For most of her five-decade musical career, Molly-Ann Leikin felt something was missing – many English speakers singing Hatikvah had no idea what the Hebrew words coming out of their mouths actually mean. So, she set about creating an English version of the Israeli national anthem.
Her version is not a translation, Leikin stressed in an interview with the Independent, from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. She contends that no translation could possibly convey the meaning of the original Hebrew. Instead, she wanted an anthem set to the same melody that everyone singing it could enjoy, understand and, as she said, “feel the passion.”
Born in Ottawa, Leikin graduated from the University of Toronto. The author of How to Write a Hit Song and How to be a Hit Songwriter, she has composed themes and songs for more than five dozen television shows and movies, and her work has been performed by a diverse array of entertainers, such as Anne Murray, Tina Turner and Billy Preston. Among many other things, she has done private songwriting coaching in Vancouver since the 1980s.
Early in her career, Leikin said she felt there was no way for a tunesmith to make a living in Canada, so she hopped into her dented red Volkswagen Bug and drove – starting her journey during a severe snowstorm – to Los Angeles. Now, she co-writes and consults with new artists and lyricists, helping them advance their original songs to compete in the marketplace.
Leikin lists 12 of her clients as Grammy winners, another 17 as Grammy nominees. According to the latest count on her website, she has helped 7,518 writers and artists place their work in movies, television shows, on CDs, in video games and commercials, and their tracks can be downloaded from various sources on the internet.
“My motto is, ‘If you’ve got the tracks, I’ve got the contacts,’” she said.
In addition to writing songs, Leikin writes bar/bat mitzvah speeches, toasts, roasts, vows and memorials.
When she was a university student in the late 1960s, Leikin spent a year in Ashkelon and, after attending an ulpan for four months, could understand the lyrics of Hatikvah (The Hope).
In 2014, while in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival, she was stung by bees and fell into a coma for two years. By the time she recovered, in 2016, a freak accident on her right foot left her unable to walk for another 18 months. Every doctor she saw in Santa Barbara misdiagnosed her. Devastated and unable to work, she lost her home, her businesses and her savings.
In 2017, an old friend she had not seen in 37 years called from Montreal to wish her happy birthday. The friend arranged for Leikin to be transported from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. There, the doctors discovered the problem and a 45-minute operation fixed it.
On the way into surgery, she promised God, if He would heal her, she would use her gifts to create something to benefit the Jewish community throughout the world.
During her three-month recovery, she tuned into a classical station and kept hearing the melody to Hatikvah. The words to what would become her take on the anthem slowly began to form.
A family in Toronto, for whom she had written a eulogy, asked Leikin what her next project would be. She told them about Hatikvah, and they arranged for a grant for her to record it. (That family wishes to be anonymous.)
Hatikvah became Israel’s official anthem in 2004. The melody had been heard throughout Europe and was adapted by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. The Hebrew lyrics are based on a poem by Naftali Berz Imber, who was from what is now Zolochiv, Ukraine.
A growing number of synagogues in the Los Angeles area and throughout the continent, Leikin said, have been playing her version, the chorus of which is “Feel the hope that’s rising everywhere / Feel our song become an answered prayer / For our sisters and brothers as we stand with all of them / In our homeland Jerusalem.”
The B.C. connection
Leikin maintains strong ties to British Columbia. Early in her songwriting career, she was hired to write “It’s Time to Say I Love You,” the theme song for The Other Side of the Mountain Part 2, filmed at Victoria’s Butchart Gardens.
“I flew up to see what I would be writing about and, in the middle of all that beautiful, I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “Almost every summer since 1977 I’ve been back to Vancouver. I go there to celebrate the High Holidays and Passover. When you guys figure out how to make it rain less, I’m moving into English Bay.”
Moshe Denburg’s music will be featured in a tribute concert by the Orchid Ensemble on Nov. 10 at the Annex. (photo from Orchid Ensemble)
The Orchid Ensemble is giving composer Moshe Denburg a most appropriate gift for his 70th birthday – a concert.
The Nov. 10 tribute at the Annex will feature Denburg’s music, as well as the world première of a new work inspired by the melody of one of his first recorded songs. Denburg has collaborated with the Orchid Ensemble over the years and has been a driving force in intercultural music in Canada, including being the founder of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, in 2001.
