On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Dec. 7, 2020

Sheldon I. (Shelley) Posen (Apr. 12, 1946 – ) Folklorist, Singer, Songwriter, Museum Curator

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Shelley Posen is “keenly concerned about Jewish continuity and aware of the realities we face,” he told me in a recent phone conversation.

Posen has written two (of many) songs that reflect his concerns: Will The Children Light the Candles? from his CD, Menorah: Songs from a Jewish Life and The Chanukah and Christmas Song, about an interfaith household “because there are so many and some very close to me.” That one will be on his next recording Jacob Solomon, to be released post-COVID.

Thanks are due to friend Cynthia Nathanson, who introduced me to Posen, a versatile singer and multi-instrumentalist whose career includes researching, teaching, writing, composing and performing.

For the past decade, Posen has been writing “Jewish songs that sounded as if the Gershwins or Irving Berlin had written their music about Jewish life instead of about southern Black folks or Christmas, and weren’t afraid to use Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic.”

As he explains, his Jewish songs “aren’t religious enough for Orthodox Jews, are too religious for Israelis and some Europeans, aren’t Yiddish or ‘klezzy’ enough for klezmer lovers and have too much Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic in them, not to mention religion for secular and non-Jews. One of my songs, And We Sang Ha Lakhma Anya, I’m told, is sung around Pesach seder tables the world over. That’s tremendously satisfying.”

Born to Aaron and Bernice (Bidnowitz) Posen in Toronto, young Sheldon and the family reveled in music. “My Mum made singing part of everyday life and Jewish holidays,” he recalled.

He was a Beth Sholom Junior Congregation cantor while at Associated Hebrew Day School. He attended the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Mich., majoring in choir and operetta. He played ukulele and guitar, and learned to play the banjo, influenced by Pete Seeger.

Posen toured with the Hart House Glee Club and the University of Toronto Chorus, continuing to perform folk music at festivals and hootenannies. He was a regular at two iconic Toronto coffeehouses, the Riverboat and Fiddler’s Green folk club.

“My Dad was less supportive of my venturing into music as a career because he wanted me to follow him into orthodontics,” he said.

Posen pursued graduate studies in folklore in 1970 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where he “absorbed the music of fishermen singing in their kitchens and of the Irish and country music entertainers in popular St. John’s nightspots.”

He became a founding member of the Newfoundland bluegrass band Crooked Stovepipe, and while writing his Master’s thesis in Toronto, “served as Director of Mariposa in the Schools in the pre-dawn of the Canadian children’s folk music boom.”

He received his doctorate in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, carrying out ethnographic research on Irish-Canadian singing traditions in Chapeau, Que. on Allumette Island, across the Ottawa River from Pembroke, Ont. Posen said he became involved in the burgeoning northern revival of southern American choral singing from The Sacred Harp, an early American hymn book. His thesis became a text book in 1988, Singing and Dancing and All Sorts of Fun.

Posen moved to Ottawa in 1983, formed the Ottawa Shape Note Chorus, and taught shape note (a musical notation to facilitate group singing) and harmony singing at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. He also directed Congregation Beth Sholom’s men’s choir.

He formed the vocal trio Finest Kind with Ann Downey and Ian Robb in 1990, and for the next 25 years, the group recorded seven CDs and performed in Canada, the U.S. and UK. Around the holiday season each year, they reunite to perform seasonal concerts in the National Capital Region, but for 2020. they will perform virtually.

Posen was curator of Canadian Folklife at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 2001-2015; his wife Maxine Muska is assistant director of Ottawa’s Soloway Jewish Community Centre.

He has recorded five solo CDs covering various genres and styles. Others have sung his songs. One about the end of the Newfoundland fishery, No More Fish, No Fishermen, has been performed by folk legends Gordon Bok and Lou Killen, and was a favourite of Helen Schneyer. Eve Goldberg, Claudia Schmidt and Jane Voss recorded his Cole Porter-inspired song Having a Drink with Jane.

“I am not religious,” Posen reflects, “but I write many songs as if I were because I am intimate with and highly value Judaism’s beauty, fragility and resilience as a religion and as a culture. If Jews of whatever persuasion and non-Jews see themselves in my songs and find them entertaining and meaningful, then I’ve done my job.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communications. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Oct. 15, 2020

Howard Shore (Oct. 18, 1946 – ) Composer, Orchestrator, Conductor/Bandleader, Music Producer, Film Score Writer

By DAVID EISENSTADT

“Charismatic with a charming smile” is how neighbour Mark Mager described his Forest Hill Collegiate high school friend, Howard Shore.

My earliest memory of Shore was on Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live (SNL), where, from 1975 to 1980, he was the iconic show’s first bandleader/musical director. 

