Commissioned by the Aspen Choral Society under the direction of Paul Dankers, in loving memory of Patricia “Pat” Smith.

Program Note

Kumi Ori (Arise, Shine) was commissioned in 2021 by the Aspen Choral Society under the direction of Paul Dankers, in loving memory of Patricia “Pat” Smith. The chorus wanted, as part of their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, to have three of the movements of the Handel composition replaced in performance by newly composed movements; in each case, these new pieces were to be choral movements replacing solo or instrumental movements of the Handel. I was intrigued, honored, and a little bit daunted in taking on this task, but then began studying the Handel and grew fascinated with the idea of writing new pieces that would fit smoothly into the Ilow of the Messiah, and yet be true to my own musical voice. And since I am Jewish and write many compositions in Hebrew, I decided to compose pieces that would use Hebrew texts that are composed in English in the Messiah.

This piece is composed to replace the “Pastoral Symphony” movement of the Handel. The “Pastoral Symphony” comes after the great choral movement “For unto us a child is born,” and my piece is written so as to respond directly to the motifs and energy of “For unto us,” beginning with sixteenth-note figures taken from that movement, but in a new, more distant key, and shifts between different tonalities, and rhythmic meters. When the chorus enters, it is singing a long lyrical line against the continuing energy of the accompaniment, and on the text Kumi Ori (Arise, Shine), from Isaiah Chapter 60, one that was also part of the movement “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion.” The end of the movement eventually becomes more serene, leading to the following recitative and next part of the narrative in the Handel.

The premiere of this and its companion movements will be in December 2021, as part of the Aspen Choral Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. While they are written to fit into the context of the Handel, they can of course also be performed separately as independent pieces. With their themes of light emerging from darkness, the new pieces are also suitable for Chanukah performance.

—Gerald Cohen

Transliterated text, and translation

(Isaiah 60:1)

Kumi ori ki va orech, uchvod Adonai alayich zarach.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned over you.

To purchase scores and parts, contact Gerald Cohen.

Commissioned by the Aspen Choral Society under the direction of Paul Dankers, in loving memory of Joan “Jo” Simon.

Program Note

Haam Haholchim Bachoshech (The people walking in darkness) was commissioned in 2021 by the Aspen Choral Society under the direction of Paul Dankers, in loving memory of Joan “Jo” Simon. The chorus wanted, as part of their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, to have three of the movements of the Handel composition replaced in performance by newly composed movements; in each case, these new pieces were to be choral movements replacing solo or instrumental movements of the Handel. I was intrigued, honored, and a little bit daunted in taking on this task, but then began studying the Handel and grew fascinated with the idea of writing new pieces that would fit smoothly into the flow of the Messiah, and yet be true to my own musical voice. And since I am Jewish and write many compositions in Hebrew, I decided to compose pieces that would use Hebrew texts that are composed in English in the Messiah.

This piece is composed to replace the bass solo aria “The people that walked in darkness” movement of the Handel, using the same text—but in the original Hebrew—from the Book of Isaiah, and is written so as to follow smoothly from the preceding bass recitative “For behold! Darkness shall cover the earth.” The orchestral introduction, over a pulsing bass, is related to the slithering chromatic motives of the Handel aria, but with rhythmic shifts that would not normally be part of a baroque aria. The piece plays throughout, by harmonic and textural shifts, with different shades of darkness and light as in the text; the ending, with its move to a bright D major, shows the light as prevailing, and leads directly to the next movement of the Handel, “For unto us a child is born.”

The premiere of this and its companion movements will be in December 2021, as part of the Aspen Choral Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. While they are written to fit into the context of the Handel, they can of course also be performed separately as independent pieces. With their themes of light emerging from darkness, the new pieces are also suitable for Chanukah performance.

—Gerald Cohen

Transliterated text, and translation

(Isaiah 9:1)

Haam haholchim bachoshech rau or gadol,
Yoshvei b’eretz tzalmavet or naga aleihem.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,
Those dwelling in a land of gloom—light has shone on them.

