Written in the 16th century by Shlomo Alkabetz, a kabbalist based in Safed, the song has long been a favorite tune to welcome Shabbat.
A 1929 book identified and counted more than 2,000 different melodies set to the Hebrew words.
Attendees of this year’s Shir Delights 9 concert may be among the first to listen to one of the newest and most youthful versions of this classic.
Members of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Youth Orchestra (JYO) decided they wanted to write their own melody instead of performing one that already exists.
“I thought ‘there are so many to choose from, lets just pick one and move on,’” says Janice Mautner Markham, JYO co-founder and director.
The “small but mighty” body of ten young musicians, some of them multi instrumentalists, has taken a serious interest in liturgical music.
They are learning and putting together the music for a complete Friday night Shabbat service–from opening songs through the Hashkiveinu and all the blessings to closing songs.
Once the project is complete, they plan to visit local congregations to provide the music during Friday evening services.
They want to be experts in more than one version of each piece so they can adapt and individualize their musical program for each host congregation.
“When you have kids coming from different congregations and different backgrounds, it’s great,” says Mautner Markham.
Her students argue over the group’s musical choices based upon their own experience.
“The kids are like little rabbis, they have these debates.”
Mautner Markham is an experienced musician herself. She plays violin in modern Jewish folk band, Mostly Kosher, and is a frequent musical guest at temples in the area.
She knows that this project could take a while, given the number of different arrangements available for the many components of a Friday night service.
“You guys will have graduated college by the time we’re finished with this project,” she told the enthusiastic young musicians.
The group is also hoping to bring contemporary tunes to the May concert to show the breadth of their musical interests and tastes. Music from the “Harry Potter” movies and the “Lion King” might make an appearance.
“I like the idea of the kids having the ties to the Jewish cultural music […] but then also being able to experiment with other kinds of music,” says Mautner Markham.
In its 9th season, the concert will be more cross over and fusion than previous iterations, which historically featured music under one overarching theme.
Instead, founder Cantor Judy Sofer wants to incorporate portions of “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song,” a cantata by Fran Gordon, into the afternoon concert.
Sofer, who coordinates cultural arts for the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, met Gordon at the North American Jewish Choral Festival.
The pieces for choir, orchestra and narrator deal with the struggle over social justice and religious freedom in modern Israeli democracy.
Sofer says she supports the ideas behind the movement, but didn’t feel that it was appropriate to perform the entire cantata. The politics of the subject matter and the complexities of the music concerned her.
“Some of it is very sophisticated (and political)” she says.
The Cantor, along with the steering committee for Kol HaEmek, the Federation’s community choir Sofer directs, plans to choose three songs from “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song” and embed them into other, lighter and more joyful pieces.
Gordon began work on her cantata more than seven years ago. In the summer of 2010 she joined a prayer meeting of Women of the Wall, an organization that fights for women’s rights to pray aloud in public, at the Kotel in Jerusalem.
She wrote a blog post to mark the anniversary of her becoming an activist.
“I fully awoke to the realization that the time had come to raise my voice in concern about the violation of fundamental religious rights, ‘spiritual civil rights,’ by the government of the State of Israel.”
The Shir Delights concert is the California premier of parts of the “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song – Concert of Concern.” It has been performed in several cities in the United States and Israel.
The other songs preceding and following Gordon’s are also inspired by Kol HaEmek’s attendance at the North American Jewish Choral Festival. Being asked to perform at as well as attending the conference was “a big deal” for the choir, says Sofer.
“Durme Durme,” a ladino lullaby by Sephardic composer Flory Jagoda and “Birdsong” with lyrics written in 1941 in Terezin, a concentration camp in former Czechoslovakia, are a couple of the planned pieces.
Sofer is also looking forward to per
forming “Give me Your Tired and Your Poor,” another piece that fits into the political landscape. It’s not considered a Jewish song, although Jewish composer Irving Berlin wrote the music.
The words are based on a poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty.
Mautner Markham, who is a member of her temple’s social justice committee, thinks there couldn’t be a better time for a concert like this.
“We’re working on a Shabbat program, we’re working on prayer, we’re working on liturgy – the fact that this is the year that we are looking at liturgical music I think is wonderful for discussing Women of the Wall,” she says.
Jessica Donath is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.