Sound the Great Shofar was commissioned by Koleinu, Boston’s Jewish Community Chorus, to commemorate their tenth anniversary. It was composed in Brookline, Massachusetts and completed in November of 2011. The text is in Hebrew and English. The Hebrew text is from Psalms and the Amidah. The English text was transcribed and adapted from interviews with four members of Koleinu: Bonnie Glickman, Ronda Goodale, I. Larry Morris and Alan Teperow.
Tuning in to the community spirit, I wished to investigate what makes this chorus cohere; who are the people, what are their musical tastes and what motivates them to find precious time in their busy schedules in order to make music together as a community.
Through interviews with members of the chorus I was able to get a little insight into those questions and also to create the text for the piece. Strangely enough, these questions turned out to be just an inroad into the worlds of these wonderful people; the real pressing topics of conversation were always in the deviation from the original topics, as the final text of the piece can attest.
The liturgical Hebrew texts in the piece were suggested by a chorus member as well, for the way in which they reflect the choir’s joy of coming together and making music. I was interested in juxtaposing the interview texts with the liturgical text in way of commentary, both in the order in which they appear and in the musical settings of each textual material. We hear the chorus go through the process of singing Jewish music, and at the same time thinking out loud (in song) about that music.
The grand scheme of the piece relies on one of the most paradigmatic types of Classical music forms, the rondo sonata form. Two musical themes, introduced by the Hebrew texts, appear as ritornelli throughout the piece. These two themes also receive a development section, much like a sonata development. The first, or “shofar” theme culminates in a fugue and a coda, featuring a children’s choir. My music tends to be multi-layered and multi-stylistic, and this piece is no exception. One may hear influences of Klezmer, Arabic taksim, Moroccan rhythms, and of course, Classical tonality and harmony, all interwoven together in a tight web.
One of the many beauties of Judaism is its encouragement to contemplate, doubt and question its own premises, and our people embrace that brilliantly. My hope is that Sound the Great Shofar expresses not only Koleinu’s sheer joy of performing Jewish music together, but also some of the complexities of their approach to the traditions, spiritual connection and Jewish identity.