Purim is coming! Have some music!

Mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha.
“When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy.”
— Gemara (Taanit 29b)

Quick primer: Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar. In fact, it’s the first day of the second month of Adar, since this year is a leap year — which, in the Jewish lunar calendar, means not just adding an extra day but a whole extra month (known in those years as Adar I).

The point is, it’s less than two weeks until the festival of Purim, when we celebrate the Persian Jews’ deliverance from persecution in the fourth century BCE, as detailed in the Book of Esther.

So I wanted to share some little-known Purim music collections… the perfect soundtrack for your hamantashen baking.

First, The Ramaz School in NYC (where I was the webmaster from 2011-2014) produced an album of Purim songs in 2012, featuring both students and faculty. The whole collection can be played or downloaded for free at web.ramaz.org/purim/index.html. Brush up on standards like Mishenichnas Adar and Shoshanat Yaakov, and enjoy some new and original compositions. Yasher koach to Ramaz for being leaders in Jewish education and music education, as well as service to the greater community.

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Second, I would be remiss not to point out the two Purim-themed operas by David Bass, The Coronation of Esther (2001) and its sequel Springtime for Haman (2004). The North Cambridge [MA] Family Opera Company hosts recordings of both operas:

Chodesh tov and shabbat shalom!

Chanukah song sheet (free downloadable)

Chanukah_FBbanner
In honor of Chanukah starting tonight, I wanted to share the link to my free downloadable Chanukah song sheet (available on the “Ritual Materials” page of my Judaica site).

Everyone loves to sing at Chanukah parties (don’t they??), but no one can remember the words to anything more than one verse of Ma’oz Tzur. Now you can! This version, produced in 2011, includes all the Chanukah candle-lighting blessings (with transliterated Hebrew) PLUS the lyrics to 12 favorite Chanukah tunes, all on one easily-photocopied 8.5×11″ sheet (double-sided).

… Oh, and lest I forget, there’s also my ever-expanding Chanukah YouTube playlist.

Chag sameach, all. Now excuse me while I go start peeling potatoes!

New art piece: To Everything There Is A Season

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul (which means only one month to Rosh Hashanah). In honor of the new Hebrew month, I’m debuting a new art piece!

As a young teenager, I was deeply into the music of the 1960s, and I still remember getting goosebumps the first time I heard the Byrds’ 1965 hit recording of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”.

I knew it was taken from a passage in the Book of Ecclesiastes, though I didn’t know much more about it than that. Much later, I experienced Ecclesiastes as the Hebrew scroll of Kohelet, which is traditionally ascribed (like the book of Proverbs, or Mishlei ) to King Solomon, and in many Jewish communities is read aloud in its entirety at Shabbat synagogue services during the fall holiday of Sukkot.

A couple of years ago, at a friend’s house, I saw a framed calligraphy piece based on this same passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. That inspired me to want to do a version of my own.

The primary motif I had in mind was to set the English phrases as a sine wave or a helix, winding around the structure of the Hebrew. The above-and-below undulation would convey the duality in each of the pairings. Each Hebrew phrase is color-matched with its English equivalent to create a visual connection between the two levels. I chose to invert the Hebrew in these layers so that the text flow of both languages could run in the same clockwise direction — another way to echo the “wheel of time” feeling of the passage.

Ultimately, I arranged the text in a mandala of four nesting circles. The outermost circle is formed from the opening verse, which provides the conceptual frame for the whole passage. The second layer contains eight pairings, the third layer five pairings, and the last pairing forms the final circle with “peace” at its center… driving the whole composition, like Pete Seeger’s adaptation, toward an optimistic goal at its core.

One note on the translation: The well-known King James Version translates the second half of verse 1 as “and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. The Hebrew word used there, however, is cheifetz, which in other contexts is always rendered as “please” or “enjoy”. (Compare to Psalm 115:3, V’elokeinu ba-shamayim; kol asher chafetz asah. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”) Thus, some English translations give it as “to every delight” or “pleasure under the heavens”. Many other translations simply say “event”, “matter” or “activity”. I wanted to find a word that conveyed the semantic direction of “pleasing” without categorizing killing and destroying as “delights”, and settled on “to every impulse under the heavens.” I also tried to preserve the distinctions in the Hebrew between “a time to [verb]” and “a time of [noun]”.

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I created Version I using the classical Roman-style font Trajan for all of the English text, for a smooth and formal look. However, then I wanted to try to bring out the (literal) texture of the passage with a little more contrast, so I experimented with applying a calligraphic italic hand (a font called Aquiline) to accent the changing keywords in each English phrase. This resulted in Version II.

Both pieces are now available in my Etsy shop, along with a hi-res PDF download that includes both versions in case you prefer to print your own.

Which version do you think works best? Let me know in comments.

Chodesh tov!

Reboot!

