Shalshelet 2006

The shalshelet (“chain”) note is one of the rarest cantillations in the system of melodic motifs for chanting the books of the Torah aloud. Found only four times in the Five Books of Moses, each time it guides the singing of a verb at a pivotal moment in the narrative. Shalshelet’s International Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music recognizes and awards excellence in new liturgical composition. The public concert and related workshops which are held throughout the year are supplemented by songbooks and CDs which allow the composers to share their music with individuals and congregations across the nation and around the world…

Shalshelet2006Desp

Track # Title Audio
1 Ozi v’Zimrat Yah
2 Esa ‘Einai
3 Mi Khamokha
4  Tefilah ‘Atikah
5  Shalom Rav
6  Beini u Vein
7  Hashkiveinu
8  Hanukah Light
9  Yedid Nefesh
10  Ha Lahma Anya
11  Hodu
12  Shahar Avakeshkha
13  Musaf Kedushah
14  Shiviti
15  Hanukah Nes Gadol

Shalshelet, the Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music, continues an ancient chain of tradition that considers music an integral part of spiritual expression and sacred rite. Shalshelet seeks to foster the creation of original music and to expose wider audiences to innovations in Jewish religious music.

Shalshelet’s mission is to use music to build bridges both within and outside the Jewish community. Shalshelet’s participants are drawn from across all Jewish denominations—Reform, Conservative, modern Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Havurah, affiliated, and unaffiliated.

In addition, Shalshelet solicits, collects, publishes, and disseminates new compositions without regard to the professional or lay status of the composers. Shalshelet’s international music festival brings together composers, performers, workshop participants, and the public to celebrate and circulate new music set to traditional texts.

Shalshelet’s International Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music recognizes and awards excellence in new liturgical composition. The public concert and related workshops which are held throughout the year are supplemented by songbooks and CDs which allow the composers to share their music with individuals and congregations across the nation and around the world.
Cindy Arnson

Executive Producer: Ramón Tasat
Live Recording: RHL Audio
Recorded and Mixed: Gizmo Recording Company
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Graphic Design: Estudio Lo Bianco
Program Notes: Gilah Langner and Ramón Tasat
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Yom She Kulo Shabbat

A Road to Paradise 2006

We welcome the Sabbath singing zemirot, songs and praises to the Creator of the Universe. We gain much pleasure from singing, we ease the excessive baggage, the disharmonious things that we have accumulated during the past six days and thus, we feel closer to our essence.

shabbatDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 Hine Ma Tov
2 Yedid Nefesh
3 Ma Yedidut
4 Bar Yohai
5 Deror Ykera
6 Yom Ze le Israel
7 Tzur MiShelo
8 Amar A’ le Ya’akov
9 ha Mabdil
10 Yah Ribon mayerowitsch
11 Niggun

A time when cars stop running and dreams grow, when the TV is silent but our heart, renewed, speaks with great passion of the a new world: a world that one day will be “Yom She Kulo Shabbat” when it would offer you what you need and you will gladly offer the world all your potential. Yedid Nefesh, our soul mate, guides us as we begin to walk the road to Paradise, the road that brings redemption closer to our lives. When we sing the songs, we dream, and, undisturbed by what is going on around us, we slowly build a palace in time.

Could this week be the week when harmony among human beings will become as real as the air we breathe?

The sun is slowly setting,
Darkness begins to dawn,
The Shabbat departs and with her,
Our additional soul,
Our dreams postponed.

One more week,
Our wishes that one day,
Every day and all times
Will grow to be Shabbat,
Our fervent desire to touch redemption,
By the hand of the prophet Eliahu.

May it come speedily, in our lifetime.

Ramón Tasat

Ramón Tasat
Voice and guitar

Cesar Lerner
Piano, Synthesizer, Accordion, Percussion

Gantt Kushner
Electric Bass, Voice

Executive Producer: Ramón Tasat
Recorded and Mixed: Gizmo Recording Company
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Graphic Design: Estudio Lo Bianco
Paintings: Juan Doffo
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Kantikas de amor i vida 2005

So many of us who survived the Holocaust had one thing in common… our silence. But as we grew older, we began to feel the need to share our pain and memories with the world.

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Track # Title Audio
1 A Espanya
2 De que yoras blanca niña
3 Trez kozas son de murir
4 Yo m’acordo d’akeya noche
5 La murtaja
6 Si topa grazia
7 Yo la kería
8 Oidlo mi novia
9 Yehi Ratzones
10 Yo deshí Espanya
11 Yo partí para la gera
12 Printzesita
13 El Dio alto

So many of us who survived the Holocaust had one thing in common … our silence. But as we grew older, we began to feel the need to share our pain and memories with the world. Some of us wrote books, participated in photography exhibitions, and gave lectures; I poured my memories into songs. After World War II and having been blessed with coming to live in America I had the freedom to continue my musical tradition.

