Two Musicians and a Liturgist: Creating Music for the New Year

September 3, 2018Cantor Erin Frankel and Alden Solovy

On Rosh HaShanah, we stand on the razor’s edge between two realities. This is the Day of Judgment, the day on which we are called to understand the impact each of us has had on others, the Jewish people, and the world. The good. The harm. In anticipation of atonement – of setting things right – we become uncompromisingly honest about ourselves.

At the very same moment we’re called to remember that this is HaYom Harat Olam, this is the birthday of the world. Legend says that Rosh HaShanah is the day on which God summoned divine creativity to make the universe, to create the beauty, wonder, and majesty that surround us. We open our eyes, anew, and are amazed.

Yet, daily life in these times seems to be more about shock than amazement. The state of the planet. The state of governments around the world. The dangerous antics of leaders in both the U.S. and Israel. We agreed that uplifting new music, with inspiring new lyrics, combined with the words of the ancient prayer HaYom Harat Olam, could have the power to refresh the metaphor of the birthday of the world.

Erin: Our connection began at Beth Emet -The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, where I was the cantor and Alden was a congregant; we served together on the music committee. I created a series of annual events to enrich congregational connection to the breadth of Jewish music. A deep bond around the quality and importance of song, music and hazanut (the cantorate) in synagogue began to emerge.

Alden: Erin led the first-night shiva service at my home after my wife Ami, z”l, died suddenly of traumatic brain injury. That night took our friendship to a deeper level of spiritual intimacy, the kind of understanding that is foundational for creating new music together. On Friday nights, after services, I would often tell Erin – after tearing up during some moment of the music – “You got me again.” She would smile and say something like: “Well, you’re not so tough.”

Together, we often spoke of collaborating. The opportunity came at Erin’s current synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, PA. We have collaborated on three new songs. As part of that collaboration, Erin and her clergy partners, Rabbi Jill Maderer and Rabbi Eli Freedman, brought me into the congregation as a liturgist/scholar-in-residence.

Creative collaborations can be like a field of Alpine wild flowers. Fragile at first, but beautiful and enduring, so long as the conditions for growth are nurtured and maintained.

HaYom Harat Olam is our third collaboration, and our second with Erin’s musical partner, AJ Luca.

I’m humbled by the number of musicians who have set pieces of my liturgy to music. Collaborating with Erin, I’ve become a lyricist, for the first time writing words that were intended to be set to music.

Erin: The process has been fun and rewarding. I’ve brought concepts to Alden, we’ve talked them through, and then he’s produced lyrics that inspire AJ and me to write music.

Alden: In this case, Erin wanted an inspirational piece to remind congregants that the world is reborn on Rosh HaShanah, a piece to inspire hope in difficult times. She brought the idea of a new version of HaYom Harat Olam to me and we looked at the prayer as it appears in Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (the High Holiday prayer book), as well as interpretations of the original, longer text.

Erin: After Alden wrote the first draft lyrics and I accepted them, AJ and I began to think about musical themes in anticipation of a video call for producing the music. With the two of us together in a room in Philadelphia, and Alden at his desk in Jerusalem, the musicians begin to match their musical concepts with the words. As the music required, Alden tweaked the words to match the music.

Alden: Erin and AJ wanted an additional stanza added for the song, to balance out the music. So, as they continued to work on the music, I crafted a new stanza and emailed it to them. The new stanza was adjusted a bit for the music and the core song was born. It felt a bit like being the Gershwin brothers, or Rogers and Hammerstein.

The collaboration works, and our team plans to do more, possibly a full album release in 2019 or 2020. In the meanwhile, my next book of new liturgy, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, is scheduled for release in early 2019 from CCAR Press.

Listen to the music, recorded by Erin and AJ, and the lyrics to "Creation Sings."

Then the sun rose,
For the first time,
To warm the land,
To warm our hearts,
To warm our hands.

Tides shifting,
Birds winging,
Flowers bursting,
Clouds drifting,
Eden singing.

And light sparkled,
The heavens shimmered,
While love echoed,
The future glimmered.

Hayom Harat Olam.
Hayom Harat Olam.
Today is the birthday of the world.
Today is the birthday of our world.

Let the sun rise,
On a new day,
To warm the land,
To warm our hearts,
To warm our hands.

Light still sparkles,
From creation,
Love still echoes,
The world’s foundation.

Hayom Harat Olam.
Hayom Harat Olam.
This is the birthday of the world.
This is the birthday of our world.

So these hours
Of introspection,
And these moments
Of deep reflection,
Will bring us back
To God’s creation,
And lift our hearts,
With jubilation.

Hayom Harat Olam.
Hayom Harat Olam.
Today the birthday of the world.
Today is the birthday of the world.

The music is copyright Erin Frankel and AJ Luca. The lyrics are copyright Alden Solovy.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, poet, and teacher. He’s the author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing. His writing also appears in several CCAR Press books, including an anthology of his work, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day.

Cantor Erin Frankel serves Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, PA, and is a member of the executive board of the American Conference of Cantors.

Related Posts