Reclaiming American Judaism's Lost Musical Legacy" is an unprecedented conference of historic importance. It comes at a time when Jewish community is challenged to preserve the treasures of its musical past within the worship service, or abandon them in favor of a communal and pop-music-based style.
Conference sessions will include interviews, roundtable discussions, workshops, master classes, a model service, and a formal concert, featuring the participation and music of 10 notable composers: Samuel Adler, Charles Davidson, Jack Gottlieb, Michael Isaacson, Gershon Kingsley, Stephen Richards, Simon Sargon, Bonia Shur, Ben Steinberg and Yehudi Wyner, this year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Organized by the American Society for Jewish Music, an organization that enjoys a pluralistic membership from all denominations of Jewish practice, "Reclaiming American Judaism's Lost Musical Legacy: The Art of Synagogue Music" seeks to highlight the music of a generation of composers who have written music for the synagogue over the last 50 years. These composers, many of whom also have created distinguished bodies of secular music, stand as "living links" between a not too- distant musical past and Jewish liturgical music of the present. Sadly, their music and that of their mentors - reflecting the music composed during a period sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Synagogue Music - are now heard mostly in concerts, rather than in the worship services for which they were written.
The public is invited to attend two free programs: the model Friday night service at Park Avenue Synagogue, a prominent Conservative congregation in New York City, on Sunday, November 12th at 8 PM - and a concert at Temple Emanu-El, a leading Reform congregation, on Monday, November 13th at 8 PM. Both events will include the music of a previous generation of composers who served as mentors and teachers: Hugo Chaim Adler, Paul Ben-Haim, Isadore Freed, Herbert Fromm, Max Helfman, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Frederick Piket, Heinrich Schalit, Robert Strassberg, Lazar Weiner and Max Wohlberg. Conference sessions will be held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Sunday, November 12th), Temple Emanu-El (Monday, November 13th) and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Tuesday, November 14th). A full schedule of events is attached.
"How Synagogue Music has Changed" During the last several decades, with the coming-of-age of the generation raised in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a seismic shift in the music used for worship in American synagogues. Once primarily a cantorial tradition accompanied by choirs, the music in worship today, with notable exceptions, is now mostly a repertoire rooted in folk and popular styles of the 1960s and 1970s, sung in unison by the congregation. Hoping to reinvigorate, re-elevate and propagate generations of Jewish sacred music now nearly forgotten, the organizers of the conference believe this music can and should begin to be restored to its rightful and honorable place in synagogue worship. They also believe that this "lost legacy" is not incompatible with congregational or participatory music.
Hoping to serve both as a guardian of the past and as a guide for the future, the organizers seek to find a new balance in music for worship.
"Where Do We Go from Here?" Subjects to be dealt with in sessions throughout the conference include, "The role of the rabbi and the cantor" and "Where do we go from here?" Conference organizers wish to stimulate a dialogue between rabbis and cantors, temple musicians, administrators, Jewish educators, lay leaders in synagogues and congregants themselves. Among other things, they seek to revive the listening experience as a spiritually meaningful process for the worshipper, and following the conference hope to be able to replicate these activities at other synagogues, and in other parts of the country.
"Conference Exhibition" Part of the conference will include a multi-media exhibition entitled "A Living Legacy: American Jewish Liturgical Composers of the 20th Century," celebrating the creativity and contributions of the featured composers, and reflecting the enduring inspiration of their mentors. The exhibition of photographs, manuscripts, letters and other memorabilia, as well as listening stations, will be on view at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion from November 12 through December 29, 2006.
In an effort to call attention to this alarmingly neglected repertoire of Jewish sacred music, the American Society for Jewish Music has been joined and supported by a number of institutions and organizations. These include Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Park Avenue Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El of New York City and Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, NY, as well as the American Conference of Cantor (Reform) and the Cantors Assembly (Conservative), the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinic Assembly and others.
For further information, contact the American Society for Jewish Music at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011, (212) 294-8328, or access the Society's website www.jewishmusic-asjm.org