Jewish Music and Musicians | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jewish Music and Musicians

The Jewish Community In CanadaThe 245,860 Canadians of Jewish extraction (1986 census) represent a great variety of ancestral languages and cultural traditions.

The Jewish Community In Canada

The 245,860 Canadians of Jewish extraction (1986 census) represent a great variety of ancestral languages and cultural traditions. Because of the Jewish people's dispersion through the centuries, Jewish culture reflects not only specific Jewish qualities, but also the influences gathered from countries in which Jews lived.

Patterns of immigration. Although British Jews, often of Iberian descent, came to Nova Scotia and Quebec in 1759, the Jewish component in the population remained small until after 1880. One prominent Jewish musical family to arrive before that time, the Nordheimers (from Germany), soon embraced Christianity. Harriet Holman, a singer in the Holman English Opera Troupe, was a Jewess of British origin. The Tsarist pogroms of 1881-2 precipitated large-scale immigration to Canada. Several of the children of these Jewish immigrants developed into distinguished performers. All were women, all were born or raised in the province of Quebec, and all retired there after international careers: the singers Pauline Donalda (b 1882), Irene Pavloska (b 1889), and Sarah Fischer (b 1896 in Paris but in Canada from girlhood), and the pianist Ellen Ballon (b 1898).

Large numbers of Jews began to arrive in Canada at the turn of the century, and this continued until World War I. Most of these, eastern Europeans deeply rooted in religious traditions and Yiddish culture, settled in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. It is interesting to note that most Jewish music students born in the first decade of the 20th century took up string instruments. Among them were the Adaskin brothers, Percy Faith (who later switched to piano and composition), Louis Gesensway, Samuel Hersenhoren, Adolph Koldofsky, Isaac Mamott, Paul Scherman, Maurice Solway, Berul Sugarman, and Harold Sumberg.

While those born in the second decade include such string players as Alexander Brott, Hyman Goodman, Eugene Kash, Zara Nelsova, Albert Pratz, and Ethel Stark, many turned to other specializations. Louis Applebaum, Henry D. Brant, Samuel Dolin, Marvin Duchow, Morris Surdin, and John Weinzweig (as well as Brott) became composers, and Minuetta Kessler, Ida Krehm, Gordon Kushner, Samuel Levitan, and Freda Trepel, pianists. Eventually Jewish musicians were active in all areas of the musical profession.

Between the two wars, Jewish immigration was small but for the first time included not only cantors but trained secular musicians such as Leo and Sara Barkin, Boris Berlin, Jan Cherniavsky, and Elie Spivak. In the 1930s the increasing persecutions in Nazi Germany forced many musicians of Jewish or partly-Jewish descent to emigrate. Few had backgrounds in Jewish music; their contributions to Canada have been essentially Austrian, Czech, German, or Hungarian. Because of the Dominion's restrictive immigration policy during the Depression era, only a few during that time (eg, Lotte Brott, who arrived in 1939 by way of Switzerland, and Emil Gartner, who fled from Vienna in 1938) gained entry into Canada. Some, who had emigrated to England, entered Canada as internees in 1940 - Freddie Grant, Franz Kraemer, John Newmark, and the teenagers Walter Homburger and Helmut Kallmann among them. Others arrived by detours made during the war (eg, Oskar Morawetz via France) or after the war: the Joachim brothers, Andreas Barban, Erwin Marcus, and Herbert Ruff via Shanghai; Walter Kaufmann via India; István Anhalt, Lazlo Gati, Emmy Heim, Charles Reiner, and Heinz Unger from various European countries.

Post-war Jewish immigration has related less to persecution than to professional appointments or opportunities (eg, Karel Ančerl, Lorand Fenyves, Ida Haendel, Paul Hoffert, Mieczyslaw Kolinski, Ezra Schabas, and George Zukerman). However, in the late 1960s, and increasingly throughout the 1970s, numerous musicians came to Canada to escape anti-Zionist feelings in the USSR. Many Soviet instrumentalists, especially string players, became members of Canadian orchestras; others joined university music faculties, and a few continued their solo careers. Beginning in the mid-20th century thousands of Jews from North Africa, the Near and Middle East, including Israel, also have moved to Canada. In the 1980s Jewish emigration to Canada has included some Beta Israel (from Ethiopia) and Bene Israel (from Bombay).