To my great joy, my songs and stories have touched the hearts of many talented musicians who want to support and join me in keeping this music alive and vibrant. Now, over 500 years after our ancestors were expelled from Spain, I have the pleasure of making this special recording of Ladino duets with Ramón Tasat. Although we grew up in different generations and in very different lands, we share the same intense feelings for our Sephardic ancestry and the desire to continue our musical heritage. Through his talented fingers and rich melodic voice, Ramón has woven his threads from Argentina into my own Sarajevo-style Sephardic tapestry, enriching the music and ensuring its survival.

Flory Jagoda

I first heard about Flory Jagoda in 1993. I was finishing a doctoral degree in Austin, Texas, and more than eager to embrace Sephardic music as a full-time passion. Somebody, one of those angels that one encounters in life, felt that I could profit from knowing Flory and gave me her phone number.

What followed was a very enthusiastic conversation between this artist–searching for those songs,those kantikas, full of “amor i vida”–and a remarkable lady who had lived fully and had already offered the world wonderful musical creations. Months later, I moved to Maryland. Ever since, Flory has embraced me in every possible way, guiding me and sustaining me even in dire times. But the idea of performing with such a remarkable interpreter of Sephardic music seemed simply beyond reach. Then, one day–more precisely, on Sunday, October 21, 2003–Flory, with her proverbial generosity, invited some friends to perform with her at University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center. The concert was well received. Joan Reinthaler, a music critic for the Washington Post, wrote: “The performances were lovely, very much in the spirit of gentle and sympathetic collaboration that characterizes the best in folk tradition… Tasat’s duets with Jagoda were most intimate, as he tempered his voice to balance exquisitely with hers…” and my dream came true. The dream continues, embodied in this CD.

Ramón Tasat

Flory Jagoda
Voice and Guitar

Ramón Tasat
Voice and Guitar

Steve Bloom
Percussion

Ladino Translators: Rachel Bortnick, Albert Garih
English Version: Betty Jagoda Murphy
Translation Editor: Cynthia Arnson
Executive Producer: Ramón Tasat
Recorded and Mixed: Gizmo Recording Company
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Graphic Design: Estudio Lo Bianco
Typography/Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Shalshelet  2005

This CD represents a milestone in the life of our vibrant new organization, Shalshelet. With the hard work and dedication of many talented people, the first International Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music became a reality

ShalsheletDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 Shalom ‘Aleikhem
2 El Adon
3 Sim Shalom
4 Modim Anahnu Lakh
5 Ve Heishiv Lev
6 Mi Pi El
7 The Peace of Jerusalem
8 Lekhu Neranena
9 Neshama She Natata Bi
10 El Adon
11 Shalom ‘Aleikhem
12 Har’ini
13 Yedid Nefesh
14 ‘Al Ken Nekaveh

The concert and workshops drew hundreds of people –composers, musicians, professional cantors, lay leaders, and music enthusiasts– united by a passion for Jewish music and a respect for the beloved texts that continue to inspire new melodies and fresh creativity.

The music on this CD reflects the exuberance and excitement that surrounded us so fully at the Shalshelet Festival: the joy of the performers in bringing these songs to life, the enthusiasm of the audience, and even the pride of the composers in having their music chosen for the Festival. It was and is a privilege to share these compositions with a wider audience.

Less apparent on this recording but just as essential is the knowledge that so many in our communities have embraced Shalshelet’s cause. We are grateful to all who have leant their time, expertise, and support to Shalshelet and its goals.

Cindy Arnson

Arvoles lloran por luvia

The music of the Italian, Turkish and Spanish Jews   1996 / 2005

In this unusual release Ramón Tasat has recorded melodies from the Sephardic tradition by three talented and yet hardly known composers: Manuel García Morante, Alberto Hemsi and Federico Consolo.

arvolesDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 A la una yo nací
2 Una matica de ruda
3 Nacimiento de Moxé
4 Una pastora yo amí
5 Para que quero yo mas bivir
6 Cuatro años d’amor
7 Yo bolí de foja en foja
8 LekHaftarah Spagnuola
9 El Shokhen Shamayim
10 Me ‘Arbagn Canfot
11 El rey por mucho madruga
12 Durme, durme
13 No paséch por la mi sala
14 Tres hijas tiene el buen rey…
15 La moxca y la mora
16 Como la rosa en la güerta
17 La cantiga de la Ley
18 Arvoles lloran por luvia
19 El Novio no quere dinero

In his 40 canciones sefardíes (1983) Manuel García Morante compiled and arranged traditional Ladino songs originated in the Balkan area for voice and piano. Alberto Hemsi, born in Smyrna, Turkey (1897-1975), worked for more than five decades gathering a phenomenal number of Judeo-Spanish songs until he published Coplas Sefardíes, sixty folk songs from the Eastern Sephardic tradition which he had harmonized and arranged masterfully for voice and piano. Both García Morante and Alberto Hemsi have managed to be faithful to the ancient testimony of oral tradition and achieved a difficult balance between modern musical language in their pianistic realizations and in the simple melodic organization of the vocal lines.

