Recommended for Community, College, & High School Choirs

Octavos appropriate for community, college and high school choirs

Choral Music from the Jewish traditions

Table of Contents

composer: Yehezkel Braun
title: Psalm Verses (Eighteen Canons)
publisher: Israel Music Institute catalogue number: IMI 6403
voicing: any combination of voices (2 to 5 parts)
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: Psalms year of composition: 1982
timing: depends on which canons are chosen
recordings: none
statement: Each of these little gems is a setting of a verse or two from the Psalter. The simpler ones are two-part canons at the unison. The more complex canons involve up to five parts, are in mixed meter, have entrances in different keys and involve inversion of the subject. A word of warning to the conductor: the composer has written many of these in the form of “puzzle canons;” you’ll need to figure out their solutions. But it’s worth the effort. These are fun to sing and lovely to listen to. Use your imagination in selecting a sub-set of the eighteen, allocating them to various combinations of voices, and arranging ways to bring each canon to a conclusion.

composer: Joseph Hadar (arranger Jack Klebanow)
title: Erev Shel Shoshanim
publisher: World Music Press
catalogue number: WMP 03
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: piano
language: Hebrew
text: Moshe Dor year of arrangement: 1986
timing: 3:15
recordings: The Songs We Sang (HZ-906)*
statement: “Erev Shel Shoshanim” is an Israeli song, conceived in a “folk” style, and tremendously popular both in Israel and the Diaspora in the 1960s. The text of this secular love song is a paraphrase of verses from the Biblical Song of Songs, in which the poet entreats his lover to join him in the fragrant garden for an “Evening of Roses.” This one is quite easy to learn, and has achieved great popularity among U.S. high-school choirs; the tempo is slow, the meter remains quadruple, the mode is Dorian, and voice parts are simple. The trick here is to perform the work with a warm tone and expressive legato phrasing.

composer: Robert Starer
title: Song of Praise
publisher: MMB
catalogue number: MMB 89001
voicing: mostly unison (some two-part), any combination of voice
accompaniment: piano (or harp, violin and cello
language: Hebrew and English
text: from Psalm 92
year of composition: 1988
timing: 4:40l
recordings: none
statement: Robert Starer belongs to the generation of young Jewish musicians who fled Austria in the 1930s. After spending a decade in Jerusalem, Starer eventually settled in the United States. “Song of Praise” is one of Starer’s many works in which he alternates Hebrew and English lyrics. The writing is basically tonal (or modal), but frequent and unexpected modulations are common. The voicing is flexible enough so that this piece works equally well with all-male, all-female or mixed choirs, large or small.

composer: Tzvi Avni
title: Mizmorei Tehillim (Psalm Songs)
publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
catalogue number: 991377-12
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: from Psalms 47, 48, 150
year of composition: 1967
timing: 6:25
recordings: Zamir 25 (HZ-907)*
statement: This three-movement work was commissioned for the 1967 Zimriyah International Choral Festival in Israel. Its texts reflect both the uniqueness of the host nation, and the joy a foreigner experiences when coming to the Holy Land. This is one of the last works from Avni’s “Mediterranean” style period, incorporating the rhythms and modes of the Middle East. The first movement is set in a lively 5/4 meter. The second movement evokes the Palestrina ideal in its polyphonic texture made up of independent, lyrical, flowing lines. The finale returns to the mood of the opening: joyous homophony in mixed meters. This colorful work is very rewarding for more advanced choirs.

composer: Ernest Bloch
title: Silent Devotion and Response (from “Sacred Service”)
publisher: Broude Brothers
catalogue number: BB 179
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: a cappella (optional prelude for organ)
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: Psalm 19:14
year of composition: 1933
timing: 2:15
recordings: Zamir 25 (HZ-907)*
statement: This octavo is a brief excerpt from Bloch’s magnum opus, “Sacred Service” (“Avodat Hakodesh”), one of the only truly great choral-orchestral settings of the Jewish liturgy. The brief prelude (“silent devotion”) for keyboard (actually a reduction of the orchestration) may easily be omitted. This neo-romantic work gives the chorus the opportunity to show off its blend and its ability to phrase expressively. The tempo is slow, the mood is contemplative and the mode is Dorian.