Folk Traditions

At the community level, Jewish traditions have been cultivated by choirs and mandolin or string orchestras. One of the first groups was the Winnipeg Jewish Folk Choir, founded in 1910 by Cantor Moshe Jacob. Others have included the Toronto Hebrew Male Chorus founded in 1929 by Ernest Dainty, a non-Jew; the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir; the Montreal Jewish Folk Choir; the Workmen's Circle Choir of Montreal (fl 1956); and the Sara Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble of Winnipeg founded in 1967.

Jewish folk music exists in several different forms as a result of the diversity of Jewish cultural backgrounds. A discussion of these various groups follows.

Ashkenaz. A modest revival of Yiddish songs was taking place in Canada by 1990, mainly reflecting eastern European influences. While few young people speak Yiddish - a language with strong roots in medieval German - it was still possible in 1990 to record Yiddish songs from among the older generation, and indeed much of this was being done to preserve and record the idiom. Yiddish is still maintained in communities of very orthodox Ashkenazim. Groups such as Toronto's'Friends of Yiddish' and the Toronto Jewish Congress Yiddish Committee actively promote Yiddish song through meetings, workshops and informal performances. Several professional and semi-professional performers regularly include Yiddish songs in their programs.

Sephardic. (Sephardic is often interpreted as'non-Ashkenaz,' it originally signified'descended from Spanish Jewry,' and it is this community which will be discussed first).

The Sephardic community of Judeo-Spanish ('Ladino') speakers numbers some 1000 families, primarily in Montreal and Toronto. The majority are from the former Spanish zone of northern Morocco, and a few dozen families came to Canada from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia (former Ottoman lands). Several older people from Morocco still sing romances (ballads) whose texts can often be traced to early Spanish poetry; it is also possible to hear paraliturgical songs in a mixture of Hebrew and Judeo-Spanish, as well as wedding songs, lyric songs, and recreational songs in haketiá (Moroccan Judeo-Spanish) and'Ladino' ('Dzudez'/'Spaniol'). The Oziel family (Tangiers-Toronto/Montreal) has given the community several leaders in liturgical singing, notably Moses (d 1989), Samuel, and Abraham. Judeo-Spanish traditional songs are performed internationally and have been recorded by Montreal-based Gerineldo (founded in 1980 and directed by Oro Anahory-Librowicz from Teheran); Kelly Sultan Amar, from Melilla; Solly (Solomon) Lévy, from Tangiers; and Judith Cohen, from Montreal.

Other Sephardic groups include Jewish instrumentalists and vocalists from Iraq, Iran, the former French zone of Morocco, and other areas of North Africa and the Middle East, who often perform popular Middle Eastern music for weddings, bar mitzvas, etc. Typically, they use mixed orchestras which may include oud, (amplified) accordion, electric guitar, violin, Middle Eastern percussion; and drum kits or synthesizers. Moroccan-born Samy el-Maghribi (Rev Salomon Amzallag) had already gained international respect for his renditions of Hebrew and Arabic music before emigrating to Canada, where he performed regularly until his retirement in Israel. Selim Azra and Charlie and Prosper Edéry are among other well-known popular North African Jewish musicians, all based in Montreal.

Other groups. Some 200 Bene Israel, from Bombay, India, live in and near Toronto. They have recorded their liturgical music fairly systematically and hold weekend classes for the youth of the community, but it is very rare to find any who still sing in their traditional vernacular, Marathi. In 1991 BINA (Bene Israel North America) president Ann Samson and (volunteer) services leader Victor Abraham were among the leaders of this small community, which holds its own services only on High Holidays.

There were few Yemenite Jews in Canada in 1991; they sometimes congregate in Toronto for the High Holidays, but have no official organization. Ahura Senemsky, a Yeminite vocalist residing in Toronto, performs some of the better-known para-liturgical songs which are technically a men's repertoire. Songs from the women's Judeo-Arabic tradition are rarely, if ever, sung here.

Small numbers of Beta Israel - also known as Falashas - from Ethiopia, settled in Canada beginning in the 1980s. Like the Bene Israel and Yemenites, they usually hold their own services only on High Holidays, led in Montreal by Avi-Shalom Dawit. Most are quite young. They occasionally perform Ethiopian folk songs in Amharic for Jewish community activities, using such traditional instruments as the Krar (lyre) and masengo (bowed lute).