Shore and Michaels grew up in the same Toronto neighbourhood as Mager. Shore said SNL “started with a show that Lorne and I did at Timberlane summer camp. We would do an improv with music, comedy and acting.”

Shore wore sunglasses, never spoke or took credit as the leader of the “Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band,” appearing in numerous musical SNL sketches.

For the Toronto-born son of Jewish parents Mac and Bernice (Ash) Shore, his music passion ignited at age eight. At 13, he mastered the clarinet, flute, organ and saxophone, and by 17, was on a career trajectory to write classical and orchestral music and film scores.

Howard Shore (Photo: Sam Santos, courtesy Canadian Film Centre)

Fast forward: His scorecard includes three Academy Awards, four Grammys, three Golden Globes, six Canadian Screen/Genie Awards, one opera (The Fly), over 80 films, and he was a five-time nominee for a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award.

In 2017, Shore became the third winner of the Lifetime Achievement Kilar Award of the FMF Krakow Film Music Festival, named after the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. The Order of Canada, an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France, and a Canadian Governor General’s Performing Arts Award grace his trophy case.

Mager told me that while he and his friends took off for various universities, Shore enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, “which shocked us because no one realized how deeply entrenched he was in music.” At Berklee, Shore studied with choral composer John Bavicchi. In the late 1960s, Shore, on saxophone, was one of the original members of the Canadian rock group Lighthouse.

But he really excelled at writing film scores with heavy emphasis on violins and cellos. In 1978, he connected with David Cronenberg for The Brood, and continued as Cronenberg’s composer of choice for most of the director’s future productions.

In the ‘90s, Shore also scored films by Jonathan Demme, Chris Columbus, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Michael Lehmann, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Smith. Titles included M. Butterfly, Philadelphia, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Client, Ed Wood, Nobody’s Fool, Seven, The Game, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, That Thing You Do!, Dogma and The Cell. He worked with Martin Scorsese and Penny Marshall and was a BAFTA Award nominee in 1991 for Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

A major triumph came in 2001, when he was selected to score the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, netting him his first Oscar and Grammy, as well as nominations for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

It was “the beginning of my journey into the world of Tolkien, and I will always hold a special fondness for the music and the experience,” Shore noted at quotab.com.

Shore won his second Oscar for Best Original Score, and a third for Best Original Song, for Into the West, shared with Fran Walsh and Annie Lennox. He also garnered his first Golden Globe, his third and fourth Grammys (the fourth for Best Song), and was nominated for a third BAFTA.

The scores for The Lord of the Rings, performed primarily by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, became one of the most successful film scores ever written “and the biggest success in Shore’s career,” reported the BBC.

With a filmography listing 80-plus works, the in-demand Shore continued to collaborate with Scorsese in 2004 on The Aviator and Hugo in 2011. He scored Cronenberg’s A History of Violence in 2005 and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series in 2013.

Since 2004, Shore has conducted local orchestras across North America, Europe and China, playing new symphonic arrangements of his Lord of the Rings scores. He is a coveted speaker at film festivals and master classes.

Modest about his accomplishments, he said, “I never shied away from a challenge and love doing big epic films. They’re interesting to me just on a pure music level, in terms of the amount of music I could create for a symphony orchestra and chorus.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Azrieli Music Prizes Concert to be Live Streamed for Free

Oct. 8, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— The biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) concert – the world premiere of the most recent winning compositions of orchestral Jewish music and Canadian art music – goes virtual this year due to the pandemic.

The concert is scheduled to be live streamed from the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.; on the classical music channel Medici TV, and on the AMP Facebook page, free of charge.

Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), which is resident in the U of M’s music faculty, will be making its debut on Medici TV under the direction of its founder, Lorraine Vaillancourt. Soprano Sharon Azrieli, who created and heads the AMP project, and Hungarian-Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabò join NEM as soloists.

The performances are part of the total prize package each AMP laureates receives, valued at over $200,000, including $50,000 cash. Two later international performances and a recording of the winning works, to be released on the Analekta label, round out the package.

Keiko Devaux, the inaugural winner of the new Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, is cited for her work, Arras, which “weaves together the tapestries of her French and Japanese-Canadian heritage.” She is currently completing a PhD in composition at the U of M.

“These collective sonic memories that we have held onto, shared, diffused and celebrated together are what define the Canadian sound to me,” she said.

Yotam Haber’s Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music winner is Estro poetica—armonico III, written for mezzo-soprano solo, chamber orchestra and pre-recorded audio, reflects his interest in the music of the Jewish community of Rome.

“As a composer of Israeli background, I have spent years thinking about how I should look back at my past while looking forward at my future,” he said. “I wished to compose a work using text by modern Israeli poets sung by a mezzo-soprano in conjunction, or in opposition to, traditional cantillation and liturgical texts found in the Leo Levi recordings, virtually always recited by men,” he explained.

