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

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Collection of solo vocal works
Including: Hariu  Ladonai (Psalm 100), Y’varech’cha, Ad Matai (Psalm 82), Libavtini Achoti Chala, V’haarev Na, Dayeinu

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Note:  All versions/arrangements are published by composer Gerald Cohen.
Please contact gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com to purchase scores or for other inquiries.

Adonai Ro’i was originally written, on the loss of a dear friend, as a solo a cappella melody.  I am a cantor, and a dear friend and congregant died of cancer at the age of 42 in 1989.  Her husband asked me to sing at her funeral, and I decided to write a setting of Psalm 23, which is traditionally sung at Jewish funerals and memorial services.  This was indeed one of those cases of a piece of music just writing itself, in the course of perhaps 30 minutes, as I was filled with the emotions of my friend’s death.

As I started singing the piece at other services, I received a very strong response to it, and decided to make a piano accompaniment.  This was published in 1995, and soon was used by cantors all over the country, as well as in churches and other services and concerts.  It is a very curious thing for a composer:  I write many pieces of music of all kinds, and it is hard to know exactly why one particular piece captures people’s emotions so strongly, but that is what happened with this particular piece.

I was soon asked by the Zamir Chorale of Boston to write a version for SATB chorus, and that version has also been widely performed.  I have also arranged it for solo voice and orchestra, and chorus and orchestra; these versions have been performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony.

I just have to assume that the piece somehow taps into the strong emotions that I felt as I was writing it (I had also lost my father about 8 years before, so I am sure that loss is present as well), and that this then communicates itself to performers, listeners, and mourners.  In 2003, I had the sad but powerful experience of singing the piece at my mother’s funeral.

I am grateful that this piece has become a way for so many to express deep and delicate feelings.  I hope that, if it is a piece that is meaningful to you, that you will feel free to contact me about your experience with it.

I have arranged Adonai Ro’i for many different vocal and instrumental ensembles; a selection of those are listed here.  Please contact me with questions about these or other arrangements:

SOLO VOICE OR UNISON CHORUS
Solo voice or unison chorus with piano
Solo voice or unison chorus with piano and obbligato instrument (Flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, etc.)
Solo voice or unison chorus with string quartet
Solo voice or unison chorus with piano trio (vn/vc/pno)
Solo voice or unison chorus with orchestra
Solo voice or unison chorus with string orchestra

SATB, SSA, etc.
SATB chorus with piano
SATB chorus with orchestra or string orchestra
SSA chorus with piano
Two voices, a cappella

INSTRUMENTAL VERSIONS
Solo instrument with piano
Two clarinets and piano
Clarinet, viola and piano

Adonai Ro’i has somewhat of a different performance history from many of my compositions, as it is used, probably every day, by cantors all over the world at funerals and memorial services.

A few of its most significant concert performances are listed here:
November 2010: American Conference of Cantors, Lauren Bandman, cond., Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Rome, Italy
December 2004: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Meyer, cond., with the Children’s Festival Chorus, Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh PA
October 2002: Usdan Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY (premiere of version for SATB with orchestra)
March 2000: Marin Cosman, soprano; San Diego Symphony, Jung-Ho Pak, cond., (premiere of version for solo voice with orchestra)
1997: Featured in the film, The Jew in the Lotus, with Gerald Cohen, baritone
May 1994: Syracuse Children’s Chorus, Barbara Tagg, cond. (premiere of unison chorus version)

thumbnail of Adonai Ro’i (solo & piano) score sample      thumbnail of Adonai Ro’i (SATB & piano) score sample     thumbnail of Adonai Ro’i (SATB & Orchestra) score sample

Solo score sample                             SATB score sample                             SATB with orchestra score sample

To purchase, contact Gerald Cohen: gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com

Prices vary depending on arrangement.
Solo version also available in transposed keys.
For instrumental version without voice, see Sea of Reeds page

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

by Eric Haines Hebrew liturgy provides blessings for every major event in the Jewish life cycle. Blessings for children, weddings, the Kaddish, the Kol Nidre and the Song of Solomon have inspired composers to write works that deserve a place on the concert stage. The Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival ended its three-concert season on Tuesday […]

Sheila Steinman Wallace

by Sheila Steinman Wallace In one of the most cohesive and moving concerts I have heard from this community chorus, Voces Novae presented “Choral Portraits: Gerald Cohen, Eleanor Daley and Eric Whitacre” on Sunday, March 7. … Gerald Cohen’s “Adonai Ro’i” (Psalm 23) has long been a personal favorite. The chorus and soloist Sarah Nettleton […]

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Four songs on Poems of Linda Pastan
Premiered by Adelaide Muir, soprano, Kent Conrad, piano

 

 

 

 

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Poem by Marge Piercy

Commissioned by Meet The Composer’s New Music/New Donors program

 

 

 

Includes: Adonai Adonai El Rachum, S’lach Lanu Avinu, Rachamana, Haven Yakir LI, Haneshama Lach, Adonai Ma Adam, P’tach Lanu Shaar
Commissioned by the Cantors Assembly