Israeli folk music. Numerous groups and individuals focusing on Israeli dance and song, amateur, professional and educational-recreational, exist across the country. Among the groups which perform regularly are Winnipeg's Chai Ensemble and Montreal's Harimon, led by Maurice Perez.

There are many venues in the wider Jewish community for the performance of Jewish folk music. Synagogues, community centres, camps, schools, youth, and senior citizen's groups all promote various forms of Jewish music and dance, especially Israeli and Ashkenaz. Montreal's annual Festival Sepharade provides a forum for local and international Sephardic artists. Toronto's'Davka' coffeehouse seeks out performers from all Jewish communities. Hillel student centres are also active in Jewish culture, and a few courses have been offered at colleges and community centres.

There has been some research into and collection of Yiddish folksongs from eastern Europe, and of Sephardic songs. Israel Rabinovitch, whose article'Les anciens elements dans la chanson populaire des Canadians francais' appeared in the Jewish Daily Eagle 8 Jul 1932, drew certain parallels between Jewish songs and the songs in Ernest Gagnon's collection. Ruth Rubin's study'Yiddish folk songs current in French Canada' appeared in the Journal of the IFMC (January 1960). Her collection (1948-69) of over 2200 songs from Montreal, Toronto, and New York has been deposited at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, as have Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's tape recordings and report'Yiddish folkore in Toronto' (1968-9) and Dov Noy's research on Ontario Yiddish songs and folklore. Ramón Pelinski recorded the Sephardic traditions of Spanish-Canadian Jews in 1974 (see CMB, 10, Spring-Summer 1975).

Feldman's MA thesis is based on her work with Yiddish singers in western Canada. Sabbah's doctoral dissertation, as well as her several articles, deal with Judeo-Spanish song. She, as well as Oro Anahory-Librowicz, has collected several hundered Judeo-Spanish songs in Montreal and Toronto. Lenka Lichtenberg and Galia Ben Mordehai, both MA students at York University in 1990, have conducted studies, respectively, of Ashkenaz liturgical music and Iraqi Jewish music.

Clarfield, Geoffrey.'Music in the Moroccan Jewish community of Toronto,' CFMJ, vol 4, 1976

Feldman, Anna.'Yiddish songs of the Jewish farm colonists in Saskatchewan, 1917-1939,' MA thesis, Carleton University 1983

Lévy, Salomon,'Le monde musical des Séphardim Montréalais,' eds S. Benbaruk et al, Samy el-Maghribi (Montreal 1984)

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara, et al.'Folksongs in the eastern European tradition from the repertoire of Mariam Nirenberg,' liner notes for LP issued by Yivo Institute/Global Village Recordings, 1986

Anahony-Librowicz, Oro and Cohen, Judith R.'Modalidades expresivas de los cantos de bode judeo-españoles,' Revista de Dialecrogía y Tradiciones Populares, vol 41, 1986

Cohen, Judith R.'The lighter side of Judeo-Spanish traditional songs: some Canadian examples,' CFMJ, vol 15, 1987

-'Judeo-Spanish songs in the Sephardic communities of Montreal and Toronto,' PH D thesis, University of Montreal 1989

Sabbah, Dina.'La pratique de la musique liturgique et paraliturgique des Juifs originaires du Maroc à Montréal,' PH D thesis, University of Montreal 1989

Music Of The Synagogue

Jewish religious music. The styles of the religious music of Judaism have changed through the centuries under the influence of the various countries in which Jews have lived. Yet the music rarely has departed from its three fundamental vocabularies: the cantillation, chanted in the synagogue on the sabbath; the Jewish modes, a kind of musical organization for the prayers sung on the holy days; and the relatively recent'Scarbove' (sacred) melodies developed through the centuries, each of which acts as a sort of'leitmotif' to delineate musically and to identify the main prayers of these holy days.

