Across the centuries, as Jewish families gathered to celebrate Passover, their observances were accompanied by songs of the season. As the rituals evolved, so did the variety of melodies used to sing the texts of the Haggadah. In communities around the world, the music of Passover quickly took on the individual sounds of the local majority culture.
Passover songs have been featured in recent collections of ethnic music, and today, a family can easily adopt a melody from a "foreign" tradition to enhance a seder. In fact, many people consider the inclusion of a new tune to be an essential aspect of their Passover experience.
In this regard, the local Jewish music community is making life a little easier. On Sunday, in a concert titled "And You Shall Tell Your Children," Nashirah, the Jewish Chorale of Philadelphia, featured Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun's "Fifteen Pass-over Songs" as its centerpiece.
The tunes Braun used for his settings of "Eliyahu HaNavi" and "Karev Yom" may be familiar to Ashkenazi listeners, but melodies from places like Mosul ("Ha Lachma Anya"), Syria ("Ma Nishtana"), Tunisia ("Betzet Yisrael"), Italy ("Ki Lo Na'e") and Bucharest ("Adir Hu" and "Chad Gadya") were probably not on the tips of most tongues.
If Jewish musicians have always drawn from the communities in which they lived, then it should come as no surprise that American Jews have been inspired by sounds they encountered close to home. In fact, since the 1960s, composers have incorporated folk, pop and even rock music into the sounds of the synagogue and a wide range of recordings. This year, there's another entry inspired by a somewhat less likely source — gospel music — and a concert on Sunday, April 10, to mark the launch of "These Songs of Freedom."
As chazzan Harold Messinger of Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley explained, the genesis for the recording was a collaboration between his shul and the Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore. The two congregations began their association around Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, and later added "Freedom Seders" to their activities.
Joined by members of Main Line Reform Temple, a "unity choir" formed to sing songs from both traditions. Messinger described the emergence of "a deep and ongoing relationship, exploring the musical and spiritual bonds between our two faiths, and our shared stories of slavery, freedom and redemption."
The end result is "These Songs of Freedom," a CD that joins singers and instrumentalists from all three congregations. Messinger said the songs emerged as part of an ongoing partnership between himself and James Pollard Jr. of Zion Baptist Church.
"Dayenu," sung here in English translation, includes lines recalling moments in the African-American fight for civil rights. "The Amazing Ozi" features text from the Jewish "Shirat HaYam" ("Song of the Sea") and "Amazing Grace," as well as the text of "Hiney Mah Tov," sung to the melody of "Amazing Grace."
Messinger and Pollard also produced two original songs.
For tickets to the April 10 concert, call 610-667-1651.
Passover Music Websites
A number of websites include Passover tracks:
For a selection of traditional songs: www.chabad.org
For a comprehensive collection of traditional and modern Passover-related songs, including some downloadable sheet music: www.oysongs.com.
A recording by Debbie Friedman can be sampled/purchased at: www.oysongs.com
You can also check out: www.hebrewsongs.com