Zach Mayer: New Jewish Music

Top Pick November 25, 2019 Cambridge $15.00
Zach Mayer (Courtesy photo)
Zach Mayer (Courtesy photo)

Zach Mayer will perform the music from his new album, “Modeh Ani.” Mayer is one of today’s few young composers of nigunim, spiritual wordless melodies rooted in Hasidic Jewish tradition. Dating back to the 1750s, the great Hasidic masters would compose nigunim and sing them in community as a means of elevating the soul, using the rising melodic phrases as a scaffolding structure that mirrors a person’s spiritual ascent. While nigunim are traditionally restricted to only Jewish male singers, Mayer’s melodies are open to everyone. They are modern and easy to sing, yet authentically rooted in this powerful tradition.

Mayer’s interest in nigunim grew as he experienced their power to bring people together peaceably in song. At a young age, he sat beside his stepfather, Rabbi Sruli Dresdner, who facilitated a tish, a candlelit gathering of over 100 people singing nigunim around a large table, each year at the KlezKanada music festival in Lantier, QC. The music was transcendent, lasting late into the night with dancing on the table.

From West African chanting traditions, Islamic Sufi Moslem dance, harmonized gospel choirs or ornamented readings of the Quran, the use of transcendent group singing and movement to achieve higher spiritual states is not uniquely Jewish, nor is it limited to religious use. However, the prevalence of wordless, long-form melodies that themselves are a cultural resistance to social oppression, antisemitism and assimilation, and carry the legacy and history of a people over 6,000 years old, is a feature unique to Jewish music.

This year, Mayer released an album of original nigunim and new melodies for traditional Hebrew texts. Entitled “Modeh Ani,” the album features Mayer’s singing and saxophone playing joined by some of today’s most accomplished Jewish musicians, including Frank London, Michael Alpert, Deborah Strauss and Richie Barshay. Mayer says, “Modeh Ani is music meant for singing together with others. I want to share these melodies with many different communities, and even if it’s only temporary, create at least a miniature moment of peace.”

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Fact Sheet
Monday, November 25, 2019, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
For whom
Parents, Jewish Professionals, Grade 12, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 9
Club Passim
47 Palmer St
Cambridge, MA 02138

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