Canadian Jews maintain stronger traditional links than do those in the USA because mass immigration to Canada occurred later and hence Canadian Jews are fewer generations removed from old country traditions. While contemporary US synagogue composers have 'modernized' synagogue music both effectively and awkwardly, Canadian synagogue music has reflected more closely its eastern and central European origins and, as a consequence, its semitic-oriental characteristics. Eastern Europe has continued to influence Canadian synagogue music both with its folk music and with its older, more florid, oriental treatment of prayer texts. Its chants tend to be melismatic and, within the framework of specified modes, improvisational. Central Europe, in contrast, has contributed mainly melodies and fragments of melodies (for instance, tunes by the Austrian Salomon Sulzer, 1804-90, and the German Lazarus Lewandowski, 1821-94). These were written in a consciously'anti-oriental' style which attempted to wed synagogue song to 19th-century rules of art in the same way as Salomone Rossi did during the 17th century. The result in both centuries was what Rabinovitch called'occidental inhibition and fastidious restraint'.

These influences are not separated in different synagogues but take part equally in most services. Thus, the same congregation which is accustomed to free, melismatic cantorial chant will accept without comment the markedly Germanic'Sh'ma Yisrael' (Hear O Israel) written by Sulzer in frank imitation of the 19th-century German church music style which he knew and admired.

The three'divisions' of Judaism represented in Canada are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.

Canadian Orthodox Jewry has maintained traditional chant and has permitted few musical innovations. The Orthodox cantor essentially has retained the musical practices of his European predecessors. He chants the prayers with his congregants in responsorial style, sometimes pausing to embellish with music certain important texts (eg, the K'dushah, or Sanctification). No instrument may be played on the sabbath, but a large Orthodox synagogue will maintain a choir of men and boys to lead congregational singing, perform compositions, and accompany the cantor by singing responses or by humming organ-like chordal backgrounds for the cantor's modal improvisations or solos.

The Conservative synagogue in Canada is very close to the Orthodox in its musical style. Unlike its US counterpart, which often permits use of the organ in services, it retains the unaccompanied style of old and, except for a more abbreviated prayer book, is'Orthodox' in its musical approach. Mixed choirs are allowed, however, and new musical settings may be introduced more easily.

In Reform Judaism the standard combination of mixed choir, organ, and cantor permits ordered musical expansion. The inherent danger of'westernizing' what is essentially an eastern style has not always been avoided. In recent years, however, composers have shown a greater sensitivity in keeping to the ancient chants while dressing them in'new garb,' and, indeed, many new musical settings have been created specifically for the Reform prayer book. European examples are Ernest Bloch's Avodath Hakodesh and Milhaud's Service sacré pour le samedi. Most new works are written for the Reform prayer book. Yet even these are more traditional in Canada than they are in the USA and show a tendency to build on, rather than depart from, the old styles.

Few synagogue compositions by Canadians have been printed. Probably the first was L. Herzig's Erech Tefila, published in Montreal in 1915. among the few later examples are those of Ben Steinberg, published in the USA and Israel. Other Canadian composers and conductors of synagogue music have included Milton Barnes, Benjamin Brownstone (cantor, conductor, composer, b Bessarabia ca 1888, d Winnipeg 1972), Boris Charloff (cantor, composer, b Tiktin, Poland, 1896, d Toronto 1972), Allan Fine (b Siauliai, Lithuania 1926, bass, conductor of Beth Israel Temple Choir, Hartford, Conn while living in Montreal) Emil Gartner (see Toronto Jewish Folk Choir), Srul Irving Glick, Yekutiel Kronick (educator, conductor, composer, d Montreal ca 1964), Abraham Krashinsky (conductor, b 1893?, active in Montreal), Gordon Kushner, Samuel Levitan, Sid Robinovitch, Aaron Rosemarin (cantor, composer, b Lutsk, Volhynia, ca 1865, d Montreal 1932), Jacob Rosemarin (composer, conductor, b Sidilkov, Russia, 1892), Mordecai Sandberg (composer, b Rumania 1897, d Toronto 1973), Sara Boroditsky Udow (choir conductor, soprano, b Winnipeg 1921, d there 1971), Yehuda Vineberg (conductor, b ca 1925, active in Montreal), and Bernard Wladowski (cantor, composer, b Smila, near Kiev, 1871, d Toronto 1963).