On the Orchid Ensemble’s tribute program are the three pieces Denburg wrote for the group’s Road to Kashgar (2001), which was nominated for a Juno Award; “El Adon” (2009), a four-movement work that will be performed consecutively as a suite for the first time (one movement being a world première); “Petals of the Flame” (2012), which will be performed with flamenco dancer Michelle Harding; and the North American première of “In Midstream” (2010), a solo zheng (Chinese zither) work performed by Dailin Hsieh.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, will be the performance by the ensemble – Lan Tung (erhu/Chinese violin), Hsieh (zheng) and Jonathan Bernard (percussion) – of “And Gather Our Dispersed from the Ends of the Earth,” by Denburg’s nephew, composer Elisha Denburg.
“I haven’t heard it yet, so I can’t say much about it at all!” said the elder Denburg. “As he has said, it is based on a musical melody of mine, which I set to the liturgical text ‘Gather our dispersed from the ends of the earth….’ This song appears on one of my first albums, and was recorded in New York City in the mid-’70s with a certain well-known ensemble there called the Neginah Orchestra. For many years, it received regular airplay on Kol Israel Radio. I am really looking forward to hearing what Elisha did with it. I will plug him here – he is a composer of depth and originality.”
The younger Denburg’s music has been commissioned, performed and recorded across Canada, as well as in the United States. The award-winning composer has collaborated with numerous artists and his music has aired on CBC Radio 2. Essential Opera commissioned him, with librettist Maya Rabinovitch, to create a one-act chamber opera, titled Regina, about the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, who was ordained in 1935.
About how his uncle’s melody inspired him, Elisha Denburg told the Independent, “It is a song that invokes very specific and special memories for me, singing around the Shabbat table with him and my family when I was young. It also espouses a key Jewish value: the strength of community. This is why I always try to incorporate it into my chanting whenever I help lead Rosh Hashanah services at my synagogue in Toronto (First Narayever Egalitarian Congregation). In composing a new work for intercultural trio, inspired by this melody, I am attempting to give back to him and our community the musical and spiritual gifts I have been so fortunate to receive in my life so far.”
In looking back at his professional life and how his composing has evolved, Moshe Denburg said, “At the beginning, I was mainly a songwriter and melodist, though I did take it seriously and I still consider a good song and a well-formed melody to be a real achievement. However, over the years, I delved much more deeply into the art of composition, and by that I mean writing for larger forces (like orchestras) and utilizing a broader musical language.”
Denburg has been creating music for almost all of his 70 years; his first composition coming before he was 10 years old. “As a child,” he said, “I improvised melodies, even at the age of 4 or 5. I believe it was when I was 8, I improvised a melody to the words of the synagogue prayer ‘Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha …’ (‘God, bring us back to you …’), and it stuck. It was very cantorial, as this, being the son of a rabbi, was my first influence and inspiration – the modes of synagogue prayer.”
The interest in world music came later. “For many of my generation,” said Denburg, “this connection with and attraction to the music of other cultures started in the 1960s, with the Beatles and others, who were incorporating non-Western instruments – tabla and sitar, for example – into their works. It was a great new stream to draw upon, in order to create something new and exciting. I still think of intercultural music-making as having unlimited potential, with a much larger palette of sounds, and a noble endeavour and homage to everyone’s humanity.”
Retirement is not in Denburg’s plans. He said, “There are three prongs to my musical life, which continue unabated:
“1. Tzimmes, my Jewish music ensemble, is back in the studio, working on some tracks both old and new. Some tracks were begun in 2005-06 and have sat on the back burner for many years. Some pieces are newly composed and arranged. I hope to release them, perhaps as an album or perhaps singly online, over the next year or two.
“2. The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) continues to be a going concern and, though I have stepped back from being hands-on in the organization, I am still involved creatively, contributing compositions and participating in a variety of concert and recording projects.
“3. Apart from the VICO, I am still a composer for hire. In fact, Lan Tung, the leader of the Orchid Ensemble and my musical colleague of many years, recently initiated a project that would see me, funding permitting, commissioned to write for another intercultural ensemble of hers, the Sound of Dragon Ensemble.”