For this recording Ramón has also performed a number of liturgical compositions original to the Sephardic community of Livorno, Italy. A violin virtuoso and composer, Federico Consolo (1841-1906) was born in Ancona, Italy, and devoted a great part of his life to musical research. In 1892 he published Sefer Shirei Israel-Libro de Canti D’Israele, an anthology of Sephardic liturgy containing traditional melodies sung by the Jews of Livorno throughout the year. Later, he published a second volume (largely unknown until 1996) with harmonizations of these prayers and religious poems, for voice and various musical instruments. Consolo’s musical arrangements were clearly influenced by the Romantic musical style, in particular Italian opera of the 19th century. To our knowledge, Arvoles lloran por luvia includes the first recordings of Federico Consolo’s compositions.

Cantor
Dr. Ramón Tasat

Cantor
Natasha Hirschhorn

Executive producer: Ramón Tasat
Associate producer: Lohn Efraim
Recording and Editing Prodigital Inc., Washington, DC
Sound engineer: Allan Wonneberger
Mastering: Wolf Productions, Inc.
Graphic design: Estudio Lo Bianco
Program notes: Ramón Tasat
Typography and Dplication: Sound Recorders, Inc. Austin, Texas
Recorded at: Catholic University, DC, May-September, 1996

Como la rosa en la güerta

Tales from the Spanish Knights   2003

Ramón Tasat joins Scott Reiss and Tina Chancey of Hesperus to perform the rich musical traditions of three cultures, recalling the Golden Age of medieval Spain, when Jews, Moors and Christians shared a life of unprecedented religious and social tolerance.

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Track # Title Audio
1 Una tarde de verano
2 Abenamar
3 Moshé salió de Mitzraim (According to Arcadio de Larrea Palacín)
4 Pues que jamás olvidaros
5 La consagración de Moshé
6 Triste estava el rey David (According to Abraham Altalef)
7 Moriscos (Instrumental) (As transcribed by Israel J. Katz)
8 Una hija tiene el rey (According to Alicia Bendayán and Rina Benabú)
9 Como la rosa en la güerta (According to Yosef Benata)
10 Una matica de ruda
11 Tres moricas (Anonymous)
12 En kElohenu

The following are plaintive songs of the Sephardim in exile in Morocco, together with 14th century ballads, stirring ballads and lively dance music spanning the centuries. Musicians display an array of early and traditional instruments: Tina Chancey plays rebec, vielle, kamenj and viol; Scott Reiss plays flute, tenor recorder, dumbek and dulcimer, and Ramón Tasat sings and plays guitar.

Also called “Volviendo de Casablanca,” “Una tarde de verano” is an adaptation of the medieval Spanish ballad “Don Bueso and his sister,” which has many different versions. The story narrates the fortunate re-encounter of a Spanish youth with a señorita of great charm, whom he rescues from Moorish captivity. Great is his astonishment when he discovers that the lady with whom he had fallen in love, and wished to marry, was none other than the sister he had once lost. This northern Moroccan melody is also applied to the singing of the liturgical poem “Adon Olam.”

“Abenamar” is a dialogue between the Moorish prince Abenamar and the king Juan II of Castile, where the prince describes the majestic palace of the Alhambra, built in 1273, the summer residence of the last Moorish king reigning in the kingdom of Granada, Spain.

“Moshé salió de Mitzraim” is a paraliturgical song that narrates the story of Moses from his dangerous escape from Egypt to his return to demand Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity. It is sung during the holiday of Pesah.

The lines of “Pues que jamás olvidaros” are: “My heart could never forget you. Why did I dare look at you if that vista would bring me so much sadness and pain?”

“La consagración de Moshé” is a song also called “Las tablas de la Ley” (the stones that contained the Law). It is sung during the festival of Shavu’ot and narrates the circumstances of how the Israelites received the Torah at Mount Sinai. The juxtaposition of Ladino and Hebrew is very common in paraliturgical songs.

In “Triste estava el rey David” King David cries for his son Abshalom. This type of sad song is called endecha and refers to a tragic situation. “Triste estava el rey David” is also sung during the holiday of Tish’á be’Ab, the holiday when the Jewish people remember the tragedies that have befallen upon them during thousands of years of suffering. This melody is also utilized during religious services of the Kedusha, the Sanctification.

“Una hija tiene el rey” is a ballad about the daughter of a king, who awaits for her beloved’s safe return from the war. Sad, she does not sing. Courageous, she exclaims: “If my beloved is taken prisoner I will not hesitate to organize a great army to rescue him. If there were not any oars I will row with my arms.” To save him she will not hesitate to throw herself to the tempest.

