During a phone conversation from his home in Paris, David Serero admits that his “is kind of a Cinderella story.”
That’s an understatement. Frankly, Cinderella wouldn’t believe his story. Cinderella would call it a fairy tale.
Deaf almost since birth, Serero began to regain his hearing after a three-year series of surgeries starting at the age of 9. Later he fell into a career as an opera singer. Now he travels the globe performing concerts featuring Jewish and Russian songs as well as opera and jazz. His only U.S. appearance is in New York on December 19.
Sedrero spoke to the Forward about his early disability, how he became a singer, and, even more unlikely, started singing opera.
Curt Schleier: Tell me a little about your background.
David Serero: When I was 3 months old I had an year infection, otitis. It was not treated or not treated well enough. I was born into a very poor Jewish family. They couldn’t afford the right medicines. It wasn’t until I was 9 years old that my mom took me to an ear specialist. At school, people just thought I was shy when I didn’t answer their questions.
This sounds almost unbelievable. Didn’t your parents notice something was wrong?
Legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein died at age 74 after being admitted to Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening. He was reported to have suffered an aortic aneurism.
According to Ynet, Einstein was rushed to the hospital and was sedated and intubated before he was taken in for surgery.
Einstein, a Tel Aviv native, is considered one of Israel’s greatest musicians. He began his recording career in 1960, a year after his discharge from the IDF, and put out his first solo album in 1966. Together with Shalom Hanoch, he put out some of the country’s first rock albums. Einstein’s most famous songs include include “Ani Ve’ata” (“Me and You”), “Sa Le’at” (“Drive Slowly”), and “Oof Gozal” (“Fly, Little Bird”).
The singer was involved in a serious car accident in 1982, and in the 1990s, his career slowed down as he stopped performing in public.
Einstein has four children, two with his first wife Alona, who died of cancer in 2006, and two with his current partner, Sima Elihu.
In the mid 1980s several key figures in the klezmer revival movement had day jobs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. So, perhaps it was only fitting that The Klezmatics were given a lifetime achievement award at YIVO’s Manhattan headquarters November 19. After cocktails and dinner at the Center for Jewish History’s atrium on West 16th Street, the band performed a lively set in an auditorium after being introduced by Jeffrey Shandler, chair of the Jewish Studies department at Rutgers University.
Shandler, a former YIVO staffer, told the crowd that the band “offers all of us a provocative model of how to respond to the destruction of Europe’s Yiddish culture during World War II, not to accept its devastation, not simply to preserve its fragments, but to respond to destruction with creativity. And to do so brazenly, smartly and playfully.”
After noting that The Klezmatics have collaborated with such cultural luminaries as Itzhak Perlman, Chava Alberstein, Theodore Bikel, Tony Kushner, Neil Sedaka and John Zorn, Shandler said, “I mean Neil Sedaka and John Zorn alone is remarkable.”
Lorin Sklamberg, who has worked on and off at YIVO since 1987 as assistant to the assistant director, Yiddish typesetter, graphic designer and assistant director of KlezKamp, currently works there part-time as a sound archivist. Asked to comment on how klezmer music has evolved over the years, Sklamberg told The Arty Semite: “The music had been cut off for 20 years. People weren’t passing the music on in the United States past the late 1950s. So, to be able to take up that mantle was a challenge and our great joy.”
Cheb i Sabbah, a DJ, producer and composer known for combining Asian, Middle Eastern and African influences into his global electronica music, died November 7 at age of 66. The San Francisco-based Sabbah was born Haim Serge El Baz in Constantine, Algeria to a working-class Jewish family with some Berber ancestry.
Major music publications have published articles mourning Sabbah’s passing from stomach cancer and celebrating his artistic contributions. Billboard referred to him as “the Godfather of global house” in its memorial piece. The San Francisco Chronicle called him “a master of music and life.”
Sabbah, recognizable by his long hair and round Ghandi-style glasses, got his start in 1960s Paris, where he would spin American soul records. From there, he went on to New York, and finally on to San Francisco, settling there in 1984. In 1989, he assumed the “Cheb I Sabbah” moniker, which means “young of the morning” in North African Arabic. Friends called him Chebiji, adding the Hindu honorific to the first part of his name.