In addition, Denburg has at least two “bucket list” items: “Writing a large-scale work of many movements for the full Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (25-30 players); continuing to record my works, both Jewish and intercultural.”
For tickets to And Gather Our Dispersed from the Ends of the Earth – Moshe Denburg Tribute Concert at the Annex on Nov. 10, at 4 p.m., visit mosheorchid.brownpapertickets.com.
AvevA and her band perform at the Rickshaw Theatre Nov. 14. (photo from Chutzpah!)
“I’m really looking forward to performing for a new audience in Vancouver, and to seeing Vancouver for the first time,” Israeli-Ethiopian singer-songwriter AvevA Dese – who goes by her first name – told the Independent.
The Rehovot-based musician will perform at the Rickshaw Theatre Nov. 14 as part of the Chutzpah! Festival. She will be coming with a band: Noam Israeli (drums), Nadav Peled (guitar) and Itamar Gov-Ari (keyboard). While in North America, the group will also perform in New York and Los Angeles.
Though AvevA has been singing since she can remember, she started songwriting in her teens. Her participation, in 2012, on the Israeli reality TV show The Voice led her to Rimon School of Music, in Ramat Hasharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. This, in turn, led the musician – who mainly listened to American soul music when she was a kid – to explore her roots. While AvevA was born in Israel, her parents made aliyah in 1984, having escaped civil war and famine in Ethiopia by making the weeks-long journey to a refugee camp in Sudan, from where they were brought to Israel as part of Operation Moses.
“It was a process, trying to get in touch with my roots, my heritage,” she said. “As a child, I wasn’t interested in my heritage because I felt I had to choose either I’m Ethiopian or I’m Israeli. So, I chose Israeli because I wanted to fit in.
“Growing up, I understood that I can be both, but I wasn’t eager to learn and know about my Ethiopian roots – that acutely started through music. When I was at Rimon School of Music, I started singing in an ensemble called Afro-Pop, where the music we played was mostly African music, and I fell in love with it. That same year, I was invited to perform with the Idan Raichel Project, where I performed an Ethiopian song for the first time. I started collaborating with Ethiopian writers, I’ve visited Ethiopia three times in the last four years, and I’m still learning more each day.”
AvevA’s discography includes the EP Who Am I, which was released in November 2016, and the LP In My Thoughts, released in March of this year. “I’m now working on some new songs that I can’t wait to release,” she said. “I hope it will happen in 2020.”
AvevA said she generally begins composing on the guitar. “I’ll start jamming and, when I find something that I like, I just go with it and try to complete that idea into a song.” However, she added, “A song can change a lot in the process of recording and working with a producer. For example, my song ‘Won’t Let You’ wasn’t written before I started working with the producer Isaac DaBom. I had a whole different song that he didn’t think was good enough, so he asked me to rewrite it and that’s how I wrote ‘Won’t Let You.’”
AvevA sings in English and Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia), and some of her songs use Ethiopian scales.
“Ethiopian music is primarily based on a five-tone scale system, known as a pentatonic scale, and the Western scale generally consists of seven notes,” she explained.
AvevA said she feels no pressure to be a “poster girl” for Israel’s openness to diversity. “I don’t feel that pressure,” she stressed. “I share my story and the way that I see things. In Israel, like in any other place, there are beautiful sides and there are ugly sides.”
B.C.-based Leila Neverland, in her trio Mountain Sound, opens for AvevA on Nov. 14, 8 p.m. For tickets to the concert – Rickshaw Theatre is a 19+ venue – and other Chutzpah! shows, visit chutzpahfestival.com.
Harriet Frost performs at Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel last May. (photo from Harriet Frost)
How best to describe Harriet Frost’s music? “Impressionistic poetry, witty wordplay, music that is intimate and universal,” is what CBC Radio had to say. “Folk rock with a jazz funk twist,” read another recent write-up ahead of a performance at the renowned Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel this May.
“My music explores personal, topical, political and spiritual landscapes. They can be humorous, joyful, painful, ironic, beautiful and not so beautiful. It’s poetry, folk, jazz, rock, spoken word, ancient and postmodern,” she says in her own words.
What is not open to interpretation is that the Vancouver singer, songwriter and musician has had a busy spring and summer. In addition to her Israeli performance, she has been organizing local house concerts in town and working on a new album.