Cantors. After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, synagogues were established wherever Jews lived, and in these it was the duty of the chazzan (cantor) to chant a different portion of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) each sabbath, completing the entire cycle by the end of each year. At first the cantor was merely a beadle whose chanting of the ritual was done in addition to other tasks like teaching children or ritually (ie, humanely) slaughtering animals for community food. Eventually, fine voices and an expanded repertoire of beautiful melodies assured cantors more important places in their communities. Indeed, from the late middle ages until the 19th century synagogue music was almost exclusively the domain of the virtuoso cantor, whose melodic improvisations and renditions of traditional cantillation often represented the cultural pinnacle of the Jewish communities of Europe. Even by 1991, with much choral, and in some cases organ, music incorporated in Jewish worship, the musical role of chazzanut (cantorial chant) remained central and continued to provide synagogue music with its most recognizable characteristic.

Until the time of the Nazi holocaust, the main energy and creativity of the cantorial art was provided by cantors and synagogue musicians from Europe. After World War II leadership in Jewish cultural matters moved to North America. Canadian cantors, perhaps because of their tenacity in holding to tradition, have played a greater role in the preservation of their musical heritage than in innovation. Cantorial music has flourished most vigorously in Canada's three main centres of Jewish population - Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

Prominent among Montreal cantors are or have been Aaron Rosemarin, Joseph Dlin (b Bessarabia 1907), Otto Staeren (b Vienna 1907), Nathan Mendelson (b Glasgow ca 1902), Samuel Taube (b ca 1912), and Solomon Gisser (b Warsaw 1917).

Toronto synagogues have been enriched by the contributions of Abraham Barkin (b 1882, d Toronto 1939), Akiva Bernstein (b Jesiorna, Poland, 1893, d Toronto 1968), Boris Charloff, Cantor Alexander Steinberg (b Zhtomer, Russia, 1893, d Toronto 1960), Nathan Stolnitz (b 1893, d Toronto 1969), Bernard Wladowski, and Chaim Meyer Zimmerman (b 1884, d Toronto 1954).

In Winnipeg, the cantors Moshe Jacob (b 1884, d Winnipeg ca 1960) and Benjamin Brownstone were renowned in their community.

The following two biographical sketches are offered as examples of the careers of early Canadian cantors.

Cantor Bernard Wladowski was one of many renowned cantors born in or near Kiev, and he took his early training and first cantorial post in Kiev. He later became successively town chazzan of Bakhmut and Sevastopol, the first cantor of the new synagogue of Constantinople, and chief cantor in the great synagogue of Bucharest, Rumania, where he worked alongside the gifted composer Leo Low. After three years in a major position in Chicago, he moved to Toronto and served as cantor at the McCaul Street Synagogue for over 25 years, until his retirement. A noted choir conductor and composer of synagogue music, he gave many concerts during his career and recorded cantorial music about 1910, one of the first to do so. He died in Toronto at the age of 92.

Cantor Benjamin Brownstone settled in Winnipeg in 1921 and became known as a composer of synagogue music, the author of many scholarly articles on Jewish music, and a dynamic conductor of choral music for adults and children. As director of Winnipeg's Jewish Community Choir he gave many concerts and in 1960 was honoured by Winnipeg's Jewish Community for his achievements. He also received an honorary degree from the Hebrew Union College of New York. One of his greatest contributions was undoubtedly his teaching of the cantorial art. Some of the outstanding cantors of North America received their training and inspiration from Cantor Brownstone.

The three North American schools which provide cantorial training are all in the USA. While one cantor is a graduate of New York's School of Sacred Music (Benjamin Maissner of Toronto), other Canadian cantors have received their training in the time-honoured system of private study with older cantors acknowledged as masters. This is true, for example, of Toronto Cantors Joseph Cooper, Paul Kawarski, Eli Kirshblum, and Severin Weingort, Cantors Louis Berkal and Judah Smolack of Winnipeg, Cantor Murray Nixon of Vancouver and Montreal Cantors David Bagley, Sidney Dworkin, Hyman and Solomon Gisser, Shimshon Hammerman, and Ari Subar. In the 1970s Esther Ghan Firestone of Toronto was Canada's only female cantor. During the 1980s she was joined by Ruth Slater (Hamilton) and for brief periods several others.