“Como la rosa en la güerta” is also called “La moribunda enamorada” (the dying lover). This endecha reads: “Like the rose in the garden and the flowers without blossoming, thus is this young lady when Death arrives.”

“Una matica de ruda” is a Judeo-Spanish adaptation of the old Spanish ballad “Una guirnalda de rosas.” It poignantly narrates the anguish of a mother who senses that her daughter is interested in marrying a gentile and, thus, separating herself from the Jewish community.

“Tres moricas” is an anonymous song from Spain that says: “I have fallen in love with three Moorish ladies, Axa y Fátima y Marién. They are so beautiful, so strong and they speak like members of the court.”

“Ein kElohenu” (There is none like our God) is a very ancient religious poem sung at the conclusion of most religious services. Each Hebrew stanza is followed by its ladino counterpart.

Producer: Ramón Tasat
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner/Oscar Amante
Recording: Gizmo Recording Company
Mixing: Gizmo Recording Company/Estudio del Arco
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Art/Design: Juan Lo Bianco
Photography: Carlos Furman
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Teshuva

Liturgical selections for the Days of Awe   2003

In October 2002, Mogui, César and I, three good friends who had not seen each other for 15 years, got together and decided to try our hand at recording some traditional Jewish High Holiday prayers

teshuvaDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 El Nora ‘Alila
2 Psalm 23
3 Avinu Malkeinu
4 Hamol ‘al Ma’asekha
5 La Berit haBet
6 Yehi Ratzon iumr
7 Pithu Lanu Sha’are Tzedek
8 Sim Shalom
9 HaYom Te’amtzenu
10 Al Taster Panekha
11 Kaddish Shalem

Our expectations were modest: we thought we would play and sing together uninhibitedly for a few hours, purely for the pleasure of it. Then, miraculously, during the sessions we became completely captivated by the music and, especially, by our own interaction. A project that had seemed to follow the more traditional pattern of a singer accompanied by two instrumentalists suddenly became an exercise in generosity toward each other and devotion to the music. Each time we played back the music, we became more and more excited, and the originally planned two or three sessions became five full days of complete immersion in the music.

In this record, César Lerner plays piano, accordion and percussion; Marcelo Moguilevsky clarinet, Jew’s harp, flute and harmonica, and I sing and play guitar.

Ramón Tasat

Producer: Ramón Tasat
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner/Oscar Amante
Recording: Gizmo Recording Company
Mixing: Gizmo Recording Company/Estudio del Arco
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Art/Design: Juan Lo Bianco
Photography: Carlos Furman
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Cantata Ebraica   2003

These are rarely heard melodies from Livorno, Rome and Florence collected through oral tradition by musicologist Leo Levi, among others, and later transcribed and harmonized for singers and instruments by Ramón Tasat.

cantataCDDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 Psalm 118 (I Praise You for Having Answered Me / Blessed in the Name of the Lord are all Who Come)
2 Shalom leBen Dodi (Peace be with you, my pure and fair beloved) Sh. Ibn Gabirol
3 Adío querida (Farewell my beloved)
4 Addio! del passato… (Farewell! From the Past…) G. Verdi
5 Lecha Dodi (Come, my beloved) Sh. Alkabetz
6 Hashkibenu (Grant us that we lie down in peace)
7 Akh Ze haYom Kiviti (Today I Believe) / Fate Onore del Bel Purim (Honor Purim) Wal Viva Nostro Burino / Alabemos (Let us all praise the God of Zion)
8 Psalm 114 (When Israel left the land of Egypt)
9 Psalm 150 (Praise God in His sanctuary)
10 Al Psalm 117-8
11 Parigi o cara (Paris, my beloved) G. Verdi
12 Ye’idun Yagidun (Witness, declare as one) Sh. Ibn Gabiro
13 Rachem (Have mercy upon us)
14 Yigdal (May the living God be magnified and praised) D. ben Yehuda
15 Adon ‘Olam (Master of the Universe) Sh. Ibn Gabirol
16 Amen Shem Nora Italian rite

“Psalm 118” (I praise You for having answered me / blessed in the name of the Lord are all who come) is an opening choral conceived in two sections. The first section (Odekha ki ‘Anitani) is treated antiphonally by the soloist (Cantor) and followed by the other singers (congregation). After an unexpected modulation, “Barukh haBa” brings the opus to a brilliant finale.

“Shalom leBen Dodi” (Peace be with you, my pure and fair beloved) is a poem sung for weddings and for the holiday of Simhat Torah. The language of the Song of Songs is found throughout and reads: “At the time when love will flow, I will hurry / I will descend upon you as fast / As dew drops from Mount Hermon.” Tasat’s musical treatment mirrors the style of the 18th century.