Since my last post in January, dear readers, I have:

  • Gotten married (February)
  • Quit my job in NYC in order to move back to northwest Indiana, into my new husband’s house, 15 miles from my hometown and 40 miles from downtown Chicago (April)
  • Logged almost 8,000 miles in the Ford Focus, across 17 states and including 7 national parks, on a 6-week Epic Roadtrip Honeymoon (late May through early July)

Needless to say, it’s been an eventful 6 months!

We came home on July 4, after which I started working in earnest on updating my resume and combing online listings for jobs that might suit my skill set.

Besides submitting job applications, most of what I worked on last week was some developmental and copy editing on a new musical by a good friend in NYC. The book is still in process, but preliminary recordings of selected songs can be heard here.

I’ve also got a book project in progress (typesetting a Hebrew translation of a children’s book, which is a first for me; more on that after it’s completed), some inquiries about new website projects, and some other creative design projects in the works.

In the coming weeks, I’m looking forward to making some updates both to this blog and to my website in order to share some more of my recent work.

Big performance news: The Bliss Jockeys

Yesterday, I signed on as a backup vocalist with NYC rock band The Bliss Jockeys, fronted by the remarkable and charismatic Phil Robinson and backed by a gospel-choir-style ensemble of 7 female singers. “Part rock, part gospel & part jam band, The Bliss Jockeys feature a large, over-the-top sound and deliver an energizing and delirious experience every time!” Their debut album, The Birth of Bliss, is close to complete and will be forthcoming in 2013 from Roomful of Sky Records.

How it came about: Last weekend was my 20th (shhh) college reunion at Brandeis University. Phil, along with two of his ’98 classmates (having their 15th), were assigned totally at random as my suitemates in the reunion housing on campus. All of them turned out to be completely awesome and the best thing about my weekend. On Saturday night, after the class dinner, we all sat up until about 2am drinking bourbon and singing a cappella harmonies to the Indigo Girls and Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and finally Phil turned to me and said “Hey! You are awesome and should join my band! I need a female vocalist! We rehearse on Monday nights!”

… Now it happened that, within just the past few weeks, I had started having the thought, “Hey, I would really like to look for an a cappella/vocal group to join again. I bet I could find one of those somewhere in NYC that would take me.” (As longtime acquaintances know, in Boston I was a member of Jewish a cappella group Honorable Menschen from 2003 to 2011, and only quit when I moved to NYC. So it was a huge part of my life for 8 years.)

Also, Monday is one of the few nights in the week I had totally free.

While this obviously isn’t a cappella, the opportunity is close enough that it is going on my archival list of “things that have fallen into my lap precisely when I needed and asked the Universe for them”.

Sunday night I returned to NYC; Monday night I sat in on a rehearsal, and I was thoroughly delighted. The rest is history. I will (tentatively) be making my debut with the band on Thursday, July 18, at Tobacco Road in midtown Manhattan.

Talk about bliss: While the BJs’ list of musical influences includes Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, Phish, the Indigo Girls, Cat Stevens, Etta James, KT Tunstall, and musical theater, their “non-musical influences” are specified as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Case in point: We’re booked to play the Center for Symbolic StudiesMidSummer Festival—Ancient Mysteries, Modern Psyche. The CSS, located just outside New Paltz, NY, is “a healing and performing arts center exploring the psyche through the window of myth.” When I realized that this was the "Midsummer Festival" on our gig list, I about fell over and died; I had blithely assumed it was a music festival. COOLEST. VENUE. EVER. [Edited to add: Sadly, this appearance was later cancelled; the festival has chosen to feature performances more directly theme-related, so, ancient Greek music and the Rap Odyssey. Can’t argue there. But the BJ’s are nonetheless still considered the “house band”.]

I am incredibly excited and energized to be a part of this project. Join the email list or follow on Facebook!

I’ve also updated my performance page accordingly. Obligatory geek side note: The brand-new accordion tabs under “Past Appearances” were created with some nifty Javascript from Elated.com. The MP3 embed utility is, I’m almost sorry to say, Yahoo’s WebPlayer, but it’s actually quite slick; a single line of script, and it will auto-embed YouTube links as well as local MP3 and video files.

Music more people should know about: Mark Ettinger

Twice in the past week, I’ve had occasion to share songs by Mark Ettinger with people in totally unrelated contexts, and it occurs to me to write more generally about it.

Backstory: The last social outing I ever had with my ex-spouse J was to go with him and his sister to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers (October 1, 2009) at the Merrimack Rep in Lowell, MA.

I’d seen the FKBs a couple times over the years: I know I saw L’Universe at the Wang Center in Boston back in 2000-2001, and I’m pretty sure there was another in the interim, maybe Life: A Guide for the Perplexed? J, who is a juggler himself, was actually acquainted with one of the guys (Rod, a.k.a. Pavel) from the local juggling shop back in DC. So we had gotten these tickets and, well, despite having just split up, we were certainly still going.