Idelsohn, A.Z. Jewish Music in Its Historical Development (New York 1929)

Stolnitz, Nathan. Music in Jewish Life (Toronto 1957)

Stolnitz, Nathan. On Wings of Song (Toronto 1968)

Concert Music

Secular works by Jewish composers frequently reflect the influence of the music of Jewish liturgy or incorporate the folk melodies of eastern European Jewry. However, many works composed after the years of Nazi persecution are based on expressions, in prose and poetry, of deep grief for Jews who suffered humiliation and death or are joyous celebrations of the re-establishment of Israel, even though overtones of sadness and anxiety remain. Oskar Morawetz' From the Diary of Anne Frank received a special award in 1971 from the Segal Foundation of Montreal as the most important Canadian contribution to Jewish music to that time. Ben Steinberg's cantata Echoes of Children won the 1979 International Gabriel Award for its premiere on the CBC.

A number of Toronto synagogues have sponsored concert series, featuring Jewish compositions. The oldest of these, begun in 1970, is Temple Sinai's which continues to produce an eight-event series each year, including an annual award/recital granted to a promising young performer. Holy Blossom Temple began a three-event series in 1986, as did Beth Tikvah Synagogue in 1989.

In many Canadian synagogues,'Shabbat Shira' (the Sabbath of Song, usually falling in January which inaugurates Jewish Music Month) is the occasion for service-concerts of liturgical music, both traditional and contemporary. A group of active synagogue choirleaders continues to present such programs, including Toronto's Eleanor Ackerman-Rice, Amy Gilbert, Srul Irving Glick, Brahm Goldhamer, Charles Hiller, Gordon Kushner, and Ben Steinberg, as well as Winnipeg's Sheila Roitenberg, Vancouver's Miriam Brightman and Montreal's Lou Burki, Yossi Milok and Yehuda Vineberg.

The Canadian Jewish Congress Music Committee, from 1967 under the joint chairmanship of Gordon Kushner and Ben Steinberg, has played an important role in sponsoring an annual Toronto Jewish Choral Festival and visits by prominent Israeli artists like Winnipeg-born composer-conductor Aharon Harlap, choral conductor Maya Shavit and the Yehud Youth Orchestra. This committee co-ordinates the activities of Jewish Music Month, an annual 6-8 week celebration designed to encourage programs of Jewish liturgical music and secular works by Jewish composers. First established in 1944 in the USA, Jewish Music Month was inaugurated in Canada by the Canadian Jewish Congress with a concert by the Canadian Little Symphony under Harold Sumberg, 3 May 1948, at Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple. Recent years have seen the celebration expanded to include radio and TV programs, choral and instrumental concerts, dance festivals, exhibits, and lectures in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Many works have been composed through the efforts of the Congress Music Committees in Toronto and Montreal, eg, István Anhalt'sSymphony No. 1, commissioned in 1958 to celebrate the bicentenary of Jewish settlement in Canada. Other Canadian and Toronto Jewish Congress commissions include:


'Courage My People, You Need Courage,' a song by Philip Podoliak

'Psalm 26,' a song, words by A.M. Klein, music by Harry Freedman

Credo, for orchestra, by Morris Surdin


Invocation and Dance, for violin and piano, by Alexander Brott

'Die Zun Fargeht,' a song by Jack Kane

'Artzah Alinu,' for piano, by Oskar Morawetz

'Dance of Massadah,' a song, words from a poem by I. Lamdam, music by John Weinzweig


She'Hecheyanu, a choral work by Benjamin Brownstone

Am Yisrael Chay, a choral work, words from a poem by Malka Lee, music by John Weinzweig


Mood (Shtimmung), for violin and piano by Leo Spellman

'Yam Lieder,' a Yiddish folk song, arranged by Morris Surdin

'Dem Milner's Trern,' a Yiddish folk song, arranged by Morris Surdin

'Oif'N Veg Shteht A Boim,' a Yiddish folk song, arranged Louis Applebaum

'Unser Rebbenyu,' a Yiddish folk song, arranged Louis Applebaum

Suite of Israeli Dances, for orchestra, by Ray Jessel


Psalm 148, for baritone, choir, and piano, by Ray Jessel


Who Has Allowed Us to Suffer, for choir, words from the diary of Anne Frank, music by Oskar Morawetz