“Adío querida” (Farewell my beloved) is a traditional Sephardic song and “Addio! del passato…” (Farewell! From the Past…) is a modern love song that has become very popular among Sephardic Jews. It narrates the disappointment experienced by a young lad for his unrequited love. The refrain’s melody resembles G. Verdi’s aria “Addio! del passato” from Act IV of his opera La Traviata.

The opening and closing liturgical poems for the Sabbath are traditionally set to contrafacts, a device involving the setting of a text, traditional or new, to a known tune. “Lekha Dodi” (Come, my beloved) is sung every Friday as an introduction to the Sabbath evening prayers. Its poetic structure follows the Arabic Hazag meter and it is performed responsively. The stanzas borrow some of their imagery from the Song of Songs and the prophet Isaiah.

“Hashkibenu” (Grant us that we lie down in peace) is a lyrical melody, arranged for tenor soloist and strings, which captures the intensity of our request that God would spread over us His shelter of peace.

The assimilation of tunes from secular sources into the liturgy is a Sephardic trademark. The melody of the hymn “Akh Ze haYom Kiviti” (Today I believe) is applied to “Fate onore del bel Purim” (Honor Purim), sung in Judeo-Italian. It reminds us to honor and be happy during the holiday. “Wal Viva Nostro Burino” is a parody mocking Haman and his family. A tarantella praising God for delivering us from oppression ends this setting exultantly: “May God redeem us speedily in our days.”

The composer of the melody of the popular “Psalm 114” (When Israel left the land of Egypt) is unknown, though the contemporary musicologist E. Piatelli believes its origin is modern. The text of “Psalm 150” (Praise God in His sanctuary) is well-known for the numerous musical instruments mentioned. This arrangement reflects the enthusiasm of the lyrics: “Let every breath of life praise God.”

“Psalm 117-8” begins as a free form recitative as we are called upon to praise God. The B section, more lyrical, captures the meaning of the words: “For great is His mercy upon us.” Its melody reminds us of one of the musical motives of La Traviata. It made sense, then, to pair this liturgical poem with the duet “Parigi o cara” from the mentioned opera.

“Ye’idun Yagidun” (Witness, declare as one) is one of the bakkashot, supplications recited on the Sabbath. This melody is also sung by the Spanish Portuguese Jewish community.

“Rachem” (Have mercy upon us) expresses a dramatic petition often sung in Yiddish. For this recording, however, an alternative Italian text was chosen. The singer concludes with the eternal Jewish dream: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

The liturgical poem “Yigdal” (May the living God be magnified and praised) was composed by Judge (14th century). The verses follow Maimonides’ Principles of Faith, but Sephardic Jews include a final verse: “These are the Thirteen Principles, they are the base of divine faith and of Moses’ Torah.”
“Adon ‘Olam” (Master of the Universe) is a poem sung at the conclusion of the morning service for Shabbat and Festivals. The variants of this famous poem fluctuate between ten and sixteen lines.
“Amen Shem Nora” is one of the favorite hymns sung during the holiday celebrations of Simhat Torah. Its energetic rhythm makes it a perfect choice for this joyful occasion.

Natasha Jitomirskaia
MezzoSoprano, Piano, Piano arrangements

Irene Failenbogen
Soprano

Hazzan Raphael Frieder
Baritone

Toby Rotman
Flute

Carl Tretter
Violin

Nicholas Fobe
Viola

John Kaboff
Cello

Jerry Schwartz
Clarinet

Ramón Tasat
Director, Voice, Guitar, Vocal and Instrumental arrangements

Executive producer: Ramón Tasat
Associate producer: Natasha Jitomirskaia
Recording: Gizmo Recording Company and Hyperstudio
Mixing: Gantt Mann Kushner & Ramón Tasat
Digital Editing & Mastering Bill Wolf at Wolf Productions Inc.
Cover design: Bussolati Associates Inc. & Robert B. Lovato
Photography: Steven Speliotis
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Mi Tuv Nehorakh

The abundance of Your light   2002

This recording features songs composed for different Jewish texts, arranged and performed by Norma Brooks and Ramón Tasat, accompanied by a choir and several instrumentalists.

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Track # Title Audio
1 Yehalelu
2 BeSefer Hayyim
3 Areshet Sefateinu
4 Yoshev beSeter ‘Elyon
5 ‘Etz Hayyim Hi
6 Ul’amtuye
7 Tefilah leShalom
8 HaAderet ve haEmunah
9 ‘Ezrat Avoteinu
10 Uv’khen Ten Pahdekha
11 Tzadik kaTamar
12 Shahar Avakeshkha
13 Shira Hadasha
14 Tefilah liM’dinat Israel

The story of my encounter with Norma Brooks’ music can be resumed as a musical shidakh.
Approximately five years ago, Natasha Jitomirskaia introduced me to her “Yehalelu” with enormous enthusiasm. Once I heard the vital melody sung by my talented friend my doubts disappeared at once. I perceived immediately one of Norma’s musical trademarks: her melodies ring “true” to the text. Norma’s profound intuition makes sure that after an agonizing analysis of the text, her melodic choices always remain subservient to the religious poem she sets. In fact my first recollection after hearing “Yehalelu” was that Norma’s melody was the “only” possible melody for that religious text. It will not be the last time I would come to that conclusion.