His debut album in 1994, “The Majoon Traveler” consisted of cut-up remixes of pieces by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz musician Ornette Coleman, and Velvet Underground drummer Angus Maclise with the poetry of Ira Cohen. (He had met Cherry in New York and was greatly influenced by him.)
Toronto-based Jewish world music group Jaffa Road keeps racking up honors. Most recently, the band was named World Group of the Year at the 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards, which took place over the weekend in Calgary.
Jaffa Road’s second album, “Where the Light Gets In” (2012) was nominated for a JUNO Award this year. The group’s debut album, “Sunplace,” also scored a JUNO nomination, and the group has won Best World Music Artist at the Toronto Independent Music Awards.
“Jaffa Road blends Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music with electronica and dub. The result is fantastic,” said CBC Radio One.
“I am thrilled, Jaffa Road just won WORLD MUSIC GROUP OF THE YEAR, at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA). There is so much great roots music at the CFMAs and in Canada in general. It is such an honor to even be nominated, so glad to get this acknowledgement,” posted Jaffa Road member Aaron Lightstone, who plays guitars, ud, saz, synthesizers, on Facebook Sunday night.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
A recently released music video weaves together the classic Yiddish hit “Mein Yiddishe Mame” (“My Jewish Mother”) with a modern hip-hop tribute to a more contemporary Jewish mother. In its first two weeks on You Tube, the video received a whopping 11,000 hits.
“Mein Yiddishe Mama,” which was written by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack in the early 1920s, was made famous by singer Sophie Tucker, cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, and later, the Barry Sisters. In 1928 it was featured as one of the five most popular songs on American radio. It has since been translated into other languages including Spanish, Hungarian, Polish and Finnish.
In the music video, produced by Sparks Next, 32-year-old cantor Mayer Goldberg sings a heartfelt rendition of the song, while images of young Jewish mothers and their children flash across the screen — young mothers preparing dinner, or older mothers affectionately stroking their grown daughter’s faces.
As soon as Goldberg finishes singing the Yiddish version of the song, a young singer from the Jewish rap group “Brooklyn Mentality” comes on to tell, in hip-hop style, about his youth, his rebellion against his mother and other figures of authority:
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s 71-year-old culture minister, paid his own tribute on Monday to the late rocker Lou Reed, tweeting one of his best-known songs before clarifying he was not condoning any reference to drugs some have seen in the song.
Ravasi, an Italian who is the same age as Reed was when he died on Sunday, tweeted the third verse from Reed’s song “Perfect Day.”
“Oh, it’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you / Oh, such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on.”
There have been many interpretations of the song’s meaning, ranging from drugs to a simple love story.
Just to make sure no-one thought Ravasi was condoning the use of drugs, he later tweeted a Bible passage that warns against “illusions” and noted that Reed quoted from the passage when he spoke in the song about reaping what one sows.
Ravasi is a Bible expert who represents the Roman Catholic Church to the worlds of art, culture, science and even to atheists and says he is a firm believer in the power of contemporary culture.
Reed, whose most famous hit, “Walk on the Wild Side” included themes such as transvestites and prostitution, died on Sunday in Long Island, New York from complications from a liver transplant.
I first heard those eerie xylophone notes that open the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” when I was 14, sitting on the rug of my friend Mollie’s bedroom. A moment later, I heard Lou Reed’s voice for the first time, and everything changed.
That day, we were two Upper West Side Jewish girls who showed up to Hebrew school each week; only two years beforehand we’d been playing with paper dolls on the same rug. But at that moment we were self-styled rebels. The album gave us the chills and fit in perfectly with our other nascent explorations: the still-seedy shops on St. Marks Place, smoking cigarettes and eventually pot, and also, more crucially, the cruelty of adolescent and adult life — a darkness that I heard emitting from every note of that album. In its melancholy and relentless tracks, we heard the sonic reflection of a disordered world indifferent to our pain.