Jerusalem, for solo voice, choir, and piano by Ben Steinberg


B'Reisheet, for chamber orchestra by Morris Surdin


Mah Tovu, prayer for mixed choir and string quartet, by Srul Irving Glick

Three Songs From Medieval Jewish Life, by Sid Robinovitch

'Yiddish,' words from a poem by Peter Miransky, music by Samuel Levitan

Deuteronomy XXXII, for voice and flute, by Samuel Dolin

We Are One, by Saul Chapman

Psalm 121, for voice, flute, and piano, by Steven Gellman

Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), for mixed choirs, alto flute, and piano, by Sasha Weinstangel

A composer whose works display a strong Jewish element is Milton Barnes. His works include The Dybbuk: A Masque for Dancing, the cantatas Psalms of David and Shir Hashirim, Hannukah Suite No. 1 for chamber orchestra, Poème juif for piano quartet, the choral Madrigals (to medieval Sephardic texts), and over 80 other works.

The Jewish Music Society of Toronto, an active programming arm of the Toronto Jewish Congress Music Committee formed in 1987, has produced concerts of vocal music (featuring tenor Nico Castel, Cantor Louis Danto, Jerome Barry, and others), instrumental chamber music (with the Ekko Trio, Lawrence Cherney, Erica Goodman, and the Amati String Quartet), children's programming (Helena Tine), popular music (Winnipeg's Klezmer band Finjan) and folk music (Gerineldo). Scholarly papers have also been presented by Solomon Volkov (on Shostakovitch), Kay Shelemay (on Syrian-Jewish music) and Phillip Bohlman (on music of the German Jews).

CBC radio producer John Reeves was responsible for many excellent programs of Jewish music, including Sons of Jacob by Sid Robinovitch (April 1981), The Story of Ruth, a cantata by Saul Chapman656c (June 1981), The Scattered of Israel, a cantata by Ben Steinberg (December 1981), Shir Hanagid'by Robinovitch (December 1983), and The Crown of Torah, a cantata by Steinberg (April 1983).

Jewish Popular Music

Klezmer bands enjoyed renewed popularity world-wide during the 1980s. The Yiddish word klezmer is derived from the Hebrew'kele-zemer,' meaning musical instruments. Klezmorim (plural) were itinerant European Jewish musicians who were active from the late middle ages to about the mid-19th century. They improvised, accompanied singers, and played at weddings and other community events, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Maurice Solway in Recollections of a Violinist (p 16) recalls playing'Russian and Jewish folk numbers, some of which bordered on the Klezmer tradition of highly ornamental country fiddling' in his family circle in Toronto early in the 20th century. The two most prominent Canadian Klezmer bands in the revival period have been Finjan, formed in Winnipeg in 1982 by the clarinet and saxophone player Myron Schultz, and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, established in Toronto in 1987 by the trumpeter David Buchbinder. Both have recorded - the former, From Ship to Shore (1987, F-001) and the latter, Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band (1990, Flying Bulgar CD-001) - and each has developed a profile outside the Jewish community, appearing in folk or jazz and'world music' settings. Vancouver's Simchaphonics and Victoria's Tzimmus have also been popular in their respective communities.

Also important in the musical fabric of the Canadian Jewish Community is the'Chai Folk Ensemble' of Winnipeg which specializes in Jewish song and dance. A number of community choruses are also active which peform repertoire ranging from popular Jewish music to liturgical and serious. These include Montreal's'Ron Am' Choir,'Kinnor Choir' (Francophone-Sephardic) and Workmen's Circle Choir, Toronto's Jewish Folk Choir (Canada's longest standing Jewish Choir), Windsor's Jewish Community Chorale and Vancouver's'Rinat Folk Ensemble' and'Shiron Singers'.

Vocalists specializing in Jewish popular music (Yiddish folk and theatre songs, Israeli pop songs) include Toronto's Batsheva, Bluma, Naiomi Bell, Jenny Eisenstadt and Lenka Lichtenberg, as well as Montreal's Fran Avni. Vocalists with Klezmer bands include Floralove Katz (Ottawa), Shayla Fink (Winnipeg) and Allan Meyerovitch (Toronto).

In addition, the major Canadian Jewish centres (Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver) all have bands which perform at weddings, bar mitzvah parties and other community events.

Further Reading