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presentations with powerpoint recordings, slides, video

Jewish Music and All That Jazz 

We will examine the impact of American life on Jewish composers and the impact of Jews on American music. Using clips from the 1927 film, The Jazz Singer and recorded illustrations from America’s Jazz Age as touchstones for discussion, we will explore the conflict between being a Jew and being an American as played out in the musical arena.


Exploring the 1927 film, “The Jazz Singer”

Hollywood’s 1927 blockbuster was significant in many ways. It was the first feature-length film released with a synchronized soundtrack, marking the end of the silent film era. The story of this mainstream movie revolved around an Orthodox Jewish cantor and his family. But perhaps the thorniest issue deals with racism. We will explore some of the themes in this film, and then grapple with issues of cultural appropriation and cultural ownership.

The Music of Zionism 

One hundred years ago, Zionist pioneers created a new repertoire of songs, designed specifically to further their ideological goals. We will examine both lyrics and music of several songs from this period, to see how they reflected this ideology. We will also observe how, in recent years, the popular music of Israel has reflected the changing face of its population and its institutions.


Pushing the Button: Protest Songs in Israel
The nexus of music and politics in contemporary Israel 

Since the beginnings of the Zionist project, more than 100 years ago, one of the greatest priorities was consensus. Jews needed to band together to combat anti-Semitism and forge a new nation. But in the late 1960s things began to change. Israelis felt more self-confident. Israel was opened up to the wider world, including the loud voices of American rock 'n' roll and the civil rights and peace movements. We will trace these developments as reflected in Israeli popular songs, beginning with the iconic "Shir La-shalom" and culminating in Israeli and Arab nationalist hip-hop, and the recent hits, “The Sticker Song” and "Push the Button."


Jerusalem in Popular Song

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Jerusalem is one of the most fought-over cities in the world. Jerusalem is one of the most longed for cities in the world. It is no wonder that Jerusalem has been popularized in song, perhaps more than any other city in the world. In this lecture we will survey some of those songs, then turn our focus on two iconic songs, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Me’al Pisgat Har Ha-Tsofim, bringing to light some interesting and little-known facts.


American Jews and their Music 

Acculturation is a dynamic two-way street. For Jewish immigrants in America (and their offspring), the arts and entertainment provided one of the few opportunities for employment without racial quotas. Throughout the twentieth century, Jews played a major role in American music, quite disproportionate to their demographic share. At the same time, the Jews’ own music was radically transformed through exposure to American popular culture. We will explore the characteristic traits of American culture and its music, and see how they began to color Jewish music—liturgical, folk, popular and “classical.” We will also look at characteristics of traditional Jewish music and see its effect on the mainstream music of this country. 


The Hidden Roots of American Synagogue Melodies 

This lecture may surprise you! We will examine the music sung in modern American synagogues, and attempt to determine where this music came from. Many of the melodies that we assume are traditional "from Sinai" are not older than a century or so, while others hark all the way back to the ancient Near East. We will examine non-Jewish sources as well as Jewish sources from America, Germany, Austria, England and Russia. Illustrated with slides and recordings.


Music in the Holocaust 

For Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe music represented a spiritual escape from their physical pain as well as a means of expressing the anguish of their situation. This illustrated lecture will investigate the music that was composed and sung by Jews during the Holocaust. Included will be films of the musicians in the Terezin concentration camp and recordings of songs which expressed the sentiments of Jews in the face of the Nazi campaign of genocide.


Tsen Brider: A Russian-Jewish Folksong Becomes a Concentration Camp Requiem 

We will examine several variants of an old folksong about the ten brothers who disappear, one by one. We will also compare it with a light-hearted parody created in the 1930s by the American entrepreneur Joseph Green for a Yiddish musical comedy called, Yidl Mitn Fidl (Yidl with his Fiddle). Finally, we will reconstruct and analyze its transformation into a death-song created in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by choral conductor Martin Rosenberg. 


PBS Video — Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland 

One hundred years ago Jewish culture flourished as never before  in the major cities of Poland. In 1899 I.L. Peretz and others helped to establish a culture club in Lodz called, “Ha-Zomir,” which comprised poetry readings, a theater group, an orchestra, an what would become one of the finest choirs in all of Poland. In 1899 Prof. Jacobson took the Zamir Chorale of Boston on a tour to investigate the modern choir’s roots. We will watch the 57-minute PBS video of the Chorale’s trip and discuss the role of culture for the Jews of pre-war Poland, and its parallels to Jewish life today. 


Music in the Time of the Bible 

Music is mentioned quite often in the Bible. The ancient Israelites sang and played to accompany worship, but also for parades, parties, funerals, battles, coronations, and much more. To discover the nature of this music, we will investigate clues offered by the Bible and other ancient texts, archaeology and comparative musicology. 


Sacred Bridges 

In this lecture we will trace the common roots and the diverse routes of Christian and Jewish liturgical music. We will examine the Jewish roots of Gregorian chant. We will also discover which synagogue melodies may have been borrowed from the church. (Especially appropriate for an interfaith gathering.)


Who Wrote “Hava Nagila”? 

An investigation into the origins of some of the most well-known Jewish melodies, including Hatikvah, Yigdal, Maoz Tsur, Shalom Aleykhem and Hava Nagila. (This lecture could also be appropriate for a Shabbat study session.)


Franz Schubert and the Vienna Synagogue. 

In 1828 Schubert became the first great European composer to write a setting of the Jewish liturgy in Hebrew. We will listen to and analyze his setting of Tov LeHodos. We will also examine the nature of music in the Vienna synagogue at that time and try to figure out why Schubert came to write this work.


Salomon Sulzer, Cantor of the Enlightenment 

The life and works of the charismatic nineteenth-century Viennese cantor who was responsible for much of today’s synagogue music. We will examine the historical and cultural milieu (Humanism, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the French Revolution) that made his contribution possible. Illustrated with slides and music.


Salamone Rossi: Jewish Musician of the Renaissance 

At the turn of the seventeenth century the Italian composer Salamone Rossi became the first Jew to compose and publish a collection of choral music for the synagogue. We will investigate the fascinating Jewish community in Renaissance Italy, worldly yet devout, that spawned this phenomenon. We will listen to Rossi’s extraordinary music and compare it with both normative synagogue music of his time and place, and the secular and sacred music of Christian Italy.

Leonard Bernstein – The Jewish Side

Leonard Bernstein took the musical world by storm with his spectacular last-minute, a-star-is-born conducting turn at the New York Philharmonic in 1943, filling in for the ailing Bruno Walter. Until his passing in 1990, he was astonishingly active as a conductor, composer (in both classical and popular idioms), pianist, and teacher. And Bernstein was a devoted Jew throughout his life. We will explore Bernstein’s Judaism and how it was manifest in his musical output.

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