Music is an integral part of what she does outside of being on stage or in a studio, as well. Her work at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital has shown the therapeutic effects music has on people regardless of their age. “You can reach people, even those in deep states of dementia, through music,” she said. Frost also teaches Judaic studies, trains youth and adults to chant from Torah, and has been exploring cantorial music.
The Israel connection
Jacob’s Ladder is more than a music festival to Frost – it is the title of a song she wrote and dedicated to her father, who escaped Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1939. He witnessed the birth of the Israeli state in his decade living there. The song is featured in the Lucy McCauly documentary film Facing the Nazi Era.
Canada ultimately became home for the Frost family, yet the connection with Israel remained. When it was time for university, Harriet chose four years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – a student by day and a musician playing in the cafés at night. She was the musical director of the groundbreaking theatre troupe, the Gypsies, made up of Palestinian, Israeli and North American artists who performed peace-themed musicals for Israeli and Palestinian youth. Her personal musical biography is so resonant with Israeli content that when a friend told her last year about Jacob’s Ladder and urged her to look into it, she couldn’t resist. The invitation from its organizers came a few months later.
Founded in 1976, Jacob’s Ladder is the longest and most established music festival in Israel, featuring a wide selection of folk genres and international music presented each spring and fall. Located in the north, on the Sea of Galilee, Frost said her first feeling upon arrival was like being at the Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach Park, due to the proximity to the water.
“It was 45 degrees,” she recalled. “I had no idea what to expect. When I was first introduced as a Vancouverite and the only Canadian performing at the festival this year, people started cheering. It was so welcoming and fantastic.”
She played in an air-conditioned 250-seat hall filled to capacity with an audience comprised of Americans, Israelis, Europeans, Canadians and fellow musicians “of all ages,” she said, “teenagers, families with kids, millennials, a full arc of generations.”
At the Ginosar Kibbutz and Hotel, which hosts the famous event, she met numerous performers who had come to the festival and were playing music in the hotel lobby between their own sets. It was an extraordinary opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most notable folk musicians, she said.
Concerts and album
Through November and beyond, along with other venues, Frost is organizing a series of house concerts, given the positive response to one she held in April in advance of her Jacob’s Ladder appearance. As the name suggests these are concerts hosted in someone’s home, where, according to Frost, “musicians have an opportunity to present their original material in a concert situation, unlike in a café or club where folks may be eating, drinking and socializing.
“There is an intimate concert vibe that is created in the home. You have the freedom to play a full night’s worth of material and really connect with a small audience (between 30 and 50). People attend specifically to listen to new music.” Currently, Frost has been collaborating at these concerts with Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Martin Gotfrit.
And a new album is in the works. Working title: Jacob’s Ladder.
For more information about the album and upcoming concerts, visit harrietfrost.com.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital joins Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for a concert in the spring. (photo from vancouversymphony.ca)
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 101st season opens Sept. 20-21 at the Orpheum Theatre with Canadian diva Adrianne Pieczonka singing Franz Schubert’s orchestrated lieder, including Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), paired with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (Titan) and the world première of a new work commissioned from Juno-nominated Bekah Simms.
The VSO’s upcoming season also features several performers from the Jewish community, including cellist Gary Hoffman, originally from Vancouver, who provides a definitive interpretation of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Part of the 2019-2020 Masterworks Gold series, the Nov. 29-30 concert includes Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5.
Also as part of this season’s Masterworks Gold series, Gidon Kremer joins the VSO Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in a performance of Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, in a transcription for violin. Anton Bruckner’s fourth and most popular Romantic symphony is part of the program, as is Orpheus by Canadian composer/conductor Samy Moussa.
This season’s Musically Speaking series includes Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital in a May 9 concert of works inspired by Italy, playing Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, perhaps Beethoven’s most experimental symphony. Likewise, Giovanni Sollima’s new Mandolin Concerto, written for Avital, mashes up musical styles from baroque to rock ’n’ roll. Antonio Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite round out the program, which will also be performed in North Vancouver on May 7 and in Surrey on May 8.
On May 22-23, Barenaked Ladies co-founder Steven Page brings an arsenal of songs from his 30-year catalogue for a sweeping set backed by the VSO. Together with trio mates Craig Northey and Kevin Fox, Page will guide audiences through an evening featuring songs from his solo career as well as Barenaked Ladies classics. This concert is part of the London Drugs VSO Pops series.