Haber is an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.

Yitzhak Yedid, winner of the Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music, wrote KadoshKadosh and Cursed, which consist of 20 tableaux, or musical scenes, that bridge very different musical traditions.

“My attempt in this composition, and my endeavour for over a decade, has been to broaden the esthetic resources of Western art music through the incorporation of musical elements of Sephardic Jewish music,” explained Yedid, whose ancestry is Syrian and Iraqi. The result is “a strange, surreal atmosphere.”

He is currently a lecturer in composition and piano at the Queensland Conservatorium of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

In addition, Canadian composer Jonathan Monro has created a new arrangement for NEM and soloist Azrieli of Pierre Mercure’s classic song cycle Dissidence, which expresses modern humanity’s search for happiness through faith, which is also on the program.

Established in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, the biennial AMP accepts nominations for original works from individuals and institutions of all nationalities, faiths, backgrounds, and affiliations, which are then submitted to its two expert juries.

“The three AMP prize packages, valued at $200,000 per laureate, currently makes it the largest music competition for music composition in Canada and one of the largest in the world,” said Azrieli.

On the Record – Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

SAMY ELMAGHRIBI/SALOMON AMZALLAG (April 19, 1922 – March 9, 2008) Singer-Songwriter, Cantor, Poet, Oud Player

July 22, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

By night, Samy Elmaghribi was dubbed the Moroccan Charles Aznavour – with a pop singer’s global reputation.

By day, he was Salomon Amzallag, the first Moroccan cantor at Montreal’s famed Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue. Known as Shearith Israel, on St. Kevin Street in Montreal since 1960, it’s Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, established in 1768. Cantor Amzallag served there from 1967 to 1984.

Cantor Salomon Amzallag

Two cantors have since sung from the Spanish & Portuguese bimah, including Yehuda Abittan and present-day chazzan Daniel Benlolo, who was one of Amzallag’s students.

Amzallag was Benlolo’s mother’s cousin, and so the Montreal synagogue became their family’s new home.

“He’s the inspirational reason I became a chazzan and his shul was where I received my training,” Cantor Benlolo said. “He was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I have been privileged to serve Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations in Ottawa, New York, Atlanta and Caracas, to name a few. Two and-a-half years ago, I was pleased to return home to Shearith Israel to work and live in Montréal.”

Amzallag was born in Safi, a city in western Morocco. His family moved to Rabat in 1926. Growing up, he taught himself to play the oud, a short-neck, lute-type pear-shaped string instrument that dates to Assyria.

Early on, young Samy familiarized himself with Arab-Andalusian music, attending the Conservatoire de Music de Casablanca. Starting at age 20, he studied with many of the great Andalusian masters of his time.

Christopher Silver, an assistant professor of Jewish History and Culture at McGill University, has called him “a mid-twentieth century Moroccan superstar.”

“From his debut in 1948 through his professional zenith in 1956, he was a ubiquitous presence on radio and in concert,” Silver wrote in a recent issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Samy El Maghribi - Cantor Salomon Amzallag

As radio spread across Morocco, Elmaghribi’s live performances on radio and constant playing of his records on air “helped cement his status as the nation’s voice during a formative political moment.”

His popularity spilled over to commercial advertising: Elmaghribi  became an official spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Morocco. “His spoken dialogues and musical hooks for the soft drink company were played in heavy rotation on Radio Tangier International over the next several years,” wrote Silver. During this period, he became the sound of brands like Gillette, Palmolive, Canada Dry and Shell Oil.

A popular entertainer, Elmaghribi built a world-wide fan base and reinforced his Arab-Andalusian musical heritage with performances in Caracas, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York, as well as playing for Moroccan fans in Oujda and Rabat. Listen to his music here.

Yet, he was committed to his cultural roots and to the sacred liturgical genre, said his daughter, Yolande Amzallag, who helped create Fondation Samy Elmaghribi.

Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag “were one and the same person,” Yolande Amzallag told the Morocco World News at the foundation’s 2015 launch, “despite the fact they performed in different settings whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.”

Her father’s allegiance to God was matched by his allegiance to art, she went on, “and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.”

After he retired, Amzallag moved to Israel and founded Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a centre for Sephardic music from where, from 1988 to 1994, he was pedagogical director, according to his biography.

He also co-founded and performed with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. In 2006, the orchestra won the country’s highest honour, the Israel Prize.

In November 2008, a few months after his death, Elmaghribi was posthumously recognized by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who awarded him the Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite medal for Meritorious Service to Morocco.

His wife, Messody Cohen-Amzallag, died in Ashdod on April 5, 2015. The couple’s children created the foundation “to perpetuate their teachings of respect for tradition, openness to others and generosity through the love of music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.