composer: Yehezkel Braun (arranger Joshua Jacobson)
title: Durme, Durme
publisher: HaZamir
catalogue number: 982012
voicing: SSATBB
accompaniment: piano
language: Ladino
text: traditional
year of composition: 1981
timing: 2:00
recordings: Sepharad 92 (HZ-903)*
statement: In 1981 Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun composed “Seven Sephardic Romances,” a song cycle for soprano and piano. This work was based on love songs from the ancient traditions of Jews who lived in Spain prior to the sixteenth century. The Ladino language is a jargon combining elements of Castillian Spanish and Hebrew, with the former predominating. In 1990 Joshua Jacobson arranged the entire cycle for mixed chorus. In “Durme, Durme” a troubadour sings to his beloved. The arrangement is not difficult, but does call for the choir to divide into six parts.

composer: Yehezkel Braun
title: Shir Hashirim (Cantici Canticorum Caput III)
publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
catalogue number: 992035-25
voicing: SATB, solo soprano
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: Song of Songs, chapter 3
year of composition: 1973
timing: 13:00
recordings: none
statement: Yehezkel Braun’s fascination with chanting is evident in many of his compositions, including this one. Braun’s textures are frequently woven of chant-like lines which are soaked in colorful modalities and seem to float above any sense of terrestrial meter. This six-movement work is a setting of the entire third chapter of the Biblical Song of Songs. It is a beautiful evocation of amorous dreams, the lively dancing of lovers, and the splendor of King Solomon’s court.

composer: Nira Chen (arranger Joshua Jacobson)
title: Dodi Li
publisher: World Music Press
catalogue number: WMP 017
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: clarinet, flute, percussion
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: after Song of Songs 3:6, 4:9, 4:16, 6:3.
year of composition: 1993
timing: 3:30
recordings: The Songs We Sang (HZ-906)*
statement: When European Jews began to return to the land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century, they were determined to create an ideal new life, based on the ancient Hebrew civilization. Among the manifestations of this new life-style was a body of popular secular songs whose texts were taken from the Old Testament and whose melodies were in tune with the rhythms and scales of the Middle East. Nira Chen’s Dodi Li provides an excellent example. The text is taken from the greatest Biblical love song, the Canticle of King Solomon. The exoticism of the melody is reinforced by the repeated horah rhythm and the modality, vacillating between Dorian and Aeolian. In this arrangement, the amorous quality of the text is the springboard for a sensuous interpretation. The tempo is slow and languid, the dynamics expressive.

composer: folk (arranger Joshua Jacobson)
title: Adijo Kerida
publisher: HaZamir
catalogue number: WMP 016
voicing: SATB (div.)
accompaniment: piano
language: Ladino
text: traditional
year of composition: 1991
timing: 3:45
recordings: Sepharad 92 (HZ-903)*
statement: It is unclear whether the origin of this song is from ancient Spain or Violetta’s aria “Addio del passato” from Verdi’s La Traviata (1853). Whatever its history, this sad ballad of unrequited love is well known among the Sephardim (Jews who trace their ancestry to medieval Spain) living in the Balkan countries. The Ladino dialect is more than five hundred years old and is related to the language spoken by the Jews of Spain before their expulsion by the Inquisition in 1492. In this setting, the piano imitates the sound of a Spanish guitar. The voice parts can be handled easily by most choirs.

composer: Michael Gelbart (arranger Matthew Lazar)
title: I Have a Little Dreydel
publisher: HaZamir
catalogue number: 982002
voicing: SATB, T solo
accompaniment: piano (optional bass and drum set)
language: English
text: Michael Gelbart
year of composition: 1989
timing: 3:00
recordings: LIGHTS (HZ-901)*
statement: Originally written in Yiddish, Michael Gelbart’s “I Have a Little Dreydel” has proven to be a popular children’s song for Chanukah. In English translation it has captivated several generations of American children, as well. Utilizing the styles of 1950s rock-‘n’-roll, this lighthearted arrangement conveys the joyous aura of the Festival of Lights. After a deceptively simple a cappella introduction by the choir, the piano boldly enters in 12/8 rhythms. The soloist carries the melody for the most part, while the chorus enjoys the sounds of “doo-wop.”