To purchase scores and parts, contact Gerald Cohen.

HaZamir virtual Gala Concert, September 2021.

Program Note

The text of Y’varech’cha really consists of two parts: the first three lines, from the book of Numbers (Bamidbar), is known as the Priestly Blessing, and is perhaps the earliest extant blessing we have in Jewish texts. The last two lines are additional blessings traditionally said by parents to their children at the beginning of the Sabbath.

The core melody of Y’varech’cha, with the mood of a lullaby, was originally written in 1995 on the joyous occasion of the birth of our child, Cass. I first composed it in a version for two-part chorus (or solo duet) and piano, and have since made many different arrangements, with accompaniments available for an obbligato instrument with piano, for string quartet and orchestra, as well as various purely instrumental arrangements. I wrote a new version for SATB chorus and piano in 2020.

In addition to its use for the Sabbath, the piece is appropriate for any setting of blessing, including interfaith services.

Text and translation:

Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha,
Ya-eir Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka,
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yaseim l’cha shalom.

Y’sim’cha Elohim k’Efrayim v’chiM’nashe,
Y’simeich Elohim k’Sara, Rivka, Racheil, v’Leia.

May the Lord bless you and guard you,
May the Lord cause the light of His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you,
May the Lord lift up His face to you, and grant you peace.

May God give you the blessings of Ephraim and Menasheh,
May God give you the blessings of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

Also Available in the Following Arrangements:

Treble voices (2 part) and orchestra (2000)
2 clarinets and piano as part of Sea of Reeds (2009)

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen.

Premiered by Anne Slovin, soprano, and Andrew Voelker, piano October 5, 2021 at Indiana University.

Program note by composer Gerald Cohen

“Lo Vashamayim Hi” (It is not in the heavens) was composed in 2021 for the Noli Me Tangere project of the Center for Religion and the Human, Indiana University, Bloomington.

The prompt for the project begins as follows:
“Noli me tangere—“touch me not” (or “Do not hold/grasp me” in the Greek). The words from John 20:17, spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene after her discovery of the empty tomb, take on curious resonances in the epoch of COVID-19, with its prohibitions on touching and imperatives around social distancing. We wish to ask how we might consider noli me tangere in this moment—this long moment being shaped by the pandemic.”

The project leaders then encouraged all participants to use the prompt of the text to act as a jumping-off point to explore whatever felt significant to them in the words and their resonances.

As a composer and cantor, I am quite steeped in the Hebrew Bible, and much less so in the New Testament. It has been fascinating for me to use the prompt of this project as an impetus to explore new texts. When I learned that the Greek of “noli me tangere” could perhaps be better translated as “do not cling to me,” the words suddenly resonated with me quite deeply, and also created connections in my mind with both Jewish and Christian and mystical traditions—of God being truly within each one of us—and with Buddhist ideas of non-attachment.

After an exploration of many texts, including several of the non-canonical Gnostic Gospels, and poems of Rilke and Tagore, I found myself drawn back to a favorite text from the most familiar part of my own religious tradition—the Torah. In Deuteronomy, Chap. 30, Moses instructs the people: “It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?’…. But the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” This saying is also echoed by Jesus, presumably referring directly to the text from Deuteronomy, in both the canonic and the gnostic gospels. The first two sections of the piece, relating the quest to find the divine in the heavens or beyond the sea, are heard as dramatic, energetic outpourings; these then resolve into the gentle extended meditation of “But the thing is very close to you…”.

Text: Deuteronomy 30:12-14
Lo vashamayim hi leimor:
“Mi ya’aleh lanu hashamaymah v’yikacheha lanu v’yashmi’enu otah v’na’asenah?”
V’lo me’ever layam hi leimor:
“Mi ya’avor lanu el ever hayam v’yikacheha lanu v’yashmi’enu otah v’na’asenah?”
Ki karov eilecha hadavar me’od, beficha uvilvavcha la’asoto.


