main, not based on Torah sources.

I do not intend this as a personal attack, but as an intellectual confrontation of his ideas and their fruits. I don't believe I will convince him, as he has, in my opinion, demonstrated that he is not at all open-minded. That is not my intent. It is my hope that others, including those around the Rabbonim he has successfully manipulated, will reconsider their positions and will once again begin to consider Emes (Truth) as an integral part of their hashkafic and halachik calculations.

To start, I'd like to look at the opening and closing vignettes in Rabbi Luft's book, as I think they are quite telling in a manner he did not intend. Here's the opening to his introduction:
The gaon, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapira ZT'L related that the gaon Rabbi Boruch Ber Liebowitz ZT'L used to compose songs to words from pesukim and tefillos, and would bring them to his Rebbe, R' Chaim of Brisk ZT'L who would decide if the songs were suitable and respectable to be sung to the words. Unfortunately in our times, every ignoramus who wants to write songs set to words from pesukim does as he likes, and the people who decide whether it is good or not are the businessmen and disc jockeys who run the Jewish music business.
Rabbi Luft's point in telling this story is obvious. However, he seems oblivious to the fact that he has arrogantly arrogated for himself the role of R' Chaim of Brisk, taking on a task that (if one believes the story) even the venerable Rav Boruch Ber was unable to do.

At any rate, it is clear that Rabbi Luft has in fact designated himself Rav Chaim's memale mokom to address such issues for the entire Jewish community worldwide. Thus far he has had limited success outside of Israel (and enjoys far from total success in Israel). However, his ideas are spreading here resulting in other kannoim taking up the flag against concerts etc. These ideas need to be addressed.

Here's the closing vignette from the book.

It is a transcription of a public address given by Rabbi Yisroel Elya Weintraub Shlita in the Lakewood Yeshiva in Cheshvan, 5755.

At present in this country we are witness to the phenomenon of 'Greek song". Two of the mushchossim of the tzibbur who were thrown out of Eretz Yisroel returned to America with their merchandise to sell to the public. One of them made rachmono litzlan, a song about the most important principle of the 13 principles. The second took examples from this to make a song about the destruction of Amolek, and they turned them into jazz Rachmono litzlan - literally! What happens to a person's heart when he listens to this version of mechiyas Amolek? He hears that to wipe out Amolek is jazz! Is it possible to receive any good influence from this? Or chas vesholom the opposite, that he is disconnected from the whol concept of destroying Amolek? Or if he hears 'Moshiach' with that imbecilic nigun - is it possible to elevate oneself by hearing this? In this way they are killing the public, and we have to publicize them by name - one is called Freed [sic], and the other is called Werdigger [sic]!

Anyone who lets their songs into his house must know what this will cause to his Torah. Elisha ben Avuya, one of the four great members of the chaburah, did not stop singing a Greek song, - and it made him into a different person and finally a heretic! We have to throw this out of the house! Throw it all out! And not let this trash remain in the house!
Apart from the incendiary language, there is another serious problem with Rabbi Weintraub's words. Rabbi Weintraub is respected as a godol, whose words reflect da'as Torah, which is held to be infallible. Yet, these words are demonstrably untrue. Firstly, neither "Werdigger" nor "Freed" were thrown out of Israel.

I don't know MBD well, but I've had the opportunity to get to know Avraham Fried somewhat, and spend a Shabbos with him and his beautiful family, and Rabbi Weintraub's characterization is so far off the mark that it's laughable. I won't go into details. Suffice it to say that Avrohom Fried is a true Chabad chossid who makes a profound kiddush Hashem in his personal and professional life. I may not like many of the songs he chooses to record, but I have a tremendous respect for him personally, and I love how he sings real Chassidic music. Rabbi Weintraub's public shaming of him is unjust and anti-halachik.

It is also unwarranted. It is clear from Rabbi Weintraub's description which specific melodies he's referring to. It's also evident from the timing of when the speech was given. Both of the "horrible" songs he describes were recorded by MBD, not Fried. In other words, Rabbi Weintraub publicly named and shamed Avrohom Fried for recordings he had not made. There are two possible options. Either Rabbi Weintraub doesn't care about factual accuracy or he was mislead by askonim like Rabbi Luft. Either is unacceptable.

These two vignettes are very revealing, but they do not present Rabbi Luft and his enablers in a positive light.

Time permitting, I intend to address the substance (such as it is) of his book. Before that though, I intend to address his musical ignorance as evidenced in the rules for playing Jewish music posted in the BBC article linked above.

