Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From the mailbag... (Rabbi Wolfson Content)

Shalom writes:
I suppose Rabbi Wolfson has never seen a harpsichord... don't they have the opposite pattern of black and white keys to a piano? And they pre-date pianos by two centuries at least.

Do you remember a song called "Computer Game", by the Yellow Magic Orchestra from about 1979? Took me a few listens to realise that with the exception of the second part of the bridge, it's entirely played on the black keys -- and it's far from being a "mournful" tune. (Not to mention Chopin's Etude, Opus 10, number 5, which can't conceivably be called mournful either.)

I suppose that if he's talking to an audience that's even more musically uninformed than he is, he might sound plausible.
As I said, the factual errors in the rabbi's essay make a compelling argument for establishing music education in frum schools,if for no other reason than preventing rabbis for embarrassing themselves.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Clarification On The Rabbi's Musical Ignorance

The Wolf writes:
Thank you for your most recent post. Can you clarify, for the non-musically inclined, what the musical errors by Rav Wolfson are?

The white key/black key distinction is fairly recent, as keyboard instruments and that color scheme are not that old. Most instruments don't have this distinction at all. A violin, or clarinet, for example, don’t have black keys. Yuval predates the concept of white/black keys by five thousand years or so. (That's a low-ball estimate assuming he takes the chronology of Maaseh Breisihis literally.)

The key of A minor and some other minor modes use white keys only.

In the keys of D, E, and A, the black keys make the key major by raising the minor third you’d have using only white keys by one half-step.

One can play slow depressing songs using only white keys and cheerful melodies using only black ones.

It's quite clear that Rav Wolfson does not understand what "minor" and "major" mean, what the black/white keys mean, or how happy/sad melodies are constructed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

From the mailbag...

Yitzy Spinner writes:
Your recent inclusion of the cell phone at the chuppah peep reminds me of a story that happened a few years back at the Excelsior on Route 9. I was under the chuppah preparing to sing Mi Adir as the groom was walking down the aisle with his parents. It's usually one of the few moments within the entire ceremony when people are actually quiet. My spot by the canopy gave me a great view of what was about to transpire. As luck would have it, as the groom and co. were mid-aisle, a cell phone that seemed to be on full volume rang. It turned out that phone belonged to none other than the groom's father, who then answered it! He kept walking but politely told the caller something to the effect of 'I can't talk now - I'll call you back'!!!
Jeremy Gimbel writes:
The newest album from Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof, Let it Happen, is available now at !

Here is what people are already saying about Let it Happen:

* "Jeremy Gimbel's music moves your body...and your soul!" -Craig Taubman, "Friday Night Live"
* "This is the Jewish album I've been waiting for!" -Ira Miller, Director of Informal Education, Potomac, MD
* "This CD provides a fantastic blend of liturgy and Torah that you rarely find in today's Jewish music." -Matt Jerome, Youth Director, Plantation, FL
* "An event to be experienced. I laughed, I cried, I spent half an hour trying to nail the female harmony on 'Only Start.'" -Adam Blotner - Song Leader, Los Angeles, CA

Let it Happen, the second studio album from Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof, presents two meaningful sides of Jewish music. The first half -- "Side A" -- includes five songs that each tell a story. "Salaam Achshav" is about our need to stop merely talking about peace and working together towards our common goals. "Only Start" is a ballad of the possible unrequited love between Eliezer, Abraham's slave who finds Isaac a wife, and Rebecca, the future wife of Isaac. "Joe's Blues" is what Joseph would have sung if his brothers left him with a guitar after they abandoned him. "Make it Through" imagines what was going through Miriam's mind right before the Israelites crossed the sea out of Egypt. Lastly, "By A River" is a melancholy song of the Israelites' emotions after the destruction of the Temple. The second half -- "Side B" -- includes five songs that are musical settings of Jewish prayers. "L'cha Dodi," "Eitz Chayim Hi," and "Adon Olam" are upbeat and fun versions of classic prayers. "Sh'ma" and "Elohai N'tzor" are slower but bring out the emotion of the prayers. All of these melodies are easy to sing by yourself or with a group. Listen and try to open your mind to the possibilities these stories and melodies possess. Let it Happen.

Let it Happen is available now at for $10.