composer: Joshua Jacobson
title: Shavu’ot
publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
catalogue number: 991455-8
voicing: SATB (divisi)
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew
text: Exodus 20 and a hymn by the eleventh-century German Rabbi Meir Ben Yitzhak
year of composition: 1991
timing: 4:45
recordings: Seasons of Our Joy (HZ-908)*
statement: The holiday of Shavu’ot celebrates the first harvest of Spring and commemorates the giving of the Decalogue at Sinai. This composition is an attempt to convey some of the mystery surrounding the theophany, the revelation of the Lord’s presence. The text of the Ten Commandments is preceded and followed by verses from an eleventh-century hymn which is chanted in the synagogue on Shavu’ot. Traditional Ashkenazic melodies for both texts have been utilized in this composition. The antiphonal effects of this piece work best if the choir abandons the stage and surrounds the audience on opposite sides of the hall. The aleatoric sections are meant to simulate a deep reverberation, as if the voices were being echoed in an extremely resonant chamber. This piece works best with a large choir performing in a reverberant venue.

composer: Max Janowski
title: Avinu Malkeynu
publisher: Friends of Max Janowski
catalogue number: F-053
voicing: SATB, T solo
accompaniment: piano (or organ)
language: Hebrew
text: synagogue liturgy
year of composition: 1967
timing: 3:20
recordings: none
statement: Janowski’s affinity for the Eastern European styles of synagogue music is apparent in this setting of the penitential prayer, “Avinu Malkeynu” (“Our Father, Our King”). The soloist’s line, in the Aeolian mode, is replete with melismatic ornaments. In the traditional manner, the choir alternatively gives the cantor harmonic support or repeats the main melodic ideas. The keyboard part (piano or organ) is not technically demanding, but is of great interest in its exploration of various colorful modal harmonies.

composer: Louis Lewandowski
title: Mah Tovu
publisher: Broude Brothers
catalogue number: CR-69
voicing: SATB, T (or bar) solo
accompaniment: organ (or piano)
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: liturgy
year of composition: circa 1882
timing: 3:00
recordings: Majesty of Holiness (HZ-912)*
statement: Louis Lewandowski was the first musician to serve the Jewish synagogue as a choirmaster serves a church. In 1864 the building in Berlin of the Oranienburgerstrasse Temple, which was equipped with an organ, offered Lewandowski the opportunity of creating an entire new service with organ accompaniment — a task never before undertaken. The culmination of his career came in 1882 with the publication of his magnum opus, Todah W’Simrah (Thanks and Song), a setting of the entire liturgical cycle for four-part choir, cantor and organ. “Mah Tovu” is the prayer recited upon first entering a synagogue. Its homophonic style, somewhat reminiscent of Mendelssohn, evokes the pomp and formality of worship in nineteenth-century Berlin.

composer: Martin Rosenberg (arranger: Joshua Jacobson)
title: Tsen Brider
publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
catalogue number: 991433-12
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: piano
language: Yiddish
text: Martin Rosenberg
year of composition: 1942
timing: 4:30
recordings: Hear Our Voices (HZ-909)
statement: Martin Rosenberg, a conductor and educator in pre-war Poland and Germany, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1939 and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he was brutally tortured. As soon as he recovered, he organized and conducted a clandestine chorus of prisoners. When it became known that the Jewish prisoners of Sachsenhausen were to be transferred to the death camp at Auschwitz, Rosenberg composed this gruesome parody on an old Yiddish folksong called “Tsen Brider.” In Rosenberg’s version, which he called a “Jewish Requiem,” the ten brothers are murdered, one after the other, in the gas chambers. This rearrangement of “Tsen Brider” for mixed chorus conveys the horror and irony of this Holocaust lament in a musical language that is simple and direct.

