The Rabbis and Cantors Rocked

On Thursday, November 28, the Toronto Council of Hazzanim and the Toronto Board of Rabbis held their annual Hanukkah lunch. It’s an occasion for the two groups to sit down together in an atmosphere of collegiality, community, and celebration.

After lunch, Rabbi Philip Scheim gave us an enlightening drash (lesson) on Hanukkah, including an explanation of why we count the first day as part of the miracle of lights.

Following his lesson, I gave a presentation on the music of Hanukkah in and out of the synagogue. I shared a Hanukkah Kedusha that I adapted. In it, I string together various Hanukkah melodies such as O Hanukkah O HanukkahMi Yemalel, and others. It fits together nicely, gives the congregation a clear sense of the holiday, and moves along nicely. In other words, no schlepping! The Kedusha was received very well and I was delighted when several cantors asked for copies so that they could sing it in services the following Shabbat Hanukkah.

Then I introduced a composition of mine for Al Hanisim. This one has a majestic and elegant quality to it. It’s very different from the lighter, more familiar ones. It’s a tune I originally wrote for my oratorio Journey to Jerusalem. I’ve always loved this piece but I wasn’t sure what the rabbis and cantors would think. I was worried they might think it was too formal. To my surprise, everyone loved it and asked to sing it once again and, this time, in the four parts of my SATB arrangement. One rabbi in particular was very excited about it and wanted to present it to a choir she is associated with.

The last piece I shared with the rabbis and cantors was an adaptation I’d made years ago. It’s a Hanukkah parody of Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus – now called Rock Me MaccabeusThe music is Falco’s. The lyrics, which relate the story and success of Judah Maccabee, are mine. It’s an ’80s pop-rock rap. You should have seen all the rabbis and cantors singing and rapping! It was clear that everyone was having a ball with this one! I was thrilled, of course. The song is fun but it is also educational. Another rabbi told me she was going to share it with her congregation that Shabbat!

It’s always a good feeling when anyone enjoys the music I’ve written or adapted. It’s particular true when it’s appreciated by respected peers and colleagues. I work on creating new ways to connect with our heritage and I find it very rewarding when I’m able to impart some of that passion to others.

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