I was not going to hear Norma’s music or to meet her personally until the year 2000. Thanks to the persuasive skills of Rachel Braun, a mutual friend, I was convinced to transcribe Norma’s music for publication. Through Rachel, I began slowly to appreciate the variety and the subtlety of Norma’s work.

A different level of commitment began with “Shahar Avakeshkha.” Norma has composed a lavishly romantic melody, Brahmsian in character, that brought the words of Rabbi Sh. ibn Gabirol to life. The setting was meant to describe only the second stanza of the poem and I felt strongly that the first stanza should not be left out. With her characteristic generosity and humility Norma allowed me to try my hand at it and thus the beginning of the excerpt originated. Then came “Etz Hayyim Hi.” A day could not go by when I would not conceive another arrangement for what came to be a jazz like melody. Yes, Norma has an inner ear attuned to the times and she responds to text with modernity but never getting in the way.

The choral arrangements were intended to enhance what Norma had in mind from the very beginning: congregational participation. Her melodies exude a rare simplicity that invite or rather, seduce men, women and children to sing, to be part of prayer, to refuse to passively stay aside. Full congregational participation is particularly manifest in “Ul’amtuye,” “Areshet Sefateinu,” the mentioned “Etz Hayyim Hi” or “Tzadik kaTamar,” bursting with South American spirit, so dear to Norma. In the case of “Shira Hadasha,” “haAderet ve haEmuna,” “U veKhen Ten Pahdekha” or “’Ezrat Avoteinu,” congregants are active participants constantly exchanging with the Hazzan, the congregational leader. The antiphonal nature of these excerpts creates an energy that a single voice cannot ever transcend.

The intelligence and beauty that radiates from the above melodies would have conquered Norma a place of significance in the Jewish Liturgical arena. Yet, her compositional output does not stop surprising us, to challenge, to demand from us the same level of emotional intensity that Norma pours into her music and into her life. The profound lyricism of “BeSefer Hayyim,” the meditative quality of “ve Evrato,” the introspective “Tefilah le Shalom” or “U veKhen Ten Pahdekha,” true to the best Cantorial tradition, speak incessantly to the heart, immersing ourselves in our most intense passions.

A final warning. Norma Brooks’ music cannot and should not be considered background music. The texts she chooses, their musical treatment and their performance demand everything from us, require that we will attentively listen to them and that we participate offering our hearts. “Tefilah liM’dinat Israel,” dedicated to Yitzhak Rabin, is perhaps the most compelling example that life is too short and too valuable to be wasted running around in an unending dark circle. May Norma’s “abundance of light” illumine your days. It has already brightened mine.

Ramón Tasat

Choir
Sopranos: Aviva Braun, Janet Braun, Rachel Hersh Epstein, Karen Schlesinger, Farlee Wade-Farber
Altos: Cindy Arnson, Rachel Braun, Norma Brooks, Ellen Garshick, Sarah LaRue, Meryl Weiner
Tenors: Edward Grossman, Alex Shilo, Ramón Tasat
Baritones: Mike Feldman, Rod Hudson, John Laster, John Peacock

Soloists
Cindy Arnson: alto (11)
Norma Brooks: alto (1,6,11,12)
Rachel Hersh Epstein: soprano (2,7,9)
Natasha J. Hirschhorn: mezzo soprano (4,7,14)
Sophia Smith-Savedoff: soprano (9)
Ramón Tasat: tenor (2,3,7,8,9,10,11,12)
Farlee Wade-Farber: soprano (3)

Instrumentalists
Steve Bloom: percussion
Barbara Brown: cello
Julio Cazón: zampoñas, quena
David Gray: clarinet
Natasha J. Hirschhorn: piano
Don Junker: trumpet
Gantt Mann Kushner: electric bass
Eugenia Shiuk: flute
Leslie Silverfine: violin, viola
Ramón Tasat: guitar
Michael Wheaton: keyboard