composer: Salamone Rossi
title: Halleluyah
publisher: Broude Brothers
catalogue number: CR-25
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew (alternate English)
text: Psalm 146
year of composition: 1982
timing: 2:30
recordings: ROSSI (HZ-910)*
statement: Salamone Rossi (c. 1570 – c.1630) was a Mantuan violinist and composer in the employ of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. He was also the first composer to publish a collection of polyphonic motets for the synagogue. The thirty-three motets, set for three to eight voices, include psalms, hymns and prayers for synagogue services or for sacred concerts. “Halleluyah” is included in the liturgy for Sabbath and festival morning services. Rossi’s setting is largely homophonic, similar in style to church music composed by his Christian colleagues.

composer: Moshe Wilensky
title: Uri Tsiyon
publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
catalogue number: 992019-8v
voicing: SATB
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew
text: Isaiah 52:1
year of composition: 1959
timing: 2:30
recordings: Zamir 25 (HZ-907)*
statement: One of the favorite themes of the “enlightened” Jews of the nineteenth century and the Zionist Jews of the early twentieth century was that of the Jewish people awakening from centuries of slumber to begin a new life. The words of the ancient prophet Isaiah (“Awake, O Zion! Clothe yourself in splendor — arise, shake off the dust, sit on your throne, Jerusalem!”) were exceedingly relevant to this modern audience. Moshe Wilenski’s setting of these lyrics captures the excitement of this renaissance. “Uri Tsiyon” is based on the Mixolydian mode and is replete with the syncopated rhythms of the horah dance. There is a great deal of variety in this little piece: homophony and polyphony, dynamic changes, modulations. A rousing way to end or begin a concert program.

composer: (and arranger) Paul Ben-Haim
title: Roni Akarah (Sing, O Barren)
publisher: Israel Music Publications
catalogue number: IMP 313
voicing: SATB, solo SATTBB
accompaniment: a cappella
language: Hebrew
text: Isaiah 54
year of composition: 1956-57
timing: 9:30
recordings: RCA International (Camden) LP INTS 1365
statement: This four-movement motet is one of Ben-Haim’s finest choral works. Paul Ben-Haim, who emigrated to Palestine in 1933, is generally regarded as the father of the “Eastern Mediterranean” school of composition, and “Roni Akarah” is a fine example of that style. The modes, rhythms, melodies and textures are reminiscent of he Middle East, while the forms are those of European art music. This work will challenge the finest choirs, and leave a stirring impression on the audience.


  • Broude Brothers (141 White Oaks Rd., Williamstown, MA 01267 USA)
  • Friends Of Max Janowski, 5555 South Everett Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 USA
  • HaZamir Publications is distributed by Transcontinental Music (see below).
  • Israel Music Institute (144 HaYarkon Street, Tel Aviv 63451, Israel) (distributed in the U.S. by Theodore Presser)
  • Israeli Music Publishers (same as Israel Music Institute )
  • MMB Music (10370 Page Industrial Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132 USA)
  • Theodore Presser (Presser Place, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 USA)
  • Transcontinental Music (838 Fifth Ave., NYC, NY 10021 USA)
  • World Music Press (POB 2565, Danbury, CT 06813 USA)

* Recordings : Available from Zamir Chorale of Boston, 1320 Centre St, Suite 306, Newton Centre, MA 02459.

Joshua R. Jacobson holds a Bachelors degree in Music from Harvard College, a Masters in Choral Conducting from the New England Conservatory, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Jacobson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University, where, after serving for nine years as Music Department Chairman, he is now the Bernard Stotsky Professor of Jewish Cultural Studies. He is Adjunct Professor of Jewish Music at Hebrew College. He is also the founder and director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, a world-renowned ensemble, specializing in Hebrew music. He has conducted workshops on choral music for various groups, including the American Choral Directors Association, and has guest conducted a number of ensembles, including the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Boston Lyric Opera Company. He has also written articles on various aspects of choral music, and compositions and arrangements which have been published and performed throughout the world. In 1989 he spent four weeks in Yugoslavia as a “Distinguished Professor” under the auspices of the Fulbright program. In 1994 he was awarded the Benjamin Shevach Award for Distinguished Achievement in Jewish Educational Leadership from Hebrew College. Prof. Jacobson is past President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. His current research interests are in the music of the Holocaust and the correlation between cantillation and syntax.

Zamir Chorale of Boston

1320 Centre Street, Suite 306
Newton, MA 02459

Phone: 617-244-6333

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.