About

Adonai, where shall I find you? (Ya ana emtza’acha) was commissioned for the Colorado Hebrew Chorale by Carol Kozak Ward, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chorale, in memory of her mother Joanne L. Kozak.  The text, part of a larger poem by Yehuda Halevi (c. 1075-1141), one of the greatest Jewish poets and philosophers of Medieval Spain, speaks of the mystery of and our relation to the divine: that God is both unknowable, and in every atom of the universe; and that by being open to that mystery, we can encounter the wonder of the divine presence.

I originally wrote the basic setting (using the English translation here) as an a cappella melody to be sung as part of the Yom Kippur service, and was very pleased in this composition to expand the melody into a larger choral piece including both English and Hebrew. I was also delighted  to write a new composition for Carol Kozak Ward and her chorus; I have known Carol since I was accompanist for her Connecticut Hebrew Chorale during my college years. My first commissioned piece, Libavtini Achoti Chala, was written for that chorus in 1983.

Adonai, where shall I find you? was given its premiere in Denver in February 2024 by the Colorado Hebrew Chorale, conducted by Carol Kozak Ward. —Gerald Cohen

Score

Listen/Watch

Text: Translation and Transliteration

Ya ana emtza’acha?
m’komcha na’aleh v’nelam,
v’ana lo emtza’acha?
k’vodcha malei olam.
Darashti kirvat’cha,
b’chol libi k’raticha,
uvtzeiti likrat’cha
likrati m’tzaticha.

Adonai, where shall I find You?
High and hidden is Your place.
And where shall I not find You?
The world is full of Your glory.
I sought Your closeness,
I called to You with all my heart,
And going out to meet You
I found you coming toward me.

—Yehuda Halevi (c.1075–1141)
Translation from Siddur Lev Shalem, published by the Rabbinical Assembly

Press

About

From such sparks was commissioned by the Seattle Jewish Chorale in memory of Mary Pat Graham, who was the Music Director of the Chorale from 2009 to 2014, and who passed away in January 2023.  The Chorale suggested several passages from a variety of sources as possible texts for the piece, from which I chose excerpts from chapter 31 of the biblical Book of Proverbs (a section known as “A woman of valor”), and from Orot Hakodesh by Abraham Isaac Kook. Together these texts communicate how the love and friendship of Mary Pat were felt by all who knew her, and that her life created “sparks…[which] illuminate the entire world”—the light of all people who strive, in all our different ways, to make the world a better place. 

The composition uses distinct melodies for each of the three verses from Proverbs, and then moves to a new key and new texture for the “sparks” section. After this part builds to a climax, the three Proverbs melodies sound together, intertwined, with the dominant line being “Her light radiates undimmed through the night;” this is then followed by a gentle conclusion using the words from Kook combined with the phrase “Her light.” 

The Seattle Jewish Chorale will present the premiere of From such sparks in the spring of 2024, conducted by Jacob Finkle.

—Gerald Cohen

Score

Listen/Watch

Text

She offers her palm to the needy, her hands she extends to the poor. 
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 
Her light radiates undimmed through the night. 

Uminitsotsot ka-eile avukot or yitkab’tsu, v’ya-iru et kol ha-olam michvodam.

From such sparks, torches of light gather and illuminate the entire world with their glory. 

Proverbs, chapter 31
Abraham Isaac Kook: Orot Hakodesh  

The translations were compiled by the composer with the aid of several different translations, with special credit to Yaacov Dovid Shulman for his translation of the Kook (permission from translator), and to Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l for his translation of the line “Her light radiates undimmed through the night” (Creative Commons).


About

A Psalm for Pittsburgh – Esa Einai (Psalm 121) was commissioned by Tree of Life Congregation, Pittsburgh, in memory of the eleven victims of the October 27, 2018 shooting. Rabbi/Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life requested a setting of Psalm 121, with its famous opening line of “I lift my eyes to the mountains – from where will my help come?” This Psalm was for him a vital link in seeking solace, and is a way to focus both on those who died and on the survivors.

