Five Yiddish Songs (choral)

Five traditional Yiddish songs, arranged by Alexander Massey for 3 voices (soprano, alto, and tenor/bass) with piano – can be performed unison with piano, or with 2nd and/or 3rd voice.

5 pieces, 35 pages of sheet music – PDF – £11.99 – BUY NOW

A mixture of lullabies, comic stories, and a simple Shabbat song, these arrangements, with their creative piano parts, are alternately touching and entertaining. Even though relatively easy to learn for a choir of modest musical and vocal abilities, these pieces are musically, emotionally and dramatically effective in performance.

I have created a brand new English lyric that is a close translation of the Yiddish. This provides an alternative performance version, and can also help the singers understand line by line what they are singing when they perform in Yiddish.

A Malekh Veynt (An Angel Weeps) – beautiful, gentle 3/4 in G minor; the singer waits and yearns for her/his lover; the music builds through 3 verses to an intense finish. (Audio for each part – password protected.)

A Geneyve (A Burglar!) – a fast, riotous, comic 2/4 in F# minor; lots of fast words to fit in; everyone gets a chance at the tune. (Audio for each part – password protected.)

Shabes Likht, Un Shabes Lompn (Shabes Light and Shabes Candles) – on the transformative moment of lighting the Shabbat candles, and bringing a healing, uplifting 24 hours; 2/2 in F minor, simple harmonisation, with a ‘dai-di-di dam dam’ chorus. (Audio for each part – password protected.)

Shlof Mayn Kind, Shlof Keseyder (Sleep, My Child, Sleep) – beautiful, lilting lullaby; 3/4 in D minor; each voice gets to sing the tune in one of the four verses. (Audio for each part – password protected.)

Di Bord (The Beard) – Lively, comic song. A wife objects to her husband shaving off his beard, claiming that it represents the downfall of tradition and therefore threatens their very way of life; 3/4 in C major; everyone gets a verse; a good chorus for the audience to join in. (Audio for each part – password protected.)

The booklet includes a useful guide to the transliteration and pronunciation of the Yiddish, as well as guidance for performance, using the English translations, and hints for how to teach and learn the music.

Performance

Yiddish song is emotionally direct and vital. It is perfectly fitting for performances to be theatrical, and emotionally demonstrative, even melodramatic. The words are the most important element. Telling a good story and bringing characters and situations to life are what it’s all about. So, be creative, playful, adventurous and honest. Choir and pianist should agree on what each song, verse, and chorus is about; they must think and feel as one, and be rhythmically flexible, in order to shape a compelling story. Be authentic, and touch your listeners; move them to laughter and to tears.

The translations

Translating lyrics into English lyrics cannot be a process of literal word-for-word substitution, but I believe in keeping as close as possible to the content and spirit of the original. To do this, I have considered a number of factors: imitating the tone and vocabulary of the original, honouring original meaning and intention, interpreting respectfully where idioms are untranslatable, finding effective rhymes, keeping a similar frequency of change of syllables within the melody, choosing words and combinations that are easy to sing, and creating a lyrics that sounds idiomatic and natural to an English listener. The result must draw the listener naturally into the characters and the story. Thank you to Matthew Faulk and Jaclyn Granick on their feedback and suggestions on my translations.

Learning the songs

First, because singers and pianist have to tell the same story, it’s helpful if everyone can learn to sing the whole song – with meaning and drama! – in unison, while the pianist picks out the tune and adds a simple bass line. Learning to sing the English version as well can help develop a convincing performance in Yiddish.

Second, the pianist can add more of the story by playing the printed piano part; the songs can be performed this way.

Third, later performances can include the 2nd and/or 3rd voice parts.

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