Oh, and in honor of Rabbi Luft's naming the Hebrew edition of his book "Ki Devar Hashem Bozoh", I'm naming the Hebrew translation of this series "Shimu Devar Hashem."

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vesamachta Lead Sheet Analysis

Here's a lead sheet of Vesamachta, a traditional Sukkos melody. It is a composite based on two charts handed to me at chassidic simchas beis hashoevas. Can you spot the errors?

Give it a shot. I'll post a 'splanation in a few... This will be a good jumping off point for a useful discussion, I think.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Post Yom Tov Music Musings

File under miscellaneous...

I made it through Rosh Hashana w/o being subjected to any of the trifecta which needs to be updated to include Rabbi Mottel Twersky's Im Eshkacheich, methinks. Come Shabbos Shuva, the chazzan pulls that one out on us. Dang.

The worst setting this year was "Lakeil Orech Din" to a fast version (think at least 2x as fast as usual) of the Carlebach melody commonly sung to Eilecha. Nothing like a slow melody sung really fast to stir the spirit. On the plus side... no Shwekey.

Cantor Sherwood Goffin has a piece in the YU "Torah to Go" on "misinai" melodies. I can't find it on their website at the moment. The article really needed music notation to illustrate what melodies he's referring to. Also, Cantor Goffin is a staunch proponent/advocate/defender of nusach, but sometimes it comes across as close-minded towards legitimate change.

The Sukkos issue of Mishpacha Magazine has a wonderfully honest interview with Andy Statman. Surprisingly open for a chareidi magazine, it can be found hidden amongst the usual JM PR "interviews" with many chassidisco singers like the one who does hisbodedus daily and is close to an anonymous rebbe in Europe and "Reb X" who would never record any treif rock music because his rebbe would hear it. (The snark isn't about these singer's self-definition as such. It's about the attempt to use it in marketing. "Buy my CD, I'm such a holy Jew" doesn't seem so appealing, but that's just me.)

Had one night off on Chol Hamoed, so headed out to Boro Park to check out the festibities. Danced in the street with Lubavitchers. Watched various Rebbes make brachos in their sukkahs, and checked out the Bobover shul where there was a tnoim underway. Mucho fun. They have some cool tunes. I hadn't been in far too long.

I also got a nice overview of the one-man-band keyboard scene while in BP. Despite using different gear, there's a definite sound that most seem to share. Interesting.

Played an interesting mix of Simchas Beis Hashoevas this year from heavy chassidic (Satmar) to MO. It's always interesting to see what tunes people call at these gigs. This also leads to a peeve of mine about lead sheets common on the chassidic circuit. I'm planning a separate post on that soon. A music lesson for y'all.

Visited a number of shuls for hakafos this year. None particularly inspiring. It's tough to find meaningful ones. I wonder what God thinks of the shenanigans in many chareidi shuls. Seems like it's all about competing egos. And drinking.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

From the mailbag...

Moshe writes:
By the way, my wife's secular cousin (who was seen having a great time dancing at our wedding) told us last week that the whole dancing with guys thing made him uncomfortable so it was a great idea to have a room for the guys to get together before the dancing started and get wasted.
So that's what the choson's tish is meant for!

A. writes about "New Wedding Takanos - Phase One",:
interesting Hamodia article. But has the wrapping become expensive? How? And poems (I would think) are free, so why ban them?
He also emails about the new RJJ Journal. One of the topics is :
Kol Sasson V'kol Simcha: Halachic Considerations of Loud Wedding Music by Jason DiPoce and R. Shalom Buchbinder -- Is the mitzvah of attending a wedding sufficient reason to go to a place where your hearing will be damaged?
I'd like to see this one.

Psachya writes:
I just did a gig last night with Matt Miller on drums. Bli ayin hara he looked great and sounded awesome. I know that people on this blog have been concerned about him, so I figured to go into the new year with a bit of good news.
Nice to hear.

Joe Flix comments on "Taking To The Dance Floor":
This is what we call Standing up to the bullies.

Soon word will go out, and this rude caterer will lose his good name and at least some business


(Wasn't Lipa at that wedding by chance??)
Nope, Lipa was not there.

Joe also forwards a link to his review of Sruly Werdiger's new album

PT writes:
I once had the power turned off by the principal of my kids' school when we played there for a simchas bais hashoava, (with Meyer Pasternak on sax). Apparently he was offended by our playing Piamenta's "siman tov" so he yanked us. I never played for the school again as long as he was Principal. I remember the night well. My second son was born later that evening, 17 years ago.
Turning off the power is simply offensive.

