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Jewish Music Lectures

©2008 Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.
© EB *

American-Jewish Music & African-American Music: Bridges of

American-Jewish music has incorporated African & African-American musical idioms — blues & jazz, reggae & world music, even gospel & rap — to express the exuberance & vitality of contemporary Jewish life; while Jewish texts & Jewish musical themes have spoken to Africans & African-Americans alike, who have enriched them musically & enhanced their message. Listen in on the ongoing musical conversation between blacks & Jews.

The Andrews Sisters

Jewish Music into the Mainstream: Jewish Themes in American Popular, Classical, & Folk Music

American-Jewish composers, & some non-Jewish musicians as well, have infused mainstream musical forms & styles — from popular song & musical theater to folk music & bluegrass; from classical music & jazz to reggae & world music — with Jewish passion & yearning as well as Jewish musical themes & motifs: with the sounds of Jewish chant & the texts of Jewish prayer.

Klezmer Kaos

Klezmer Music: From Old World to New World & Our World

“Klezmer music” was the instrumental music that traditionally accompanied Jewish weddings in Eastern Europe — and that immigrated to this country, along with the musicians who performed it, in the late 19th & early 20th centuries & has been further Americanized, & enlarged with a Yiddish vocal repertoire, since the 1970s. We’ll discuss classical & contemporary klezmer instruments & repertoire & listen to klezmer music — from rare European recordings to the stars of early-20th-century American klezmer & the new traditions being created in the klezmer revival today.


Women in American-Jewish Music

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion” (Zechariah). So: Sample the distinctive contributions of women to American-Jewish music: from early 20th-century “hazzantes” to today’s synagogue cantors; from settings of Biblical texts to new spiritual melodies (niggunim) for prayer — especially for the New Month and for healing services — and from new Yiddish & Ladino folk songs to exhilarating a cappella, klezmer, & fusion ensembles. Are the voices of Jewish women changing Jewish music — and if so, how?

The Book of Psalms

The Music of the Psalms: From King David’s Time to Our Own

“The Psalms embrace the entire human life, and express every emotion of the soul.” So: Listen to settings of the Psalms: past & present; Jewish & non-Jewish; in English, Hebrew, & other languages. From high art to folk, from orchestral to a cappella, from funky to Hasidic. The place of the Psalms in Jewish, and the world’s, liturgy; their poetry and spiritual breadth; & what we know of their musical rendition in different historical eras.


The Music of Intimacy: Hasidic Melodies & Our Spiritual Journeys

“In the highest heavens, there is a certain Temple with gates that can be opened only by the power of song.” So: Learn & sing Hasidic melodies from various traditions, along with contemporary spiritual melodies (niggunim) — for prayer, meditation, & healing — inspired by Hasidic tradition. Devotional melodies, with & without words, in Hasidic philosophy & spiritual practice — and the tradition of "borrowing" melodies for prayer. IN WORKSHOPS: Experiment with new settings of traditional (& new) prayers & hymns.

Klezmer Kaos

New Wings for Our Prayers: American-Jewish Music Comes of Age

“Jewish-American identity depends on the songs we choose to sing, and how we choose to sing them.” So: Experience the enchanting new “heart music” — intimate & inclusive, both plaintive & exuberant — that has become the soundtrack of prayer for so many American Jews today. The eclecticism of American-Jewish music for prayer — and the key sources and influences behind this musical renaissance.

Shlomo Carlebach

Shlomo’s Children: The Influence of Shlomo Carlebach on American-Jewish Music

“You find the soul of a people,” wrote Samson Raphaelson (The Jazz Singer), “in the songs they sing.” So: Why did Shlomo’s music speak to the needs of this generation — who sing his melodies all over the world? The sources of Shlomo’s music — and its (immense) influence on American-Jewish music ever since. The Torah of Shlomo’s music: listening in the moment, & offering song as prayer.

