Monday, December 14, 2009

New York Concert: Reviving Forgotten Synagogue Music

Carei, Romania. Synagogue (1871). Photo: (from Panoramio) by

Concert: Reviving Forgotten Synagogue Music
by Samuel D. Gruber

Its obvious that synagogues are more than just buildings. Even synagogue architecture is best appreciated – at least by men - when we see the space in use, or perhaps better yet – use it ourselves. A synagogue space needs people, movement, prayer; and also music. For a medieval synagogue this might be solitary chant, or a holiday melody. For a 19th century synagogue, especially on in Central Europe, this might be specially composed cantorial music, old prayers set to new melodies, and sometimes a mixed choir (men and women) and an organ.

We can still get the feel and the sound of 19th century synagogue music in a few synagogues in Europe and America that have retained their older customs, or revive them occasionally for certain ceremonies. For most Central and Eastern European synagogues, however, even when the building survives (in part, or as a ruin, or adapted to a new use), the music has died, lost with the communities for which it was written.

A remarkable exception to this rule is the impressive Romanian Neolog synagogue of Carei, built in 1871, and situated in the country’s Hungarian speaking northwest, near the Hungarian border and not far form the better known Jewish center of Satu Mare. In 2008 American musician and photographer Yale Strom discovered a habd-notated volume of cantorial music amongst piles of unused prayer books stored in the women’s gallery of the former synagogue (given his discovery, Strom can perhaps be forgiven his trespass – for since the synagogue is kept locked, he broke in through a window). Strom made a copy of the volume (the original is now in the Carei archives), and from its melodies he has written a three part composition for string quarter that will performed this week at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York. The new musical arrangement doesn’t replicate the old, but it builds upon it. Strom dedicates the work, which he will perform together with the Mark Block Quarter, to those Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Following the performance Cantor Ari Priven of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, will sing the prayers in their original form.

In Memory Of with Yale Strom

Wednesday, December 16 at 7 PM

Read all about it in Jewish Week. $15 adults; $12 students and seniors

RSVP to: hgriff(at) or call 212.219.0888 x 205

Museum at Eldridge Street
12 Eldridge Street
Between Canal & Division Streets

1 comment:

Hels said...

I had been very interested in the choral synagogue of St Petersburg, and assumed that because of its connection to music, it was some sort of special case. See

Then I found a choral synagogue in Moscow, Smolensk, Kiev, Kaunas, Minsk, Kharkov, Bucharest and many other important Jewish cities. So being a choral synagogue may not have been unique, but it certainly was exciting.

My only question now are as follows:
Did the architecture differ in any way from synagogues that were NOT choral? and
Were acoustics of these choral synagogues up to the task?
Did choral synagogues have some sort of special status in the eyes of shule-going Jews?