That deep identification explains why Reed’s death, at 71, feels so personal to so many. For me, embracing the Velvets was the beginning of giving up on the idea of fitting in (it’s a lifelong process, still ongoing). So I grabbed on to his music that day and never let go, because he demonstrated that being on the margins of acceptability was not only okay, but actually cool. I bought a baby tee emblazoned with his face and wore it regularly to school, so I could sneer at the kids who sneered at me — or more accurately, when I felt the urge to cower, I could let Lou’s mug do the sneering for me.
Those looking to discover a new, young classical music orchestra with a Jewish twist should keep an eye out for Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich, which is performing in North America for the first time this month with concerts in Maine, Kansas, New York and Montreal.
Conductor Daniel Grossmann founded Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich in 2005 to bring Jewish culture to German audiences without every concert turning into a memorial to the Holocaust. Grossmann, 34, believed it was time to celebrate Jewish composers by playing their music without direct reference to their fate at the hands of the Nazis. He gathered around him a group of similar thinking fellow young musicians to form the orchestra. Almost all of the 35 musicians, one-third of whom are Jewish, live in Germany, though many of them originally come from other countries.
Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich brings to life works written by Jewish composers killed in the Holocaust and puts them in a broader musical context by pairing them with well-known works of the 20th and 21st centuries. “We don’t speak from the stage about the composers or memorialize them. We just let the music speak for itself,” Grossmann told The Arty Semite.
According to Grossmann, the musicians, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s, like being able to play pieces that are new to them, while at the same time connecting to music they already know and love.
Bryan Adams Tweeted about them. Patti Smith shared a stage with them. And pop-star siblings Tegan and Sara number among their famous fans.
They’re Choir! Choir! Choir!, and after three years of wildly popular “interactive singing nights” in Toronto, founders Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman are bringing their ad-hoc musical community to New York for the first time.
Twice a week in Toronto, the pair brings together crowds to sing “original choir arrangements to classics pop hits.” On October 22, C! C! C! — as their friends call them — lands at The Living Room in Manhattan for a choral rendition of Elliot Smith’s indie moper “Needle in the Hay.” The following night, Goldman and Adilman will take over Brooklyn’s Union Hall to lead the crowd in singing Tegan and Sarah’s “Closer” and “I Was a Fool.”
C! C! C! has recorded more than 175 songs, from The Hollies and The Smiths to Solange and Daft Punk. There are no auditions for the choir; its singing nights are held in bars, where “the atmosphere is casual but the arrangements are tight,” boasts a press release.
The group’s looseness belies massive success in their hometown; Toronto Life magazine named them a “Reason to Love Toronto,” the Globe and Mail saluted them as “choir hopefuls and happy hipsters,” and NPR featured a video of C! C! C!’s performance of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
Goldman, who manages a popular Toronto brunch spot called Aunties and Uncles, has music in his blood; his father, Hy, runs KlezKanada, North America’s largest Jewish music festival. Adilman, self-described as “half-Jewish on his father’s side,” is a creator of Canadian TV hit Food Jammers; he once pitched a show to Canadian TV about finding other “Jewpanese” (“too niche,” he was told). Adilman spoke to The Arty Semite from Toronto.
Michael Kaminer: How did C! C! C! first come together?
Growing up in a kosher household in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Peter Rosenberg became enamored with hip-hop listening to tapes by rapper Big Daddy Kane and scratching records on the turntables he saved up to buy at age 14. Today, Rosenberg is a co-host of one of the nation’s most listened to morning shows, on the iconic New York City hip-hop station Hot 97. The Forward’s Seth Berkman recently talked with Rosenberg about the influence of his parents (his father, M.J. Rosenberg, is a well-known critic of Israeli policy), the relationship between Jews and blacks in hip-hop, and his die-hard fandom of professional wrestling.
Seth Berkman: Your older brother got you into hip-hop?
Peter Rosenberg: I was already like 8. The first tape that I remember having was when my dad went to a store on his way home from work one day and asked someone what he should get for his son who likes hip-hop and he got me one by Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud, “Girls I Got ‘Em Locked.” The first summer I went to sleep-away camp at age 9, I had like eight cassettes with me. I had “Long Live the Kane” [by Big Daddy Kane] and then they all got stolen at camp, Jewish camp mind you. Evidently there was a huge contingent of hip-hop fans there.
