En de be’er
Asentada en mi ventana
Komo la roza
La novia entre flores
Shlof, mayn feygele
Etz hayim hi
El ginat ‘egoz
Las ‘streyas de la manyana
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Some years ago, I was invited by an English company to record an album of traditional Jewish songs for their catalogue. Beginning my research in libraries, I eventually spread my net far wider, finding people who could help me with the translation and pronunciation of the various dialects I needed. It has been a fascinating journey, bringing into my life not only exquisite music, but also some delightful people. Not all were willing to give me the time of day, but most of my contacts were only too happy to share their knowledge and skills with me.
Many people may be familiar with Yiddish or songs, or perhaps some of the Hassidic music that has become so popular, fashionable, even, sometimes beyond the Jewish community. Some may know the kind of ‘cabaret Yiddish’ repertoire that I heard in my childhood; others may have heard a few Israeli songs from the 1950s and ’60s. Very early on in my research, however, I realised that Jewish music means far more than this. It is an entire world, spanning the globe, and I decided to reflect this as much as I could with this project. Musicologists have identified a number of Jewish musical ‘regions’, and I tried to find representatives from each of these. The only one which I have not represented is that of the melismatic Iraqi style: this would be beyond anyone who has not trained in this music for years. I hope I know my limits. What I do hope I have managed to convey, though, is how alike we all are — and yet how different. This dichotomy is one of the guiding principles in my life.
I also decided to reflect the rich variety in this music in the mode of its presentation. Some of the songs are best sung a cappella (totally unaccompanied); others need only a touch of percussion, which was mainly provided by Abe Doron. Among the other songs, however, my brilliant co-producer Mitch Clyman and I made orchestral or chamber-ensemble accompaniments. For one song, long a favourite para-liturgical melody of mine, I even wrote a choral arrangement, and roped in friends and colleagues Betty Klein and Rahel Jaskow to sing the other parts. It was deeply moving for me to hear this piece gradually take shape, as this is the first time that one of my choral arrangements has ever been recorded.
The resulting album is thus unique. There are of course songs in Hebrew, Ladino and Yiddish; but there are also songs in Aramaic (the language that was spoken in this country two thousand years ago), Farsi (from Iran), Arabic (one of the southern Yemenite dialects), and Kurmanji Sorani, a dialect from the Kurdish region of Iraq.
This was the longest recording I have ever undertaken. I started putting down tracks in November 2004, and the final vocal track was set down only in April 2006. The project has been a part of my life for so long that it may feel a little strange not to have to deal with it any more… However, there are many other projects waiting for my attention, and at last I am ready to turn to them, proud of and delighted with what I have managed to achieve with this, my first, Jewish album.
The album is available in disc form directly from Jill.
The price of each CD is NIS50/USD15, plus postage and packaging (p&p). Because of the local postal tariffs, the larger the package, the cheaper it is per item. Jill will always quote you the most updated postal rates.
The album is also available both in CD format and as a download from CD Baby.
To see reviews and comments on this album, click here.
En de be’er Melody & text: traditional. A paraliturgical pizmon in Hebrew from the Baghdadi community in India. Learned from the singing of Rahel Musleah. Translation: Tal Oriana Rogoff©. Although from this eastern region, the scale sounds very Western.
Had gadya Melody & text: traditional; a cumulative song in Aramaic from Romania. Learned from the singing of Avraam Altarats. This song, sung at the end of the seder (festive meal) on the festival of Pésah (Passover), is sometimes sung in Aramaic, Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish, German, Italian or Russian; my family always sings it in Aramaic.
Asentada en mi ventana Melody & text: traditional. A Sephardic song in Ladino from the Balkans. Learned through Matilda Koén-Sarano of Jerusalem. Translation: Jill Rogoff©. This song contains several ‘floating’ elements; i.e. lines or verses that appear in many other songs.
Yafutzu oyvekha Melody & text: traditional; a piyyut (paraliturgical song) in Hebrew from Italy. Learned from the late Aharon Cohen z”l and Matilda Koén-Sarano of Jerusalem. This song is sung at weddings and in synagogues in Rome and Trieste on Simhát Toráh and Yom Kippùr, when the ark (containing the books of the Torah) is ceremonially opened. Translation: Jill Rogoff©.