Check it out & thanks for your continued support,
Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof

E. wants to know who wrote "Niggun Shloime." The mp3 was released to market the Shloime Dach's Orchestra's forthcoming wedding CD. The marketing for that one has been interesting, like the claim that the drummer on the recording, Benny Koonyevsky, is just making a name for himself on the orthodox simcha scene in recent years, playing a number of gigs with the band. In reality, Benny, who has recorded with Avraham Fried and Dbbie Friedman, among others, has been a first-call drummer on the NY simcha scene since at least the early nineties.

karol wrote:
Hi, I came across your blog while looking for Jewish wedding mp3 downloads.  We're getting married this weekend, actually leaving tomorrow, and are in a last-minute scramble to find traditional Jewish wedding songs (Hava Negila, Havenu Shalom Alechem, etc.) for our dj to play.  Any chance you have these and might be willing to send them along to me?
I emailed a link to an an album page at OyTunues. Why do I think Karol wasn't looking to pay for these tracks? Could it be because there was no thank you response?

Itzchak writes:
New CD release:

"HA'OROT-THE LIGHTS OF RAV KOOK" by 'Greg Wall's Later Prophets Featuring Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein'  is now released on Tzadik Records.

The Later Prophets are:
Rabbi Greg Wall on saxophones, clarinet, shofar and moseno (Japanese wooden flute) -"the Jewish John Coltrane".
Shai Bachar- Israeli virtuoso jazz piano player .
Dave Richards- bass .
Aaron Alexander-drums
Rabbi Itzchak-spoken word.

This CD has 12 poem/songs in various combinations of Hebrew and English as well as 2 instrumental two nigunim/melodies that were originally composed and sung by Rav Kook and his circle. (67 minutes of musical Rav Kook Torah).

The CD is being released on Tzadik Records whose founder, John Zorn wrote about it:

"A leading figure in the Jewish music scene for over thirty years, Greg Wall is one of the pioneers in blending Jewish music with jazz. His newest recording with his powerful ensemble Later Prophets is a colorful and provocative mixture of jazz and Jewish poetry and features the spiritual writings of Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook, recently voted the most influential person in the shaping of modern Israel. Kook was a unique blend of the traditional and modern- and the music follows suit, with funky grooves, improvisations and even a few of Kook's own compositions. With texts read by one of the greatest living scholars of Kook and his milieu, this is an important document of Jewish mysticism."

Cuts from the album can be heard on
A short video clip from their recent concert in NYC can be viewed here.

Reviews and interview about the CD:

The CD ( $20 including s &h) can be acquired through
Payment secured through Pay Pal.

At this time of intense upheaval, Rav Kook offers an illuminating and inspiring understanding of our greatest possibilities and what we need to do to actualize them.

"And a generation will awaken and come to life,

singing to beauty and to life,

and suckling unending delight

from the dew of heaven."
Rav Kook, from 'The Whispers of Existence'
Eitan Katz emails about his newest album and writes
...With this Torah, I released my latest album last month. I felt that each of the nigunim (whether mine or not) had the ability in them to bring the listener to a deeper and more meaningful connection to Hashem. I felt that the nigunim would allow a person to see how deep their neshama really is. And I tell everyone who buys the CD that this is what I felt, but if you don’t feel that way about the nigunim, if you feel they are just commercial and not uplifting, please do me favor- don’t listen to them!
But will he give refunds? You can buy the album here.

Rob Tanenbaum and Sean Altman each wrote to thank me for my post, "Happy Passover, Let's Eat." I neglected to include links to their current projects in that post. You can find Sean at JEWMONGOUS and Rob at GOOD FOR THE JEWS. Now, let's eat!

Steven W. writes:
Miami's "ezri me'im Hashem" sounds very similar to which recent rock song?
Finally, Matt Garville writes:
I thought your readers might be interested in Theodore Bikel’s upcoming benefit concert at Carnegie Hall. Pasted below is the press release for the event.


Broadway and Jewish folk music legend Theodore Bikel to be saluted at Carnegie Hall

“Theodore Bikel: The First 85 Years” – Broadway a legend Theodore Bikel, a lifelong social justice advocate, will celebrate a rich career devoted to art and activism with a star-studded 85th birthday benefit concert at Carnegie Hall. All proceeds will go to the Juvenile Law Center.

Confirmed performers to-date include: Theodore Bikel, Alan Alda, Arlo Guthrie, Rosemary Harris, David Amram, Beyond the Pale, Artie Butler, Patricia Conolly, Judy Kaye, David Krakauer, Tom Paxton, Serendipity 4 (Shura Lipovsky, Merima Kljuco, Tamara Brooks, and Theodore Bikel), Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, Susan Werner, Michael Wex.

7:30pm Monday, June 15, 2009

Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, New York City

Tickets go on sale April 16th and range from $30 to $500.



June 15th concert to benefit Juvenile Law Center; tickets go on sale April 16th

New York (April 16th) – Broadway and folk legend Theodore Bikel, a lifelong social justice advocate, will celebrate a rich career devoted to art and activism with a star-studded 85th birthday benefit concert at Carnegie Hall on Monday, June 15, 2009.