Brentano String Quartet launches Music in the Morning’s new season at Vancouver Academy of Music Sept. 11-12 and at Christ Church Cathedral Sept. 13. The quartet – Mark Steinberg (violin), Serena Canin (violin), Misha Amory (viola) and Nina Lee (cello) – will perform Ludwig von Beethoven’s String Quartet No.12, Opus 127, one of the pillars of the modern string quartet.
Music in the Morning’s Main Series also features Russell Braun, baritone, with Carolyn Maule, piano (Oct. 9-11); Anagnoson & Kinton, piano duo (Nov. 13-15); the Calmus Ensemble (Dec. 18-20); Stewart Goodyear, piano (Jan. 15-17); Colin Carr, cello, with Thomas Sauer, piano (Feb. 12-14); and Afiara String Quartet (March 18-20).
While the dates of Music in the Morning’s Summer Music Vancouver have not been announced, Noon with June: Lunch with the Artists, now in its second season, starts with an interview by host June Goldsmith of Brentano String Quartet on Sept. 11. The series of four conversations with mainstage artists continues with interviews of James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton Nov. 13, Calmus Ensemble Dec. 18 and Afiara String Quartet March 18.
Erica Dee curated the show Weaving Voices, which takes place Aug. 9 at CRAB Park at Portside. (photo from Vines Art Festival)
Weaving Voices features Jewish community member Erica Dee, Tonye, Miss Christie Lee, Janelle Reid and Sara Cadeau, with instrumentalists Sean Mitchell and Jonny Tobin. The performance at this year’s Vines Art Festival on Aug. 9 is based on Dee’s singing workshop, Sing for the Soul.
Dee has been offering the group singing classes over the past two years. “This has been one of my favourite projects I have ever created and it has inspired me to write a whole new album and live performance,” Dee told the Independent. “Sometime in 2020, I will release this new project with a new name and it is very different from anything I have performed. It will be a live, multi-sensory experience that is meant for listening rooms and theatres, or parks. And I will activate the spaces with my singing workshop prior to the show and then include the participants in my live performance. I won’t share the name yet, but it does include my family’s name in it.”
Dee’s cultural heritage includes Jewish and Italian roots, and jazz on both sides of the family. Her paternal grandparents are Evelyn Stieglitz (z’l) and Murray Landsberg, who she described as “the sweetest Jewish couple, who met in the Bronx in the 1930s. They were 13 and 15 and they were together until my grandmother past away a couple years ago. My father, Paul Landsberg, is a prolific jazz guitarist, who started his career teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. My mother, Rita Marie, was born to Rita Shirley Dallesandro and Jim Smith. Rita Shirley’s brothers, Frankie and Arthur, started a jazz big band in the ’50s called the Dellasandro’s, where they played saxophone and clarinet.”
Born Erica Dee Landsberg in Boston, Mass., Dee goes by only her first and middles names. She grew up “in the mountains of the Sinixt Territory (Nelson, B.C.). My mother, father, sister and I moved to the Kootenays in 1989 because my father helped start Selkirk College’s music program.”
Expressing her gratitude at being a Canadian citizen, Dee said she first moved to Vancouver in 2005, a couple months after graduating high school. “I followed my passion,” she said, “as I had already been performing and writing and I was ready to move to the big city to expand my artistry. I also followed my heart here, after falling deeply in love with a female DJ and producer who was running Vancouver’s only lesbian bar at the time.”
Dee is a vocalist, DJ, writer and producer. She released her first recording, Golden Mixtape, a combination of remixes and original work, in 2011. Her debut album, New Skies, came out in 2016.
“I am firstly a singer,” she said, “which means I get to connect to my instrument (aka my body) in such a deep and intimate way. I usually have some burst of inspiration come to me, whether it’s a hook, or a bass line, or a drum beat. Then I spend time developing the tone, feeling and resonance. Words usually come after, as I find when I add words to my art, it brings it into the mind and I like to stay in the body for as long as possible.
“As far as production goes, I have been producing music for over 10 years and have yet to release something that is completely self-produced. I use production as another way to get my ideas out, using drum pads, keys and programs like Logic and Ableton, and then eventually collaborate with other musicians and producers to complete the creation.