Anon. writes:
Why is a concert fundraising for an organization once again hiding itself? See the ambiguous language in the ad for the Achdut Concert and see the people behind it. (It's in the source code.)
Good question.

Finally, Zvi Lampert comments on Rabbi Luft's rules:
I took a look at these 'rules'. They are so ridiculous, I can't believe I'm actually taking the time to commit my thoughts about them to writing. I find this man's nebulous and arbitrary standards of decency and his level of general ignorance regarding music astounding. After reading his little manifesto, I don't know whether to laugh out loud or to hang myself out of sheer frustration.

Yes, the words of Jewish songs should be pronounced correctly, and yes, the music should be appropriate to the meaning of the words. This is where the coherence ends.

The use of swing? When did a triplet feel become vulgar? If anything, the application of 'swing' in Jewish music usually ends up sounding kind of corny, an effect that I would think fanatical ideologues like our author would find appealing.
Percussion is not allowed in slow music, neither are "2-4 beats and other rock and disco beats in the percussion" (rock and disco are in 4-4, but who's counting?). This pretty much rules out the possibility of drums in any dance music, which goes against what the Malbim allegedly says in footnote 3 (as soon as I can get my hands on a Malbim. I'll see what he actually says). So, no swing, no 2 beats or 4-4, what are we left with? That's right folks, WALTZES! Woo hoo! This man doesn't know a treble clef from a goose egg.

Which brings me to instrumentation.
Let me preface this by stating my belief the idea of a particular instrument being inherently good or evil is preposterous. Like anything else in the world, moral value lies not in the instrument itself, but in how it is used.

The saxophone was invented in 1841 and was originally designed for use in military bands or as an orchestral instrument. Its use eventually spread to all types of folk music including klezmer. The Saxophone was indeed dubbed the Devil's horn (not the Devil's flute, as he posits), and banned by fanatics in such illustrious institutions as the Catholic church, Bolsheviks and the Nazi party. Is this the company that this rabbi keeps? If we legitimize such sources, maybe we should also adopt the view that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make matzoh and wine, or that they control world banking. Incidentally, the violin was referred to as "the devil's instrument" by fanatics in the medieval priesthood.

Point of fact: distortion is almost never used on a bass guitar. Early rock n roll bands used acoustic upright basses, not electric bass guitars. Just watch any Elvis video. Pianos are also frequently featured in rock music. Should we ban those too?

The modern drum set was not created specifically for 'disrespectful music. It is comprised of the same drums as those used by traditional marching bands, only they're configured so that one person can play all the drums, rather than strapping individual drums to separate people, which is inefficient.

Finally, we have the ultimate self-contradiction.

Article 9 states: "When playing at simchos only the person who pays the musicians has the right to tell them what and how to play." Amen, brother! And what happens if the person paying wants rock 'n' roll, jazz or funk? Would you, Ephraim Luft, abide by your own rules and stay the hell out of it? I doubt it. I know your type. In 18 years of gigging, I've run into my fair share of self-riteous, ignorant blow-hards. They can't keep their mouths shut. Their sense of self worth depends on casting stones at others.

And so, with minimal research and even less coherence, this man took it upon himself to put forth himself and his rant as somehow being representative of rabbinic consensus, creating the sense that mainstream Orthodox Jews are ignorant and fanatical. Is he solely responsible for this Chillul Hashem? By not publishing their rebuttals with the same publicity, other Orthodox leaders are lending their tacit approval to this foolishness.

Ok, I feel better now.
We'll have more on Rabbi Luft soon. (Most likely after the chag). Also some CD reviews...

Pre-Sukkos Links

It is segregation in Meah Shearim for Simchas Beis Hashoeva this year. No outside women allowed!

Lipa records a political ad for an Israeli politician he says he does not endorse. It's going to take a lot more than that to get him elected, though. The chareidim appear to have shot themselves in the foot again this time. Kind of ironic that he hired Lipa, given his consituuency ad the people he needs to reach. Should've hired Aviv Gefen, perhaps.

Hey, I played this guy's Bar Mitzvah! I mentioned this story a while back.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How About Another Ban?

The title says it all. "Rabbonim Ban Chabad Simchas Beis Hashoeva."

This is in Israel. How long before some attempt to do the same here?

(Borsalino tip, E.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Today's Chupa Requests

Thought I'd share today's set of chupa requests with ya'll...

The Chosson -- Traditional Holy Devotional Nigun #1.

The Kallah -- Traditional Holy Devotional Nigun # 2.

The Recessional (instead of Od Yishoma, Siman Tov, etc.) -- Holy Nigun Simcha. (This holy nigun made a brief reappearance during the "mezinke tants" too.)