©2008 Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.
© EB *

Sunrise, Sunset: Music of the Jewish Life-Cycle

A tapestry in Jewish song, from birth to death: lullabies & kaddishes; songs of birth & brit, courtships & weddings, marriage & children, bar & bat mitzvah. Songs of women & men, ancient & modern, Ashkenazic & Sephardic — in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, & Ladino; from East & West, & from Israel & America.

©2008 Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.
© EB *

Ecology in Song: Jewish Music for the Earth

“Blessed is the One who has created in the Universe so much good, such as beautiful trees, from which human beings derive pleasure.” So: Take a musical “nature walk” of ecological Jewish texts & liturgy, from poetry & psalms to blessings, prayers, & hymns — in musical styles ranging from cantorial to Hasidic, from Classical to New Age, & from Ladino & Yiddish to American & Israeli folk song. Songs of Creation, songs of praise & thanksgiving — and songs about trees!

Klezmer Kaos

We’re Playing Their Song: Borrowing Melodies for Jewish Prayer

“Polonius’s maxim, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ is not applicable to the history of cultures,” wrote the Jewish music historian Eric Werner. Since ancient times, Jewish music has not only incorporated musical styles, rhythms, & instrumentation from its surrounding cultures, but also borrowed & adapted specific melodies — including in the synagogue. Examples from the Psalms (we think), from Shabbat table songs, from (especially) Hasidism, & from today’s “neo-Hasidic” Jewish prayer music — including the (unfamiliar) origins of some of our most well-known synagogue melodies. IN WORKSHOPS: Experiment with new borrowings.


Israel & the World: A Musical Conversation

“Israel sings all the world’s melodies, and all the worlds are nourished by the songs of Israel.” So: Some of the world’s melodies that have become part of Jewish music, & some Jewish music that has become part of the world’s music — from “Hava Nagila” to Mozart; from American songs of sabras to Israeli bluegrass. Israeli songs on the American Top 40 — and American-Jewish riffs on Israeli radio.

Jerusalem in Song

Songs of Jerusalem — religious & secular; folk, popular, & classical; from Israel, America, & other Diaspora. Jerusalem as the embodiment of Jewish national & spiritual yearning, & the focus of Jewish hopes & dreams. “All the nights of our wandering, Jerusalem stood in front of our eyes / In our dreams we saw only her — and our hearts were overflowing with love.”


The American-Jewish Immigrant Experience in Song

For Eastern European Jewish immigrants to this country, “America was both dream and reality, and in the manner of dreams a bundle of contradictions.” So: Readings & musical recordings — idealistic & disillusioned, hopeful & bitter — make up a journey in sound: from ships bound for America to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island & into the New World; from patriotic anthems to songs of the sweatshops; from lullabies & laments to rollicking songs of the Yiddish theater.

Music for the Sabbath & the Jewish Holidays
Shofar Musical Responses to the High Holidays
candles Chanukah Lights: Old & New Music for Chanukah
©2008 Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.
© EB *

Shabbat Shirah:  Sabbath of Song for a People of Song

Songs of Liberation:  Old & New Music for Passover

Shavuot:  Music for Marriages in Heaven & Earth


The Many Sounds of “Shalom Aleichem”

Melaveh Malkah:  Music for Escorting the Sabbath Queen

Yiddish Music Lectures
©2008 Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.
When Does a Jew Sing? Jewish Life in Yiddish Song

“Tumba, Tumba,” “Dortn, Dortn”: Yiddish Songs of Love & Loss
Raisins and Almonds Raisins & Almonds & ?: Yiddish Lullabies & What They Tell Us
Mameniu Hard to Be a Jew: Yiddish Songs of Work & Struggle
Gottlieb-Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur
Am Kodoysh:  Religious Songs in Yiddish

The Jewish Year in Yiddish Song

For information about my American music lectures, visit the American Music Lectures page.

For information on my compilation CD of American-Jewish music for prayer, visit my CD page.

* © Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.


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©2022 Robert L. Cohen. All rights reserved. Site by Trish Keenan.