In the piece, the tenor solo begins tentatively, attempting to find music and words that will allow for expression of the depth of emotional loss, and the attempt to begin the process of healing. The children’s chorus respond with words and music of comfort and hope—and eventually the soloist, supported by the chorus, begins to find a way forward to renewed faith and hope for the future.

A Psalm for Pittsburgh received its premiere at an interfaith concert in Pittsburgh in November 2023 commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tragedy. Rabbi/Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was the tenor soloist, with The Pittsburgh Youth Chorus, conducted by Shawn Funk.

Score

Listen/Watch

Text and Translation

(Psalm 121, verses 1-2, 8)

Esa einai el heharim – me’ayin yavo ezri?
Ezri me’im Adonai,
oseh shamayim va’aretz.

Adonai yishmor tzetecha uvo’echa me’ata v’ad olam.

I lift my eyes to the mountains – from where will my help come?
My help is from Adonai,
maker of the heavens and the earth.

Adonai will watch over your coming and your going from this time forth, and ever and ever.

Performances

Premiere performed by Rabbi/Cantor Jeffrey Myers and the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus, November 8, 2023 at University of Pittsburgh Alumni Hall – Anderson Auditorium

Press

About

Haam Haholchim Bachoshech (The People Walking in Darkness), for SATB chorus and chamber orchestra (2021) | 5′

Kumi ori (Arise, shine), for SATB chorus and chamber orchestra (2021) | 3′

Adonai Ro’i Lo Echsar (Psalm 23) for SATB chorus and piano (1999) | 3′

All three pieces are intended for use in the Messiah performance, all have the same orchestration (Strings, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets), and all available in full score and piano reduction.

Each can be performed that way, or as choral pieces separate from a performance of Messiah.

 

Composer’s note:

Paul Dankers, musical director of the Aspen Choral Society, contacted me with a fascinating project: to refresh their performances of Handel’s amazing and beloved Messiah by commissioning new pieces to replace certain movements of the original piece, and to add more choral movements to the ACS’s performance.  When Paul called me and offered the commission, I was intrigued, honored, and a little bit daunted in taking on this task. But then I began studying Handel’s oratorio, 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 take the English text of the Messiah and replace it with the original Hebrew from the Book of Isaiah.

Haam Haholchim Bachoshech (“The people walking in darkness”) is composed to replace the bass solo aria “The people that walked in darkness” of the Handel. Like Handel’s aria, it is filled with chromatic wanderings in darkness—but it reaches for a more exultant light than the original aria, and then leads directly into Handel’s jubilant “For unto us a child is born.”

The second new piece, Kumi Ori, immediately follows “For unto us”, and my aim in this movement was to respond directly to the motifs and energy of that jubilant chorus: beginning with its 16th-note figures in a new, more distant key, and shifting between different tonalities and rhythmic meters.  When the chorus enters, it is singing a long lyrical line against the continuing energy of the accompaniment, on the text “Kumi Ori (Arise, Shine),” from Isaiah Chapter 60—a text that was also part of the earlier movement “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion.”

The third piece, Adonai Ro’i, is a new orchestration of my setting of Psalm 23, and speaks about God as a Shepherd, similarly to the piece that it replaces in the Handel, “He shall feed his flock.” In all these pieces, I am using the same orchestration as in the Handel, have aimed to create a musical world that feels very connected to Messiah, and yet clearly to come from the 21st and not the 18th century. It was a wonderful challenge to compsoe these new pieces! The Aspen Choral Society gave the premiere of the three movements as part of their December 2021 performances of Handel’s Messiah and performed them again in December 2022.

Score

Scores for each movement can be viewed on each piece’s page linked above.

