Music for Chanukah, which begins on a Friday evening this year, varies widely from the traditional to the modern, from the serious and sublime to the silly, from the liturgical to contemporary whimsy and humorous satire.
Cantors and music educators strive to bring the joy of the festival into the homes of students and their families through the music they teach.
Ashkenazi Jews sing the three Chanukah candle blessings the same way. The melody for these has been taught to generations of North American and Israeli Jews; indeed, the chant may be the most well-known liturgical tune among Jews worldwide.
Families follow the blessings with the German melody for "Maoz Tzur/'Rock of Ages' " — a tune that transcends ages and generations, after which they can choose from their own traditional repertoire supplemented by the music that children have brought home with them from school.
The Chanukah standard repertoire includes "Hanukkah, Hanukkah; Mi Y'maleil/'Who Can Recount (the Acts of Heroism)' "; "S'vivon, Sov, Sov Sov"; and the always-popular "(I Have a Little) Dredyl." This song has acquired a new life through a terrific arrangement in doo-wop style by Matthew Lazar, the conductor of the New York-based Zamir Chorale.
Debbie Friedman's songs "Not by Might" and "Neis Gadol" are now included among the essential songs. Many melodies have been written to liturgical texts for the holiday, including "Haneirot Halalu/'These Candles' " and "Al Hanissim/'For the Miracles.' "
The Israeli composer Dov Frimer wrote the most popular "Al Hanissim" melody now sung by Jews the world over.
Preschool children often sing a gentle melody called "Neir Li/ 'My Candle,' " while Jews of Sephardic ancestry love the song "Ocho Kandilichos/'Eight Candles.' "
Kids especially love songs that are funny parodies of the holiday. Think "Sufganiyot" — Hebrew for "doughnuts" — which gets a modern swing tune and lyrics by Rabbi Joe Black.
Teenagers (and their parents) enjoy "The Hanukkah Song," by actor/comedian Adam Sandler. "Put on your yarmulka, here comes Hanukkah/It's so much fun-akkah to celebrate Hanukkah."
In 1990, Tom Lehrer wrote the irreverent "Hanukkah in Santa Monica": "I'm spending Hanukkah, in Santa Monica, wearing sandals lighting candles by the sea."
Peter, Paul and Mary taught us Peter Yarrow's Chanukah song "Light One Candle," and the great Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz wrote "We Are Lights," both of which are beloved in the contemporary choral repertoire of children's and adult choruses.
These songs can be found in printed collections of Jewish music and on iTunes.