“Recently,” she added, “I have been creating on a loop pedal, which has taken my artistry to a completely new level. I started DJing when I was 20, when I realized that I could be my own band mate, and started touring a performance where I would sing and MC over top of my DJ sets, fusing together the music that I love and moves me with my originals and remixes.”
Dee collaborates a lot, both in performances and in the creation of new work. Her bio notes that she has “supported and toured with artists such as Lil’ Kim, Mos Def, Quest Love, A Tribe Called Red and Bad Bad Not Good.” Past guest artists have included Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Desiree Dawson.
“I love the magic that happens when artists share space together,” she explained. “Each person is unique, with their own experience, tone, voice, stories and inspirations. It activates every part of my soul to witness artists coming together in this way, harmonizing, improvising, and the dynamics of different voices coming in and out of the music. I always say, sometimes just having another person in the room is enough, without a word shared. I can feel every piece of music they have absorbed since their creation lighting up the space. It is truly is my favourite part about being an artist.”
For the Vines Art Festival show, Dee said, “I have brought together a group of such powerful artists…. Each of these artists shares their stories and truth in such a real and accessible way.”
Dee said she is honoured to be part of the festival, as she really connects to its core values. Part of the festival’s mission is to offer “platforms for local artists and performers to create with and on the land, steering their creative impulses toward work that focuses on the environment – whether a deep love of nature, sustainability, or climate justice.”
“Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside and I find a lot of my inspiration in nature,” said Dee. “I attended Waldorf School as a kid, where I learned how to use my hands to connect and create with the natural world in a sustainable way.
“Since then, I have always had a very strong connection and appreciation for the land I occupy. Wherever I travel, I always take the time to educate myself on whose land I am on and acknowledge that within my show. I use my platform to share information about the social and environmental issues that I feel are important – I actually got fired from a festival in Calgary for speaking about the pipeline and how much harm it will cause to indigenous communities.”
For the performance at Vines, Dee shared that there is going to be “an extra special element.”
Of that element, she said, “I have never done this before and I am so excited. During the first time I sat down with Heather [Lamoureux, the festival’s artistic director], I had a vision and I am really looking forward to bringing it to life!”
Weaving Voices on Aug. 9 takes place at CRAB Park at Portside, at 7 p.m. Other Jewish performers in the festival include mia susan amir, Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Rabbit Richards, and it features more than 80 artists overall, performing at parks throughout the city. Every event is free admission and more information can be found at vinesartfestival.com.
Byron Schenkman performs in the concert called Chopin Preludes on Aug. 1 at Christ Church Cathedral. (photo from Byron Schenkman)
“I think Chopin was an exceptionally sensitive pianist and composer – more of a poet than most. Sometimes his music is almost painfully beautiful. And, these days, I think we need all the poetry and beauty and sensitivity we can find!” Byron Schenkman told the Independent.
Schenkman returns to the Vancouver Bach Festival this year. Presented by Early Music Vancouver, they will perform preludes by Frédéric Chopin on Early Music’s 19th-century Broadwood fortepiano on Aug. 1, 1 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 12:15 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral.
The concert is a collaboration with the Vancouver Chopin Society. Describing Chopin as “a central figure of 19th-century Romanticism,” the program summary notes that “his connections to Bach are clear in his own preludes, which were directly inspired by Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.” To place “Chopin’s music in the context of Romantic composers who influenced his work,” Schenkman’s performance will include pieces by Maria Szymanowska, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Of playing Chopin, Schenkman said, “I think the biggest challenge – and the greatest joy – is honouring the delicacy of Chopin’s music even when it is intellectually complex and emotionally very deep. Compared with performing most other composers’ work, it’s like creating art out of glass instead of marble or bronze.”
Schenkman performs on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano, which is, simply, a piano made in the 18th and early 19th century. They also have contributed to more than 40 CDs, including some on which they have played on historical instruments from the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, S.D., and from the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The award-winning musician is a founding member of several ensembles, and teaches music history at Seattle University, as well as being a guest lecturer on the harpsichord and fortepiano at other institutions. In 2013, they launched Byron Schenkman & Friends, a Baroque and classical chamber music series in Seattle.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and Indiana University, Schenkman said, “I grew up in a home with lots of music. I often heard one of my older sisters practising the piano and it is still a very comforting sound for me, especially the repertoire that she practised most: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.”