Arrangements
Ramón Tasat: choral, vocal, and instrumental (2,3,5,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14)
Natasha J. Hirschhorn: choral (1,6,9), all piano
Michael Wheaton: instrumental (11)
Executive producer: Ramón Tasat
Associate producer: Norma Brooks
Production assistant: Rachel Braun
Recording and mixing: Gizmo Recording Company
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Text editors: Rachel Braun, Ellen Garshick
Hebrew title: Rachel Braun
Translator: Everett Fox
Text consultants: Rachel Braun, Norman Shore, Esther Ticktin, Max Ticktin
Cover design: Cynthia Pearlman Benjamin
Layout design: Robert B. Lovato, Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas
Photo of cover design by Tom Fritz Studios, Inc.; photo of Paul Lichterman by Margot Jones; photo of Hannah Ticktin by Mark Menke

Libabtini

A heart offering   2001

The musical arrangements of all the songs included in this recording are new. Ramón’s voice is enhanced by percussion, electric bass, piano, synthesizers, violin, flute, tenor sax and electric guitar.

 libatiniDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 ‘Amisrael
2 Yatzanu At
3 Libabtini
4 I Am a Violin to Your Songs (instrumental)
5 Ahava bat Esrim
6 Ten Li
7 Shir Hadash
8 Al Col Ele
9 Shir Ahava Yashan
10 Zion haLo Tishali
11 A Toast to Israel (medley)
Zemer Lakh
Shibolet baSade
laMidbar
12 Eretz, Eretz
13 Shiru Shir Amen

The recording features love songs from the fifties like “Yatzanu At” or French songs like “Ahava bat Esrim,” the yearning of Rabbi Y. ha Levi to return to Zion (“Zion haLo Tishali”), children’s songs about Israel (“Amisrael”), about our love for the land of our ancestors (“Eretz, Eretz”) or a medley of famous songs for Israel’s Independence Day (“Zemer Lakh-Shibolet baSade-laMidbar”). It also includes optimistic songs like “Ten Li,” “Shir Hadash,” “Shiru Shir Amen” and true prayers like N. Shemer’s “Al Col Ele.” Ramón has composed a specially beautiful setting of “Libabtini” (You have enraptured my heart), romantic excerpt extracted from the Song of Songs.
Ramón Tasat
Director, voice, guitar, vocal and instrumental arrangements

Steve Bloom
Percussion and drums

Ramón González
Electric bass

Natasha Jitomirskaia
Piano, piano arrangements (# 4, 7, 10, 12)

César Lerner
Piano, synthesizers, piano and instrumental arrangements (# 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13)

Janice Martin
Violin

Alfred Williams
Flute, tenor sax

Gantt Mann Kushner
Electric guitar (# 1)

Andy Hamburger
Drums (# 1)

Executive producer: Ramón Tasat
Associate producer: Cliff Braverman
Recording and Mixing: Gizmo Recording Company/Estudio Aguilar
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner/Mario Altamirano
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Cover design: Rosana Azar
Hebrew Title: Rachel Braun
Layout and design: Robert B. Lovato, Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Fiesta Sefarad  1998

Fiesta Sefarad
1998

This CD gathers diverse melodies from Spain, Morocco, Greece, Iraq and Israel. The selection features examples of secular tunes assimilated to liturgical texts, songs of praise, traditional melodies and paraliturgical songs.

fiestaDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 Hija mia / El Adon
2 Ki Eshmera Shabbat
3 A la una yo naci
4 Avre este abajour
5 Yigdal (Daniel ben Yehuda Yerushala’im)
6 En el café del amanecer
7 Deror Ykera (Dunash ben Labrat)
8 Coplas de Purim / Hi Torah Lanu Nitany
9 Shir Hashirim (From the Song of Songs)
10 Yah Ribon ’Alam (Israel ben Moses Najara)
11 Yom ze le Israel (Yitzhak Luria)
12 Waamartem Zebah Pesah
13 Tzuri Goali Yah
14 La vida do por el Raqui

Sefarad, the beloved Spain, embraced a large Jewish community that lived in peace with her Muslim and Christian brethren for more than a thousand years. In 1492, the Spanish monarchs, Isabella of Aragon and Ferdinando of Castille decreed the expulsion of the Jewish people. The Sepharadim settled around the Mediterranean Sea, the Balkans, in North Africa and areas of the Ottoman Empire. Many of their descendants have maintained their distinctive heritage for five centuries while absorbing some of the characteristics of their new place of residence.

A common element among the music of the Sepharadim is the assimilation of beautiful tunes from secular sources into the liturgy. It comes as no surprise that the music of “Hija mía,” a dialogue between a father and his daughter about her refusal of getting married, is applied to a famous religious poem for the Sabbath called “El Adon.”

Sephardic Jews are always enthusiastic in singing. Throughout the centuries paytanim, poets-musicians, took upon themselves to revitalize the liturgy creating new poems and/or melodies to draw upon that popular love for singing. “Deror Ykera,” “Yah Ribon ’Alam,” “Ki Eshmera Shabbat” or “Tzuri Goali Yah” are songs created to praise God and the Shabbat. Religious poems were written in Aramaic, Hebrew or Judeo-Arabic and most follow Arabic form and meter including the use of the popular pizmon or refrain. For this recording we have chosen melodies originating in Iraq.

