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Jewish Music Lectures

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, every impulse of the heart.” 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, & the world’s, liturgy; their poetry & spiritual sweep; & 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.

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.


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: The songs we sing. Experience the enchanting new “heart music” — intimate & inclusive, both plaintive & exuberant — that so many American Jews pray, meditate, dance, & seek healing to today. The eclecticism of American-Jewish music: folk & Hasidic, fusion & a cappella, klezmer & “world music.” The key sources & influences behind this musical renaissance.

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.

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 & for healing services; 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?

©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.

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.


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.

The Andrews Sisters

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

Throughout the past century, 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 passions & yearning as well as Jewish musical themes & motifs: with the sounds of Jewish chant & the texts of Jewish prayer.

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

American-Jewish Music & African-American Music: Shared Visions & Dreams

“America is not made up of separate, free-floating cultures, but rather of a constant interplay and exchange” (Ralph Ellison). 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.


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.”

©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!

Music for the Sabbath & the Jewish Holidays
Shofar Musical Responses to the High Holidays
candles A Celebration of Light:  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

New Wings for Our Prayers - Download Robert Cohen's lecture series brochure

Lecture/presentations — with exhilarating recorded musical illustrations — on the sources and variety of American-Jewish folk, popular, and liturgical music, in the 20th century and today.

Download brochure

Elliot Bassman - The Empire State
   © EB *

For information on my New York Council for the Humanities lectures on
New York City songs and American-Jewish music, view my lectures page on their website

* © Elliot Bassman. Used by permission.


E-mail Robert:  •  866-644-8646 (866-NIGUNIM)

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