It is not in the heavens, that you should say:
“Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?”
And it is not beyond the sea, that you should say:
“Who will cross over for us beyond the sea and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?”
But the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.

Text by E. Louise Beach

Program Note

Amid the Alien Corn (Ruth and Naomi) is the setting of a poetic canticle by E. Louise Beach, based on the first chapter of the biblical Book of Ruth. Naomi is returning to the land of Judah after living in Moab, having left Judah 10 years before because of a famine there. In that time she has seen her two sons marry Moabite women, and then experienced the death of her husband and both sons. She plans to return to Judah alone, but her daughter-in-law Ruth expresses her love and loyalty for Naomi and her people, and persists in her requests to leave her native land and accompany Naomi to Judah.

E. Louise Beach, in her poem, expands on the spare biblical text, deepening the emotional relationship between the two women as they experience this crucial moment in their lives. As a composer, I cherished the opportunity to create, in this short dramatic and lyrical scene, vocal characters for these two strong and empathetic women.

Amid the Alien Corn (Ruth and Naomi) was commissioned by E. Louise Beach, and dedicated to her mother, and to her daughters.

—Gerald Cohen

AboutPerformances

And yet the light returns was composed for the Western Wind Ensemble, in response to their commission for a new piece appropriate for Chanukah, with an emphasis on the theme of light. I chose a text of Rami Shapiro, from his poem “Chanukah” from Accidental Grace; Rami graciously allowed me to rework the text to create a poem for this musical setting.  The word “light” is passed around the chorus at the beginning and end of the piece, building chords of shifting colors. The overall structure is A-B-A; with the outside sections in long-phrased melodies focusing on the return of light, and the middle section, more agitated, on the forces in life that “threaten to smother our light.”

And yet the light returns was commissioned for The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble by Francine M. Gordon, through the Zamir Choral Foundation’s Mandell Rosen Fund for New Music.  It was given its premiere in New York City in December 2019.

—Gerald Cohen

Text, by Rami Shapiro and Gerald Cohen

And yet the light returns
From within or from without,
At the moment of greatest dark,
light returns.

Time and events flow beyond our control,
sweeping us swiftly on a surging tide.
Our fears, our distress, threaten to smother our light,
leaving us alone with our demons and the dark.

And yet—
From an inner vision or an oft-told tale,
from an act of will or the strong arm of a friend,
from a heartfelt cry or a lover’s kiss—light returns.

Premiere: December 2019, Western Wind Ensemble, New York, NY

AboutPerformances

Program Note: I felt my legs were praying

We strive to use our words, our songs, our bodies—our whole being—to work for a better and more just world.  When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma in 1965, they exemplified religious leaders who hear the voice of the prophets and the Psalms as an explicit call to action.  In this composition, I combine the words of Rabbi Heschel after the march—most famously remembered in the phrase “I felt my legs were praying”—with a verse from Psalm 35, which also speaks of one’s very body exclaiming praise, and praise of a God who protects the poor from those who would oppress them.

I thank the John Leopold and Martha Dellheim Endowment Fund and the H.L. Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who commissioned this piece for its premiere performance, by the Voces Novae chorus of Louisville, KY, at the May 2019 Cantors Assembly convention in Louisville.  Gratitude also to Dr. Susannah Heschel, for permission to use the words of her father in this composition.

—Gerald Cohen

TEXT:

From Psalm 35 and the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Kol atzmotai tomarna Adonai mi chamocha!
matzil ani meychazak mimenu, v’ani v’evyon migozlo.

[All of my bones exclaim: Adonai, who is like You!
saving the weak from the powerful, the needy from those who would prey on them.]

And yet our legs uttered songs—
The march from Selma was a protest, a prayer.
Even without words, our march was worship,
I felt my legs were praying!