Komo la roza Melody & text: traditional. A Sephardic endecha (lament) in Ladino from Turkey and Rhodes. Learned from Matilda Koén-Sarano of Jerusalem, who shared with me the verses that her late mother, Diana Hadjes-Sarano z”l, used to sing. Translation: Jill Rogoff©.
Yihiyu l’ratzon Melody: Anon.; text: Psalms 19:15. In Hebrew. Learned from Rachel Medwin of Philadelphia. This song from the repertoire of the Jewish Reform movement in North America shows that the custom of setting ancient Jewish texts to music continues to this day: the tune demonstrates the influence of Western folk/pop music.
Ya shijara Melody & text: traditional; a women’s song in Arabic from Rad’a, South Yemen. Learned from Tsvia Bar of Holon. In Yemen, the Jewish men always sang the liturgical and para-liturgical songs in Hebrew. The women composed their own songs in the vernacular of their region; these reflected their more down-to-earth lives, and remained a totally separate repertoire. Translation: Tsvia Bar & Jill Rogoff©.
Zolochover niggún Melody: attributed to Rabbi Yehiel Michael (circa 1731-1786) of Zolochov (Galicia, Poland). Learned through Benny Hendel of Israel Radio. R. Yehiel was a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov, who founded the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe. A niggún, part of the Ashkenazi musical tradition, is a melody sung to vocables (words that have no dictionary meaning), traditionally on Shabbát or some other festive occasion. The legend associated with this one relates that R. Yehiel would get so carried away singing it every Shabbát that he would ask one of his students to watch over him. One Shabbát, however, both the student and the rabbi got so carried away that the student forgot to remain vigilant, and R. Yehiel’s soul left his body.
La novia entre flores Melody & text: traditional. A Sephardic kantiga de boda (wedding song) in Ladino from Tetuan, Spanish Morocco. Learned from Arcadio de Larrea Palacin’s book, Canciones Rituales Hispano-Judias: Celebraciones familiares de transito y ciclo festivo anual. Madrid: I.D.E.A., 1954. Translation: Jill Rogoff©.
Shlof, mayn feygele Melody & text: traditional; an Ashkenazic lullaby in Yiddish from Poland. Learned from The Yiddish Song Book, comp. Jerry Silverman. NY: Stein and Day, 1983. Translation: Benny Hendel & Jill Rogoff©.
Lekha dodi Melody: traditional Ethiopian; text: Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (1505-1584). Shabbát song in Hebrew. This text (of which I sing only two verses here) by the famous kabbalist of Zfat is sung in every Jewish congregation on Erev Shabbát (Friday night). I learned this version, set more than a century ago to this tune by Abba Feivevitch, from the late Aharon Cohen of Jerusalem.
Etz hayim hi Melody: attributed to Nissen Blumenthal, arr. Jill Rogoff© with Mitch Clyman; text: lines 1-4: Proverbs 3:17-18; lines 5-8: Lamentations 4:21. A liturgical song in Hebrew, sung as the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark. Romanian-born Blumenthal (1805-1903) was a famous hazán (cantor). By the 1950s, his melody had gone through the ‘folk process’: the first part remained as he had written it, but the second half had changed considerably. This melody is sung throughout the Ashkenazic communities of the former British Commonwealth. It was my favourite synagogue melody during my childhood.
El ginat ‘egoz Melody: Sara Levi-Tanai (1910/11-2005)© ACUM; text: Shir hashirim (the Song of Songs), verses 6:11, 7:12-13. Israeli-born Levi-Tanai was the leader of the famous Inbal dance company. In addition to dancing and choreographing, she also wrote several beautiful songs based on ancient texts. Translation: Jill Rogoff©.
Las ‘streyas de la manyana Melody & text: traditional. A Sephardic song in Ladino from Sarajevo. Learned through Matilda Koén-Sarano of Jerusalem. Translation: Jill Rogoff©. The melody is said to have been a popular Yugoslavian song.
Ay felèk Melody & text: traditional; a song from Kurdistan — in the Kurmanji Sorani dialect — that is shared by the Jewish and Muslim communities. Learned from the singing of Ilana Elia.
Shadumad Melody & text: traditional; a wedding song in Farsi from Teheran. Learned from Nehemia Bejik of Jerusalem. Translation: Nehemia Bejik & Jill Rogoff©. Jews traditionally get married under a hupà; this is a canopy, held up at each corner by an honoured guest, which symbolises Heaven.