The Arty Semite

Avner Dorman's Unusual 'Nigunim'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Avner Dorman

“They told me to go do my thing,” said Avner Dorman about a 2011 commission by pianist Orli Shaham, violinist Gil Shaham and the 92nd Street Y to write a composition for their Hebrew Melodies project. “They wanted something related to their project, but they didn’t want to impose any specific idea on me.”

The 38-year-old composer did indeed go off and do his thing, with “Nigunim,” the title track on the Shahams’ new “Nigunim: Hebrew Melodies” album as the result. The piece, with four movements, is inspired by traditional Jewish music, but not in the usual way. “It’s not the weepy Eastern European, Ashkenazi thing you’d expect,” Dorman said.

Instead, the composition is inspired by the intervals and modes that Dorman found through ethnomusicology research on Jewish music from all over the world. The first movement is inspired by North African, specifically Tunisian and Libyan, cantillation. The second is inspired by Georgian wedding music, the third by “sort of” Western music, and the fourth by Balkan dances.

Although none of the movements sound like a nigun, their melodies are circular, like those of traditional Jewish songs. “All the melodies start and end with the same note, so in that sense they work like the tunes one hears in the synagogue or at the Passover seder,” Dorman said. “The rhetoric of the nigun is in there. I guess you could call it a shadow of a nigun, many generations removed from the source.”

The commission was a departure for Dorman, who was raised and did his initial training in Israel before earning a Doctor of Musical Arts at The Juilliard School and taking a job as assistant professor at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettsyburg College.

Called “a composer who is not afraid to mash things up” by the New York Times for “melding far-flung influences and making them sound natural together,” Dorman had never before composed something quite in the same vein as “Nigunim.” “There are pieces of mine that have Middle Eastern flavors,” he said, “but none [other than this one] are intentionally Jewish.”

Watch Orli and Gil Shaham play the second and fourth movements of ‘Nigunim’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Renee Ghert-Zand, Orli Shaham, Nigunim, Avner Dorman, Gil Shaham, Music

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.