Composed & Arranged by Billy Dreskin

the universe can always use more harmony

Kaddish II

After sharing the story (see “Kaddish“) of the first piece of music I ever wrote (at age 17), I’m delighted to share a new development. A very talented friend of mine, Amir Sinai Weisglas, emailed me with the following:

“When I listened to the old recording of your Kaddish, I was struck by its optimistic energy and beauty. I had to do a version of mine. The last two weeks were all around this piece. I recorded a grand first version, but it was not correct. So I started again and here is the second version. What I loved the most about your composition was that this text, which is for me (and us, Israelis) is usually connected to negative, dramatic, down-pulling energy, turned to be something optimistic, pray of bless.”

Amir’s original artwork for the song

Amir is a very dear friend of mine. We met in the summer of 2007 at Kutz Camp, the Reform movement’s teen leadership program in Warwick, NY. I was a volunteer rabbi on faculty teaching Jewish Ethics, Jewish Attitudes toward Tattoos and Navel Piercing, as well as Sonic Spirituality, a deeper dive into the emotional power of music. Amir, who is from Israel, served on staff for the Visual Arts program, an all-purpose role that included not only teaching but coordinating the wildest of requests from anywhere in camp for art support, including a working, life-sized Wheel of Fortune.

These days, Amir lives in Berlin where he now spends time pursuing the musical arts, a talent of his I hadn’t known about during our summer together. We reconnected a couple of years ago, just on Facebook, first to say hi and then to discuss our musical interests and ideas. Amir is such a kind, thoughtful and rather brilliant person that it was always a treat to spend some time with him. I eagerly awaited the opportunity to listen to more of his creations as he posted them on YouTube and Spotify.

When I posted here a piece about “Kaddish,” my first musical composition (written when I was 17 years old), Amir heard it and right away began thinking about how he would cover it.

“I knew I wanted to keep some of the original recording, which in my opinion is perfect (soooo many music producers are working very, very hard to get the tape/old/low-fi sound, and here it is in its full glory) and took it to my contemporary world, mixing electronica with orchestral work.”

This wasn’t long after the massacre of October 7, and Amir explained to me that these words of Kaddish were resonating quite strongly for him. Recording my melody became one more path for his grief journey.

“Every time I tried recording vocals, I ended up crying! I feel like this is my prayer at this moment, as so many are suffering, and so much disharmony is surrounding us.”

Back when I was 17, the only one close to me who had died was my dog, Frankie. So I really had no reference for the feeling of grief. The song was innocent and naive. I wrote it in a minor key because, well, wouldn’t you have to? But I’ve never quite been able to write sad music. To then learn that 50 years later it had moved my friend to tears, that came as a surprise and (can I say this?) an honor. Amir didn’t just like the tune; he was moved by it.

“About the upbeat recording, I find it full of power — your piano playing is great with strong fingers — and I love the upbeat feeling of the song. It has the youth(fulness) in it, without inhibition! I find it perfect.”

As I mentioned in the first article, I only composed this at the request of my teacher. Imagine how surprised (and pleased) I was to witness this emerge from inside me. I suspect all art is difficult at one level of another. The song hadn’t “emerged” but rather had been somewhat “torn” from my insides. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as difficult as musical composition. From the first project to this very day, the struggle is topped with immense satisfaction and pride. I was hooked and I still am!

“I also noticed your change of tempos in the recording, as it is clearly no metronome-based recording, and this brings it a special flavor. I also wonder where you recorded this, as the piano is tuned up about 60% above 440, a bit more than half a ton.”

This makes me laugh. I’m always having trouble maintaining a steady tempo. For Amir to tell me that “this brings it a special flavor,” is such a sweet way to respond to a person’s flaw. Would that we treated everyone like this!

So now, I’m very, VERY happy to share with you, Amir Sinai Weisglas’ “ElektroKaddish.” It’s quite different from my version, and I love every moment of it. Yes, he cultivates the lo-fi sound that’s in such vogue these days, but don’t let that fool you. Listen carefully to the quiet activity taking place in the background. As promoted above in my mini-bio of Amir, it’s brilliant.

You can listen to it on Spotify or on YouTube …

About his artwork for the song, Amir writes, “The image is part of a recent series of drawings I’ve been working on using ink, acrylic, and wall paint. I chose it intuitively after extensively searching for an image to accompany the song. The lyrics are profound and abstract, so an abstract approach to the image felt appropriate. Given that the text connects to the themes of life, death, and the entire circle of life, I immersed myself in the fluidity, flow and drip of paint. This allowed me to avoid committing to a single interpretation of the image of the music. Reflecting on it further, the tension between the electronic tools I used to create the music and bring it to you, and the manual, analogue work of the drawing and the music embodies the contemporary Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the ability to bridge the new and the old, merging electronics with analogue, and connecting the United States, Germany, and Israel today. The song and the image are my prayers for a better future.”

Thank you, Amir. I’m endlessly touched that you were moved to create this moving piece. While I doubt we’re going to make it onto the Top 40 this year, if nothing else your creation should be nominated for the Kaddish Music Hall of Fame. Yashir koach, chaver.

Billy

The sheet music and mp3 for my original “Kaddish” are available at Jonah’s Trading Post (https://jonahmac.org/product/kaddish). Your donation of any amount will be put to use in bringing the arts to others, effecting social change, and building Jewish life. The music is free – our way of saying thank you for being so nice.

Old Folks

Back around 1987, just prior to my rabbinic ordination and five years after I’d left behind my dreams of a career in music (‘tho only a few years since “Personals” ran off-Broadway), I was approached by Cantor Mark Horowitz with a delightful request. He wanted to hire me to write an intergeneration musical for his congregation to perform. “Generations,” as we called it, included material from lots of wonderful sources plus five new songs I wrote especially for the occasion. It celebrated life, finding humor and poignancy at every stage along the way.

“Generations” was performed twice (that I know of). Once in 1988 at Mark’s congregation, and a second time in 1995 at my congregation in Cleveland (Fairmount Temple).

The premise for “Old Folks” is that while there is much we consider disposable in our lives, there are also things we adore because they’re older. Sadly, human beings, as we age, are often seen as belonging in the disposable category. “Old Folks” advocates for cherishing the people in our life even moreso as the years pile on.

Two of the pieces from “Generations” became regular additions to the Beged Kefet repertoire. Seeing as how we were already passionate about the cause of treating the elderly with dignity, “Old Folks” was a natural fit (and fun to sing).

Here’s a video from what was actually Beged Kefet’s final performance in 2009. We wouldn’t sing together again until a brief reunion in 2023. As you can see, we had a pretty wonderful time whooping it up in front of our audiences. No, I’m not unrecognizable in the video; I’m playing piano off-screen.

Hope you enjoy it!

Billy

P.S. The mp3 recording and sheet music (lead sheet, piano-vocal score, and full ensemble arrangement) are available at Jonah’s Trading Post (https://jonahmac.org/old-folks). Your donation of any amount will be put to use in bringing the arts to others, effecting social change, and building Jewish life. The music is free – our way of saying thank you for being so nice.

P.P.S. If you want to learn more about Beged Kefet, visit https://www.billydreskin.net/or-zarua where I tell the whole story. You’ll also find links there to hear Beged Kefet’s three albums.