Arrangements

Orchestration for Strings, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets

Listen/Watch

Performances

Premiere: Aspen Choral Society, December 2021
Aspen Choral Society, December 2022

Press

The Aspen Times, December 2021: “Aspen choir adds new movements to Handel’s ‘Messiah’”

Full Score and Parts: $30
Piano Reduction: $3.50

Haam Haholchim Bachoshech “ was written to be performed, with “Kumi ori” and a new arrangement of “Adonai Ro’i Lo Echsar,” as insertions in a performance of Handel’s Messiah, as described below.  It can be performed that way, or as a separate choral piece.

About

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

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

Score

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.

Arrangements

Orchestration for Strings, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets

Listen/Watch

Performances

Premiere: Aspen Choral Society, December 2021
Aspen Choral Society, December 2022

Press

The Aspen Times, December 2021: “Aspen choir adds new movements to Handel’s ‘Messiah’”

Gerald Cohen, Natasha Hirschhorn, Benjie-Ellen Schiller, Isaac Sonett-Assor, with Alexandra Joan, piano

About

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. It is a part of  all Jewish and Christian liturgies. 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 this 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.

Score

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.

Arrangements

Treble voices (2 part) with piano (1998), or with orchestra (2000)
2 clarinets and piano as part of Sea of Reeds (2009)
Piano solo as part of Sea of Reeds (2020)
Solo voice with piano, or with obbligato instrument and piano (1998)

Listen/Watch

Y’varech’cha, for vocal duet and piano; Ilana Davidson soprano; Gerald Cohen, baritone; Linda Hall, piano
Y’varech’cha, from “Sea of Reeds”, for two clarinets and piano (Grneta Ensemble)
“Y’varech’cha” from Sea of Reeds, for solo piano; Alexandra Joan, piano

Performances

Like “Adonai Ro’i,” this has been sung as a solo by cantors for many years at services and life cycle events.

About

Commissioned by Hazamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir.
Premiere at Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, March 19, 2023

Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor was commissioned by Rabbi Beth Naditch for HaZamir through the Mandell Rosen Fund for New Music, a program of the Zamir Choral Foundation, in honor of the health care workers, educators, clergy, and others who have given their all during the years of the Covid-19 pandemic. The text is one of the most famous quotes from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages). It speaks of the need to do the important work needed on oneself, in one’s community and the world— even as one knows that one can never fully accomplish the task at hand. As Rabbi Naditch, a pastoral educator, says, “I regularly use it when teaching front-line health care workers and chaplains, as it so powerfully speaks to the double-edged sword of excellence, commitment, caring, loyalty without burning out or taking on the weight of the world all on one’s own.” 

In setting this text, I chose to set both the original Hebrew and an English translation, with the Hebrew and English each having its own distinctive musical motifs and characters. These sections are joined by the word “ham’lacha”, meaning “the work”—as “the work” and our relation to it is the key idea of the whole piece. That word “ham’lacha”, also ends the piece with a sense of urgency.

Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor will have its premiere performed by HaZamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, at Rose Theater-Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, March 2023. 

—Gerald Cohen

Score

Text

You are not required to finish the work, nor are you free to abandon it.

Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo ata ven chorin libatel mimena.

—Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages), Chapter 2

Performances

Premiere: HaZamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, at Rose Theater-Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, March 2023.

North American Jewish Choral Festival, Matthew Lazar conducting the NAJCF Chorus, July 13, 2023

Pricing provided upon ordering.

About

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

Score

Text

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.

Piece begins at 24:50.

About

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

Score

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!

Listen/Watch

Midi Recording:

Performances

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

January 2020: Interfaith Special Concert Chorus, Providence, RI.  Brian Mayer, Conductor

Feb 2023: Tonality Chorus, UCLA Chamber Choir, Neal Stulberg, Conductor. (Event Link)

Miryam HaN’viyah by Gerald Cohen, sung by HaZamir at its 2022 Gala Concert

About

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 received its concert premiere by HaZamir in March 2022 at Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

—Gerald Cohen

Score

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.

Performances

Premiere: March 2022: HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
July 2022: Hazamir, The International Jewish Teen Choir, American Jewish Choral Festival, Stamford, CT.
June 2023: Nashir! chorale, Ben Gruder conductor, Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY.