Musician Jeremiah Lockwood Brings Cantorial Music To Life With New Album: NPR



ASMA KHALID, HOST:

When cantors lead Jewish congregations in prayer and song, they hope to inspire people spiritually. This sometimes involves improvisation. This is what happened in the golden age of cantorial music in the 1920s, when such virtuosos started recording records. Now a small group of Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn are reviving the tradition with a new album. Reporting by Jon Kalish.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Jeremiah Lockwood comes from a family of cantors. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Orthodox Jewish singers in Brooklyn today, singing songs made famous on recordings from the 1920s.

JEREMIAH LOCKWOOD: These are young artists who have mastered the vocal techniques of the great singers of the early 20th century. And it’s amazing. Forget questions about creativity versus imitation. The fact that they are physically able to do this is simply mind blowing.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

UNIDENTIFIED CANTORS: (Singing in a language other than English).

KALISH: This is an informal Hasidic chant recorded in 2018, a kind of cantorial jam session where the solos are transmitted with the tip of the finger. Some of the singers who took part in this gathering were recorded on the new album “Golden Ages: Brooklyn Hassidic Cantorial Revival Today”.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

YOEL KOHN: (Singing in a language other than English).

KALISH: This is Yoel Kohn singing a prayer that deals with the transient nature of human life. He also performed it at the Festival of Jewish Culture in Poland at the end of June, a major Jewish musical event.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KOHN: (Singing in a language other than English).

YANKY LEMMER: When you start improvising and it works, there’s this feeling of, wow, this is something that goes through me. I don’t even do that. It’s the most special feeling in the world, and it’s really what every decent cantor aims to achieve.

KALISH: Yanky Lemmer is one of the most famous singers in the world. He credits YouTube for putting him on the map and the recent release of cantorial music.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

MOSHE KOUSSEVITSKY: (Song in non-English language).

KALISH: This is Moshe Koussevitsky, one of the cantors of the golden age. Yoel Kohn, who appears on the new album, challenges the idea that a resurgence of the genre is underway.

KOHN: It’s not really a revival so much as a death sigh. I don’t know if there will be enough interest left to keep it going indefinitely as an obscure genre of music, like baroque music.

KALISH: But Hankus Netsky, a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music, says what’s happening could be both death and rebirth. Either way, Netsky says he was waiting for someone like Lockwood to come along.

HANKUS NETSKY: I think Jeremiah Lockwood is a referee between the generation that sees cantorial music dying in the congregation and the younger generation that sees the potential for cantorial music to be rediscovered.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

UNIDENTIFIED CANTOR: (Singing in a language other than English).

LOCKWOOD: I see these guys as brilliant singers, brilliant artists. And they’re so underground that no one has heard of them.

KALISH: Again, Jeremiah Lockwood.

LOCKWOOD: I wanted to create a possibility for them to be able to do what they do best in the world, and I wasn’t sure who the audience would be for that or if there would be an audience for that.

KALISH: The album “Golden Ages” is available for digital download and vinyl LP.

For NPR News, I’m Jon Kalish in New York.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

UNIDENTIFIED CANTOR: (Singing in a language other than English).

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