A Recipe for Resilience: Yiddish Glory

Do you have any DVDs or books or CDs that you use to cheer yourself up or chase away the blues? I’ve had several I relied upon over the years. And I’ve discovered a special new one.

I’m very lucky, getting invitations & exhortations constantly, especially when I stumble upon something by pure dumb luck. Two months ago I had the good fortune to go to a concert that moved me much more than expected.  More than expected? I was very hesitant.

The concert “Yiddish Glory” was a series of musical hors d’oeuvres enclosed in scholarly pastry. It was disorienting, as though I’d stumbled into a historical colloquium and a concert broke out in the middle. That’s the funny thing. The reason I was hesitant about this concert was very simple. With a series of songs in Yiddish, would I understand the words let alone the context?

Ah but they understood this all too well, that anyone might be hesitant and couldn’t be expected to understand the context and the humour of such songs without supplying a framework. As I explained in my review of the evening, it was a crash course, like a TED talk about the resistance songs of WW II but better. I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t listen to the negative murmurs inside my head and checked out the concert anyway.

yiddish_glory_CD_coverAnd then I repeated the doubts afterwards when I obtained the CD of the concert. Where we’d been immersed for the concert in the culture complete with short lecture-explanations and titles translating the songs, I wondered how that would work playing the CD in my car.  To look at a translation while driving? impossible.

Yet I’ve been playing the songs in my car, and it’s a very different experience than live. As I listen to them over and over, they’ve acquired symbolic meaning. The disc is now my talisman of resilience, a reminder of people struggling against all odds in the face of tyranny and war. A story of a fierce struggle is sometimes the best reminder that one must resist, and that there is always hope.

This weekend, I pulled the CD out again after a week of madness & horror in America. After listening to the songs several times over the past few weeks I’m starting to know the texts, same as with operas I’ve heard over and over. Some Yiddish words sound a lot like German of course.

Sophie Milman does some of the songs. Now I understand the regret that was expressed, when she had to miss the August concert due to illness. What a voice!

Perhaps this is how Wonder Woman sounds (the role was played by an Israeli woman in the film after all) when she’s unwinding in a bar after a hard day fighting the fascists. It’s a powerful instrument, a rich but sensitive sound, and one of the reasons to listen to the CD over and over.

And I do.

I am very grateful to the collaborative wisdom of violinist & arranger Psoy Korolenko and Professor Anna Shternshis, who, through their mixture of vision & sheer nerve bring a fading language and a moment in history vividly back to life in these reconstructed songs.

We go back and forth between satirical edgy songs, more romantic tunes and a few wonderful instrumentals. When I put it on in the car it plays over and over, a brief escape from the modern world.

Here is where you can get the recording for yourself.

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Politics, Popular music & culture, Reviews, Spirituality & Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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