Premiere: May 2019  Voces Novae chorus and students of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School; Cantors Assembly convention, Louisville, KY

AboutPerformancesScoreVideo

Program Note:

The text of Miryam Han’via (“Miriam the Prophet”) was written by Leila Gal Berner in 1987, as one of the early efforts to include Miriam in our contemporary liturgy, in this case as a parallel to “Eliyahu Hanavi” as sung at Havdalah. It has since then become a widely used song, sung to same melody as is most traditionally used for “Eliyahu Hanavi.” In 2001, I was asked to write several melodies for The Open Door, a new Haggadah published by the Reform movement, and decided to write a new melody for “Miryam Han’via.”

When I was asked by the Zamir Choral Foundation to choose one of my melodies for a new choral arrangement for a Comminuty Sing of the 2019 North American Jewish Choral Festival, I was delighted to write this arrangement of “Miryam Ha’nvia,” adding a new niggun melody (heard at the very beginning, and then throughout the piece) as a way to expand on the original melody.

The piece was commissioned for HaZamir: the International Jewish Teen Choir by Hynda Feit, in memory of her mother, Muriel R. Schwartz, through the Mandell Rosen Fund for New Music, a program of the Zamir Choral Foundation. Miryam Han’via will receive its concert premiere by HaZamir in March 2020 at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center.

—Gerald Cohen

Transliterated text, and translation:

text by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner
Miriam ha-n’vi’a oz v’zimra b’yada.
Miriam tirkod itanu l’hagdil zimrat olam.
Miriam tirkod itanu l’taken et ha-olam.
Bimheyra v’yameynu hi t’vi’einu el mey ha-y’shua.

Miriam the prophet, strength and song in her hand.
Miriam, dance with us in order to increase the song of the world.
Miriam, dance with us in order to repair the world.
Soon she will bring us to the waters of redemption.

Premiere: March 2020: HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY

AboutPerformancesScoreVideo

Pitchu Li is a setting of a portion of Psalm 118, a text that is sung in Hallel—the joyous set of Psalms sung on most Jewish holidays. I am so delighted to be writing another piece to be given its premiere by the wonderful young singers of HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, an organization that has given a powerful and joyful experience of Jewish music to several thousand teens over the course of their high school years. The piece was Commissioned for HaZamir through The Jeanne and Irwin Mandell Fund for New Music, and was given its premiere at David Geffen Hall in New York City in March 2019.

Pitchu Li (Psalm 118: 19-24)

Pitchu li shaarei tsedek, avo vam odeh Ya,
Ze hasha-ar ladonai, tsadikim yavo-u vo.
Od’cha ki anitani, vat’hi li lishua,
Even ma-assu habonim, hai’ta l’rosh pina.
Me’et Adonai haita zot, hi niflat b’eneinu,
Ze hayom asa Adonai, nagila v’nism’cha vo.

Translation:
Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them to thank Adonai.
This is the gateway to Adonai; through it the righteous shall enter.
I will offer thanks to You, for You answered me, and You were my rescuer.
The stone the builders rejected has become the keystone.
This is Adonai’s doing; how wondrous it is in our sight.
This is the day that Adonai has made; we shall celebrate and rejoice in it!

Premiere: March 2019HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
June 2019: American Conference of Cantors convention, Atlanta, GA
July 2019: HaZamir Choir, North American Jewish Choral Festival, Stamford, CT

Premiere of Pitchu Li: Hazamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, Scott Stein, cond.; Gerald Cohen, piano

AboutPerformancesScoreVideo

Chanukah Lights was written as an piece for treble voices (with optional piano) for the chorus of the PEARLS Elementary School in Yonkers, NY, and was first performed by them there in December 2005. A simple melody floats over harmonies set up by the other voices, as the choir sings of the warmth of being together for the Chanukah holiday. The refrain takes the word “light” and builds a gentle rocking figure in 5/4 meter. In 2019, I arranged the piece for mixed choir a cappella (divided SSAATTB).

Text, by Gerald Cohen:

The candles are gently glowing,
spreading peace, spreading light.
Our family gathers together,
sharing joy this Chanukah night.
Light, light,
bring joy each night!