The concert will benefit Juvenile Law Center ( ), the pioneering, non-profit law firm dedicated to protecting the rights and well-being of children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Bikel will be joined by Alan Alda, Arlo Guthrie, Rosemary Harris, David Amram, Beyond the Pale, Artie Butler, Patricia Conolly, Judy Kaye, David Krakauer, Tom Paxton, Serendipity 4 (Shura Lipovsky, Merima Kljuco, Tamara Brooks, and Theodore Bikel), Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, Susan Werner, and Michael Wex. Honorary committee co-chairs for the event include Barbara Cook, Frank Langella, Pete Seeger, John C. Whitehead, and Elie Wiesel.

Bikel made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1956 and went on to forge an extraordinary career as a musician, actor and activist. His stage and screen credits include such classic films as The African Queen and The Defiant Ones and the 1959 Broadway premiere of The Sound of Music, in which he originated the role of Captain Von Trapp. He has performed the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof more than 2,000 times and is currently starring in a national tour of Sholom Aleichem: Laughter through Tears.

A leading light in the folk-music scene of the 1960s, Bikel was a co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival and has been a powerful advocate for peace, human rights, and social justice for more than five decades – from the civil rights movements in the United States to apartheid in South Africa to promoting peace and religious pluralism among Israel and its neighbors.

“Throughout my life I have been equally passionate about music and social justice, and have allied myself with others whose use guitars, banjos, fiddles and words to conquer fear and injustice,” said Bikel. “I can think of no better way to celebrate that life than a night of music with some of my nearest and dearest friends, and no more deserving cause than protecting the rights of our nation’s most vulnerable children.”

All proceeds from the concert will go to Juvenile Law Center, which works to protect children’s rights and interests in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Juvenile Law Center, which provides legal services at no cost to its clients, is currently heading litigation in the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania judges scandal, a court corruption case that has made international news as one of the most egregious violations of children's rights in U.S. legal history. The organization’s work on the case was recently covered by 20/20 (, the New York Times (, and People magazine.

“Theodore Bikel was at the forefront of the social justice movement that led to the creation of organizations like Juvenile Law Center, and we’re awed and honored that he chose to turn his 85th birthday celebration into an incredible gift for us,” said Robert Schwartz, Executive Director of Juvenile Law Center. “Theo is not only helping to promote the rights of people around the world, but also providing a true inspiration the vulnerable children who seek justice and protection.”

Tickets go on sale April 16th and range from $30 to $500. A pre concert VIP reception for performers to mingle with sponsors, major donors, and box seat ticket holders will be held in the Rohatyn Room at Carnegie Hall.

About Juvenile Law Center
Founded in 1975, Juvenile Law Center ( ) is the oldest multi-issue public interest law firm for children in the United States. With an approach grounded in principles of adolescent development, Juvenile Law Center uses the law on behalf of youth in the child welfare and criminal and juvenile justice systems to promote fairness, prevent harm, ensure access to appropriate services and create opportunities. Juvenile Law Center uses an array of legal and other advocacy strategies to ensure that the child welfare, juvenile justice, and other public systems provide vulnerable children with the protection and services they need to become healthy and productive adults. In 2008, Juvenile Law Center was one of eight organizations around the world to receive the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

While We Were Out...

Haaretz published an article, "The New Black Music" about Chareidi singers. This part is of interest:
The Bnei Brak-based Guardians of Sanctity and Education is conducting stubborn battles against singers who don't obey its instructions, and tries to prevent commercial bodies from cooperating with them. "Many groups that wanted to help and nurture Hasidic music prefer not to get drawn into arguments with the activists, and give up these cooperative ventures," says Lapidot. "The activists are torpedoing marketing initiatives by cell phone companies and approve only mainstream music. Many artists are harmed by that. The activists dictate to firms precise lists of artists with whom they should cooperate." He says the rabbis' decisions even affect the types of ring tones mobile providers offer their users for download.

One of the companies that has reduced its activity in the area of Hasidic music is Cellcom, whose activity in the field of ultra-Orthodox music is conducted under the name Cellcom Volume. In the past the company funded large performances, held in the context of Hakafot Shniyot, a post-Simhat Torah celebration, and sent its customers compilations with songs by the giants of Hasidic music.

But even Cellcom was forced to significantly reduce its activity. The company has a seal of approval from the rabbis' committee for communication affairs, and sells "kosher" products to the ultra-Orthodox sector that do not include content services or the ability to send text messages. The approval of the rabbis' committee has forced Cellcom to abide by the committee's instructions regarding singers it can cooperate with. The committee has also forbidden Cellcom from financing concerts.