Muslim and Jewish music evolved together in medieval Spain and one aspect of this commonality is the growth of Andalucía music. Our example of “Shir Hashirim” (Song of Songs) illustrates this trend. This brief excerpt is chanted first in the original Hebrew followed by its commentary in ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language spoken by the Sephardic Jews.

“Yom Ze Le Israel” was identified as a popular melody among the London families. Some of them were expelled from Portugal in 1497 and resettled in Amsterdam first and London later. The melody chosen for this selection is strongly influenced by Western music in its use of the major mode.
“Yigdal” was written in Rome during the fourteenth century. This liturgical poem is a thirteenth-line, [metrically constructed poem] that paraphrases Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith. The melody used here became popular in Jerusalem at the beginning of the century.

Judeo-Spanish songs are sung in Ladino or Haketia, a Moroccan variation of Ladino. Their subjects vary. There are traditional ballads of unrequited love such as “En el café del amanecer” and “Avre este abajour,” or songs reflecting life during the crusades as portrayed in “A la una yo nací.” “La vida do por el raqui” is a humorous tale on the power that alcohol may hold on people.

Songs are also classified as paraliturgical, songs in the vernacular that are thematically related to different holidays. Some Purim songs mock Haman’s family and their fate as is the case with “Esta noche de Purim.” We have paired this song with “Hi Torah Lanu Nitana,” a Tangierian version of a song for Simhat Torah and Shavu’ot (Feast of Tabernacles) emphasizing the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

“Waamartem Zebah Pesah” is a famous Iraqi religious poem that focuses on the animal sacrifice for Passover. This sacrifice is symbolic of “God’s passing over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses” (Shemot-Exodus 12:27). The refrain of this song quotes the biblical verse mentioned above.

George Mordecai
tenor and guitar

Allan Minton
acoustical bass

Steve Bloom
percussion

Sammy Feldman
guitar and mandoline

Ramón Tasat
Director, voice and guitar

Executive producer: Ramón Tasat
Recorded at Bear Productions, Falls Church, Virginia
Sound engineer: Scott Twiford
Mixed at Gizmo Recording Productions
Sound engineer: Gantt Mann Kushner
Hija Mia was mixed at CopyRight Studios, New York City
Mastering: Wolf Productions Inc.
Cover design: Avrum Ashery
Duplication: Sound Recorders Inc., Austin, Texas

Zemirot and Piyutim
Songs of praise and liturgical poems for the Jewish holidays   1995

This album celebrates the music of the High Holidays opening new horizons from Rosh ha Shana through Simhat Torah. Its arrangements have been conceived for a chamber ensemble of keyboard, guitar, violin, voice and flute.

 zemirotDesp

Track # Title Audio
1 Hag Li
2 beRosh haShana Matkhila
3 Shehecheyanu
4 Hi Torah Lanu Nitana
5 beRosh haShana Parkha Shoshana
6 Barkhi Nafshi
7 BaShana haBa’a
8 Psalms for Rosh Hodesh
a) Halelu et A’
b) Pitkhu Li Sha’arei Tzedek
c) Odekha ki Anitani
9 Ptakh Lanu Sha’ar
10 Shlomit Bona Sukkah
11 Mi Pi El
12 Mi haIsh-Al Taster Panekha
13 ‘Ose Shalom
14 ‘Al Col Ele
15 Shuvu la Torah
16 Tefillah

Among the new material recorded for this CD is a melody composed by Ramón Tasat and César Lerner for “Ptakh Lanu Sha’ar,” a beautiful religious poem for the Ne’ila (the conclusion of Yom Kippur day). Also, Ukrainian pianist, singer and composer Natasha Jitomirskaia has recorded her original duet for “Ose Shalom.” Other texts included are “Psalm 117” and “Psalm 118,” recorded using melodies from the traditions of Holland, Italy and Constantinople. These are gems from the Hallel, the additional service for the beginning of the month, Hanukka and Pesah, among other Jewish festivals, and singing service par excellence. Finally, “Hi Torah Lanu Nitana” (The Torah was given to us) and “Shuvu la Torah” (Return to the Torah), both from Tangier, Morocco, stand out because of their Moorish feeling.
Ramón Tasat
Director, voice, guitar, vocal and instrumental arrangements

Natasha Jitomirskaia
Keyboard and voice

Susan Jones
Violin

Eugenia Shiuk
Flute

Producer: Ramón Tasat
Recorded at: Ambient Recording, Beltsville, Maryland
Sound engineer: Ray Tilkens
Mixing: Ramón Tasat, Ray Tilkens
Cover design: Marcia Brown
Typography/Duplication: Sound Recorders, Inc., Austin, Texas