In past Bach Festivals, Schenkman has performed Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles.
“I am really happy to be returning to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities,” they said. “And I am honoured to be part of the wonderful Vancouver Bach Festival along with so many inspiring colleagues.”
This year’s 14-concert festival, which runs July 30 to Aug. 9, begins with EMV’s ensemble-in-residence, Les Boréades, in a performance over two nights – July 30 and 31 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos. It also closes at the Chan Centre – with Henry Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia – but the other concerts take place at Christ Church. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusic.bc.ca or call 604-822-2697.
Gabriel Paquin-Buki, far right, founded the band Oktopus, which started performing in 2010. (photo by Rémi Hermoso)
Among the Jewish performers at this year’s Mission Folk Music Festival, July 26-28 at Fraser River Heritage Park, are Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman and Montreal’s Gabriel Paquin-Buki. For both musicians, family has been a key inspiration.
Waldman is a guitarist, singer-songwriter, studio producer, sound designer, and film and TV composer. Originally from Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto, his bio describes a cassette of his grandmother singing the Yiddish folk song Papirosen to his mother as one of his “most cherished possessions.”
“That recording was from the late ’50s, most likely 1957,” Waldman told the Independent. “My family had one of the first consumer-level tape recorders, they also had one of the first eight-millimetre film cameras, too. They always loved documenting the family, taking time capsule-like snapshots to cherish and enjoy later on in life.
“The recording of that particular song – which is about a young girl selling cigarettes on a street corner – has a beautifully haunting melody. I believe my grandmother learned it from her mother, my great-grandmother. At some point, it was transferred onto a stereo cassette recorder and a few copies were made. The same tape also contains interviews with my mother, a toddler at the time, and other family members, since passed away.”
A guitar he found in his parents’ basement also played a part in the start of his musical career.
“The guitar was an old beat-up nylon-string classical guitar that belonged to my Aunt Sherri,” said Waldman. “Actually, I suspect it belonged to one of her ex-boyfriends. I figured out how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ on one string and was hooked for life! That was back in 1989.”
Waldman made his way to Vancouver in 1995 “on a whim,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me and reinvent myself. From the moment I saw the mountains and smelled the ocean, I instantly felt at home. Then, after meeting the people and getting a feel for the laidback vibe of the West Coast, I was sold on Vancouver.”
For Paquin-Buki, whose group Oktopus began performing in 2010, it was his father who introduced him to klezmer.
“My father was born into a Polish Jewish family and has carried klezmer music with him all his life. His transmission to me of this cultural legacy occurred quite naturally. The cassettes he would play in the family car, the klezmer recordings during parties at our home, the live bands at family weddings and those rare times he would play songs on the piano were enough for me to access the roots of this musical tradition,” said Paquin-Buki.
“As it is for many children, I believe it was the rhythm of this music that excited me. The recordings we listened to were mostly of fast songs and, for me, were synonymous with joy. My love for this music today has so many facets! When we listen to klezmer, we can somehow feel the richness of the Jewish people’s millennial history and hear their encounters with musicians from all over the planet and across centuries. Also, major-minor ambivalence in the main klezmer scale (the freygish) embodies the dichotomy between laughter and tears so characteristic of Jewish culture. And it’s always fun music to play.”
Waldman has similar views. “I’ve always enjoyed klezmer music,” he said. “The mile-a-minute dance numbers, the sorrowful ballads and the cheeky vocals. Many klezmer compositions use melodies based on the harmonic minor scale, which includes a minor third and a major seven, which makes it sound particularly haunting and mournful to me. In terms of culture, all of my band mates in my early days were Jewish. I definitely cut my teeth with fellow Jews who know the delights of Shabbos dinner and a good bagel with lox and cream cheese!”
While he enjoys klezmer, Waldman’s music is predominantly folk and blues. “I love the sound, the rawness and heavy emotional weight of those styles,” he explained. “I also love the storytelling aspect of it, specific life experiences, places and relationships. Real folk and blues is unique to each artist but also has a tradition of carrying classic songs through the generations. I also love how blues has a way of transforming deep pain into something beautiful.”