Were your parents supportive of your interest?
When Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot take the stage of the Hollywood Bowl this evening for the latest stop on their Eternal Echoes tour, audience members who are not fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish or Aramaic will be able to follow the lyrics via English supertitles projected on giant screens located on both sides of the stage. This is all thanks to Hankus Netsky, the tour’s musical director and founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band of Boston (KCB).
Netsky spoke to The Arty Semite yesterday en route to his hotel from the airport in L.A. in a van packed with his KCB bandmates, who will join members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the concert.
Netsky spent two weeks perfecting the supertitles for the repertoire, which includes cantorial selections, as well as Yiddish art songs and tunes from the Yiddish theater.
“One of the first things I said when the Eternal Echoes tour began was that we have to have supertitles because it’s like opera and it’s got to be treated like opera,” Netsky told The Arty Semite. “I think super titles will contribute a lot to the audience’s appreciation of this material.”
A song he composed 17 years ago has come back to bite a Toronto jeweler — but in a good way.
Sam Rosenbaum made pop history this weekend when his ditty “Why Did You Leave Me Now” made the soundtrack rotation on Sunday night’s episode of True Blood.
Rosenbaum, 61, told the Toronto Star that lyrics for “Why Did You Leave Me Now” came to him after a dream about his father, who had died seven years earlier. “The words came, the melody came, I couldn’t even explain it,” he claimed. “It was a song that expressed a loss.” The tune played this weekend over the closing credits of season six, episode nine, called “Life Matters.”
A onetime music manager, Rosenbaum recorded the song with Liz Rodrigues, one of his artists, on vocals. The song was promptly forgotten; when his entertainment business faltered, Rosenbaum made a career switch, becoming a jewelry salesman.
But last month, “out of nowhere,” “True Blood” musical director Gary Calamar called to request rights to the song. “At first, I didn’t believe it,” Rosenbaum told the Star. “But I Googled him and found out he was the Real McCoy. He was a Grammy nominee.” Rosenbaum called it “a gift from my father… Divine intervention. How else can something like this happen?”
But Calamar’s explanation was a bit more down to earth. “The title, “Why Did You Leave Me Now?” got the attention of the producers, as each episode title of “True Blood” is named after a song that appears in the episode,” he told the Star. “We came across it on an iTunes search, and we thought it worked perfectly in the scene.”
If all goes according to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s plan, we’ll be seeing her on the bench next term. And if all goes according to Derrick Wang’s plan, we’ll also be seeing her on stage. To be precise, it won’t be the Jewish Justice herself in the spotlight, but an opera performer playing Ginsburg.
Wang, a musician and recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law, is composing an opera titled “Scalia/Ginsburg,” based on Justice Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia’s legal opinions. Somehow, when Wang read the opinions, he heard music — despite (or possibly, because of) the passionate positions Scalia and Ginsburg have taken from opposing wings of the Court.
“I realized this is the most dramatic thing I’ve ever read in law school… and I started to hear music — a rage aria about the Constitution,” Wang told NPR about Scalia’s dissents. “And then, in the midst of this roiling rhetoric, counterpoint, as Justice Ginsburg’s words appeared to me — a beacon of lyricism with a steely strength and a fervent conviction all their own. And I said to myself, ‘This is an opera.’”
It turns out that irrespective of their views on constitutional interpretation, Scalia and Ginsburg are good friends who happen to share a love of opera. (Ginsburg often lectures on the intersection of opera and the law.) When Wang requested the Justices’ permission to use their words for his opera’s libretto, they both happily gave it. However, they pointed out that in view of the First Amendment, there was actually no need for Wang to ask their permission.
Writing about Rick Moranis required that I remind myself what he’s done. After all, his great comic roles in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” and the first “Ghostbusters” movie are pushing 30. So I sneaked over to YouTube to watch Moranis order his starship to “ludicrous speed,” and in “Ghostbusters” ask, “Okay, who brought the dog?”