"We don't interfere with business deals of one kind or another or with wars," says Yoni Sabag, the head of Cellcom's marketing department. "I can say unequivocally that even in the field of music, which is related to cell phones, we work closely with the rabbis' committee. We're very pleased about this cooperation and it works both ways. We listen to them regarding of other activities as well. They express their opinion and we don't oppose them. We are willing, and what they allow us to do we'll do. We won't act against a decision of any committee."
Meanwhile, Oorah settled yet another misleading solicitation practices complaint. We told you so. Any guesses as to which State AG pursues this next?

And, Hamodia included a "Melody & Harmony" section in their "Bright Ideas" Pesach supplement. The section includes an embarrassing article by Harav Moshe Wolfson, Shlita. Rav Wolfson is the Rav of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisroel and Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas.

Here's a taste:

There is a fundamental difference between the seven Ushpizin and the twelve shvatim, the twelve tribes of yisrael. Every Jew has a direct connection with the Ushpizin, whereas each shevet is a seperate and unique entity; the shvatim are thus a symbol of disunity.

For every seven white keys, representing the major notes on the piano, there are five black keys, representing the minor notes, each of which is half-tone higher or lower than the white key next to it. The black keys complement and harmonize with the white keys.

In general, somone who would play using just the white keys on the piano would be able to play only a lively song, while playing just the black keys would result in a sorrowful song of atzvus, sadness.

It is likely, then, that another tradition handed down from Yuval is for the keys that play major notes to be white, for happy songs, while the black keys, which play the minor notes, are black, for mournful music. White is a source of chessed for Klal Yisrael (this may be one reason why doctors wear white); on the Yomim Nora'im we wear white kittels. Black, on the other hand, represents the trait of gvurah and is a source and an expression of melancholy.

A song that is played using a combination of black and white keys mixes chessed and gvurah. Together the seven white keys and five black keys of an octave equal twelve, the number of shvatim of Klal Yisroel, which as mentioned above, can symbolize disunity. Such a song is appropriate only for galus. When Moshiach arrives, however, everything will be whiite, for there will be no atzvus.
Oy! Where to even begin? Lets just say that the musical misstatements/errors in this segment alone speak to the strong need for music education in Chareidi schools!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Happy Passover, Let's Eat!

Here a nice Passover ditty for y'all. It was written by Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum, who used to perform together as "What I Like About Jew." I believe they are no longer performing together. I've had the pleasure of backing Sean up on this fun number at a recent concert.

Here are two video clips of the song.

Sean Altman

Rob Tanenbaum and David Fagin's "Good For the Jews"

Have a happy and healthy Pesach!

Lucky Break - Jewish Bluegrass

Got a nice promo package from Lucky Break, a bluegrass band who are blending Shabbat Zemirot with Appalachian music. Check out "Kee Eshmerah Shabbat!"

Following in the footsteps of Andy Statman, Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys, and others, Lucky Break brings a sweet down home approach to Jewish music.

There seems to be a bit of a Jewish Bluegrass scene developing these days. It'll be interesting to see what it produces.

In Review; Wolf Krakowski's "Goyrl" and "Gilgul" plus

Wolf Krakowski is a man of his word. In his introductory email, he offered to send me some CD’s that “use a lot of that "jungle" rock 'n roll in my music…..lots of =kol isha= too, in case that's a problem for you.

His promo package delivered on that promise in spades. It included three discs: Krakowski’s own “Goyrl:Destiny” and “Transmigrations:Gilgul” -- both on Tzadik Records -- as well as Fraidy Katz’s “Di Alte Kashe.”

Wolf Krakowski is the Johnny Cash of Yiddish music. Backed by a solid roots rock trio, The Lonesome Brothers, and some guests, including “Goyrl” producer by Frank London, Krakowski delivers dark interpretations of Yiddish songs familiar and un. The band’s powerful arrangements nicely support Krakowski’s reedy vocals throughout. This ain't your grandma's Yiddish music. Well, actually, it is, but the arrangements aren't.

Krakowski is drawn to dark lyrics. Many of the songs are about death, dying, or leave-taking. From the brothers who slowly die in ‘Tsen Brider” to Warsaw’s Jews remembered in “Varshe” to the self-explantory “Alts Geyt Avek Mitn Roykh” all on Gilgul and martyrs remembered in“The Griber, Roter Laym” and the powerful “Hundret” on “Goyrl.”

Yet underneath it all, there is a optimistic defiance; an ode in praise of Shabes, a belief that man will not keep on repeating the sins of the past, and an optimism that Geule (redemption) will yet come. These are deep records. Check ‘em out!

Fraidy Katz’s disc takes a similar musical approach and she even duets with Wolf on ‘Gedenk” a role reversal from her duet appearances on Krakowski’s discs.

Amazon has the albums here:



Fraidy Katz’s ‘Di Alte Kashe”

Thursday, April 02, 2009