Waldman’s debut album, Mansion Full of Ghosts, which was released in 2017, is described as “an exploration of the city’s vast duality, a backdrop of beauty mirrored by a fierce underbelly and a need to keep a light on in the dark.” It includes songs about his neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, and, in talking about what drives him to make socially conscious music, he said, “I think mostly my compassion for other people, particularly those less fortunate than myself. I also yearn to connect with people on a deeper level and music and honest lyrics are a good way to achieve that.”
Among the talent featured on that album is his partner, Megan Alford. Currently, the two are working on a recording of her music, Field Guide to Wildflowers, scheduled for an early 2020 release. “My role is producer and guitar player,” said Waldman. “She is an outstanding songwriter with a great voice and poignant and deeply personal lyrics. We’ve been working together for a couple years now and the songs have really come to life.”
As can blues music, klezmer holds space for both happiness and sadness. In addition to being a musician, Paquin-Buki holds a master’s degree in comparative literature. In his first semester, he took two courses that focused on literature from the concentration camps. Le Verfügbar aux enfers (The Lowest-Class Worker Goes to Hell), written by Germaine Tillion, a prisoner at Ravensbrück, particularly caught his attention. “This work has a substantial musical dimension and contains a lot of humour…. I was very keen on exploring this taboo subject of laughter and the Holocaust and especially on trying to understand what its benefits were and what shapes it could subsequently take…. For the time being, there is no direct connection between this topic and Oktopus’s music but, in performance, it allows me to flesh out historical intros between pieces. It also adds a new dimension to these tears that are halfway between laughter and sorrow, since klezmer music – and particularly the clarinet – reproduces vocal inflections that convey laughter and sorrow.
“I would very much like to compose a piece based on one of the works I used in my thesis, ‘La danse de Gengis Cohn.’ I also have a mind to add a work from KZ Muzik, a vast box set recording that traces and publishes many works composed in concentration camps. But, overall, the fact remains that my own academic project on such a profound and terrifying topic has changed my general view of the world and impacts everything I do.”
Paquin-Buki is the driving force behind Oktopus’s mission to perpetuate klezmer. “By striving to perpetuate this musical tradition, I am keeping the culture of my ancestors alive and this is of special significance to me,” he said. “Nevertheless, since klezmer carries universal values, our approach also makes substantial room for the musical traditions of Quebec.”
Indeed, Oktopus combines elements of different cultures.
“The klezmer repertoire is so vast that we cannot possibly cover it all in our lifetimes,” said Paquin-Buki. “But we have also chosen to incorporate classical melodies – we are all classically trained and so we necessarily view klezmer through the lens of classical music, in the way our ears have been trained to hear it – as well as Quebec chansons [folk songs] and, sometimes, songs from other cultures around the world.
“Trying to somehow recreate these songs as they were played decades or even centuries ago is not really in line with our view of tradition, which is not a static concept for us. Tradition is something that evolves and so, in certain respects, we try to imagine what the klezmorim repertoire might have been like if they had settled in Montreal. They would have necessarily incorporated Québécois and Canadian songs and styles. Historically, klezmer absorbs the different cultures it encounters along its way, while staying true to its deep roots, which colour everything it touches. The important thing is to remain connected to those roots.”
One challenge in maintaining that connection for Paquin-Buki has been that his “classical training got in the way in some respects because klezmer is largely an oral tradition.” He couldn’t find any scores for a klezmer ensemble and, he said, “In the environment in which I functioned as a musician, nothing was possible without written-down notes. But, to make a long story short, I finally decided to write out the arrangements myself. They turned out very badly at the beginning, but with help and a lot of work, they evolved into something presentable.
“The group’s configuration,” he said of Oktopus, “is loosely based on what I heard on recordings of the Klezmer Conservatory Band: clarinet, violin, flute, trombone, tuba (now bass trombone), piano and drums. Back in 2009, I was not acquainted with that many musicians, so I recruited a few friends and other promising students from the faculty of music. The group began playing in 2010 – three pieces performed in a chamber music concert at the Université de Montréal. The following year, we were offered our first professional engagements.” Oktopus has two albums – Lever l’encre (2014) and Hapax (2017) – both of which were nominated for Juno and Canadian Folk Music awards.
“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.