This particular show was called Flings and Eros. It was a riff on Romeo and Juliet (partly a four-man retelling, partly a convoluted and slightly bizarre but charming frame story), and it got some bad press, but I totally loved it. I may have been a little primed for the Shakespearean theme right at that moment. But part of what I dug about it were the songs, which, it turned out, were mostly written by Alexei, a.k.a. Mark, the resident songwriter.

There was a talkback/Q&A after the show, and one of the things I raised my hand to ask was “Are you going to put out the soundtrack?” That got a smile from Mark. “Oh, did you like it? Yeah, we’re totally going to record it… real soon now…”

They never did, of course, but there is some stuff on YouTube courtesy of the Merrimack Rep:

Anyway, so, we ended up hanging around the theater lobby waiting for them all to come out and chat, and among the swag for sale were Mark’s solo CDs. There were two, and Mark himself talked me into taking the newer one, In This World  ( Amazon | CDBaby ).

It’s been on my regular rotation ever since. It’s great. A bit folksy, a bit bluesy, a bit James-Taylor-y, a bit silly in places, pensive or tender in others. Lots of great instrumentation, lots of evocative sound pictures. Terrific road-trip music. I was hooked.

Come to find out, I should have also grabbed the older disc (Songbirds of Tralfamador, a Kurt Vonnegut reference) while I had the chance, because it apparently was never actually “released” as such, and now it can’t be obtained for money nor love. Literally. In 2010 and 2011 the FKBs had a long-term gig in NYC, at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the West Village, and one day while on a spring-break visit to my now-partner T, I treated myself to a ticket and went. (March 26, 2011: that was 4PLAY. It was quite awesome.) I stuck around and chatted with Mark afterwards and told him I’d bought In This World 2.5 years previously and was now keen to buy the other album. “Oh,” he said, “I’ll send it to you! Email me!” But I did (with some fangirly* trepidation) and, of course, he never did.

*Fangirl much? Me? Point of evidence: last spring I finally read Dostoyevsky’s actual, factual The Brothers Karamazov, both for general literary exposure and also, I admit, to get the full effect of the “source material”. I have to say it enhanced the effect to keep mentally mapping the FKB to the written characters. :-) But don’t read the cheapo translation by Constance Garnett, spring for the David Macduff from Penguin Classics. You’re welcome.

Mark is actually based here on the UWS (not exactly right in our neighborhood; the other side of the park, over on the Columbia side toward West End), and while Google stalking research suggests that he’s doing occasional house concerts and the like, his own website is woefully out of date. He’s got a MySpace playlist up with some full-length songs, but no events calendar, no Facebook fan page, no YouTube channel, etc etc. (I apparently need more hobbies, because I’m fighting off the impulse to contact him saying “You need a marketing and social media team! Pick me!”)

In fact, it’s only LinkedIn (of all things) which suggests that he has perhaps ceased touring with the FKB as of last year, and among any other gigs is currently in Seattle through April 14 heading the band The Naked Truth for the Moisture Festival burlesque/variety series. Now there’s something I bet is worth seeing.

Anyway, enough. Go listen. I won’t tell you which 2 tracks are my favorites. — Okay, maybe in comments.

Nautical Man (or, T.M.B. Pinafore)

So, as mentioned yesterday, I have been digging through old documents in the process of overhauling/updating my website, and one more thing I turned up was my Fall 2001 Pinafore filk:

Nautical Man (or, T.M.B. Pinafore)
to the tune of “Particle Man” (They Might Be Giants, Flood)

Nautical Man, Nautical Man,
Smartest lad in the Royal “N”.
What’s he like?
A pining tenor,
Nautical Man.
Is he a slave or an Englishman?
Can he dance a hornpipe or lead the band?
Will Josephine marry a foremast hand?
Nobody knows,
Nautical Man.

Triangle Man, Triangle Man,
Triangle Man hates Nautical Man.
They have a fight:
Man overboard,
Triangle Man.

[HORNPIPE BREAK!]

Admiral Man, Admiral Man,
Ego the size of the universe man;
Usually kind to smaller man,
Admiral Man.
Articled clerk turned K.C.B.,
Knew better than to go to sea,
So now he rules the Queen’s Na-vee,
Powerful man,
Admiral Man.

Captain Man, Captain Man
Exchanged at birth with Nautical Man,
Offering up his daughter’s hand,
Captain Man.
Com-for-tably in the bourgeoisie,
Hardly ever gets sick at sea;
But then he uses that big, big D —
Berated man, Captain Man.

Nautical Man, Nautical Man
Suddenly finds he’s Captain Man;
Blissful refrains,
For he remains
An Englishman!

[HORNPIPE BREAK!]