But what has Moranis done lately? Well, in 2005 he released a Grammy Award-nominated comedy song album called “The Agoraphobic Cowboy,” a parody of the freedom-loving cowboys that complain about being fenced in. And now he has an enjoyable new comedy album called “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs” that will please many in the Jewish community and provoke students of popular culture to wonder if Moranis will be the one to finally reach that frightening land of commercial failure known as “Too Jewish.”
On his website Moranis tells us that’s exactly where he’s headed. “When I first began writing jokes and sketches with various Jewish partners one of us would inevitably stop at some point and announce, ‘Too Jewish!’ Too Jewish for the star, the show, the network, or the audience. The songs on this album are all in that category.”
Yes, they are. And some of them are terrific. In the klezmer-style “Pu-Pu-Pu,” the Toronto-born Moranis pays homage to the sanitary North American version of the Old World spitting that helped ward off the evil eye.
Though it doesn’t mention Boston or baseball, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is a staple at Red Sox games. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, the singer-songwriter went to Fenway Park and sang it live. He subsequently donated royalties from the song to One Fund Boston, the charity started to help victims of the terrorist attack.
But he wasn’t through. Inspired by the events and the city’s resilience, the Brooklyn native went home and wrote “Freedom Song (They’ll Never Take Us Down),” a rousing patriotic piece that will become available July 2 on Amazon and iTunes. All proceeds will go to the One Find and Wounded Warriors Project.
Diamond will sing it live for the first time at a Washington Nationals baseball game on Independence Day and later that evening on “A Capitol Fourth,” the PBS broadcast of the holiday celebration from Washington.
“I, like so many other Americans, felt helpless during the recent attacks in Boston and wanted so much to reach out and not only help those people affected in a direct way but to lift their spirits as well and let them know they were not alone,” Diamond said.
“I was inspired to devote myself to the creation of a new song which expressed my love for this country and its two greatest assets: the spirit of its people and the freedoms it has afforded us all by law.”
Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman has been appointed Music Director of CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, which is set to celebrate its 10th anniversary season.
CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that seeks to develop audiences by presenting free concerts in neighborhood venues. It presents four or five concerts per year and devotes most of its time and resources to building relationships with the leadership of the communities in which it plays, and on developing and delivering music education programs for the residents of those neighborhoods.
Dorman, a praised and prolific 38-year-old composer, who was recently profiled on The Arty Semite, has also worked as a conductor, interpreting classical and contemporary repertoire, including his own works.
Hundreds of singers from across Europe have convened in Vienna for the first European Jewish Choir Festival.
The festival will culminate on May 12 in a gala concert titled “Shir LaShalom — A Song for Peace” at the Austria Center Vienna, where 400 vocalists from Jewish choirs from 16 European cities will present their repertoires.
The event, is expected to draw some 1,500 spectators over the weekend, is sponsored by the European Jewish Parliament, the Jewish Community of Vienna, the municipality and the Austrian state, among others.
In addition to concerts, the festival’s Jewish and non-Jewish singers are participating in workshops to increase cultural exchange, an element which Roman Grinberg, choirmaster of the Vienna Jewish Choir, described as “extremely important” for organizers.
“The excitement here is enormous, the faces of participants of the initial sessions reminded me of children receiving a new PlayStation,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament.
Philadelphia’s classical music-loving community is coming together on May 11 at Centennial Hall in Haverford, Pennsylvania to pay tribute to the achievements of Nelly Berman, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has touched the lives of hundreds of young music students over the past 30 years.
Jonathan Adler, who has been studying piano at the Nelly Berman School of Music for a decade, describes its formidable director as a drill sergeant and loving grandmother rolled into one. Off to Yale in the fall, where he hopes to continue studying music, Adler told The Arty Semite, “NBS has taught me the importance not only of learning and loving classical music, but of performing the music as well.”
Berman’s daughter, Elena Berman Gantard and others in the school’s community have organized a gala concert, in which 24 pianists will play 24 preludes by Chopin and more than 30 other students will showcase their skills on violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, voice and chamber music. The elder Berman, 74 and suffering from ill health, is making the trip to Philadelphia from Florida to be at the celebration.
“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.”