1. The Road Never Travelled
NOTES ON DISCS FROM BOOKLET:
DISC ONE: THE ROAD NEVER TRAVELLED
(HANATIV HANISTAR) הנתיב הנסתר
Our musical trek begins with a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) song, “Cuando El Rey Nimrod” (When King Nimrod). It’s a piece which is rather well known to aficionados of the Ladino repertoire, but we have given it a new rhythm and a fresh setting. Instead of a 4/4 meter, it has been transformed into a Flamenco-style 6 beat, a rhythm often referred to as Bulerias.
Following this, also in an upbeat mood, is “Ahavat Hadasa - Libi V’Mizrakh” (The Love of Hadasa - My Heart Is in the East), an original adaptation of a Yemenite tune (text by Shalem Shabazi), together with an original setting of several lines from a poem by Judah Halevi. Here the rhythm has also been transformed, from a 4/4 to a 7/8. These verses are expressions of a yearning love for the land of Israel, our national home, and were written in the 17th (Shabazi) and the 12th (Halevi) centuries.
As has always been the mandate of Tzimmes, we then pay homage to a third Jewish linguistic group, Yiddish (Judeo-German), with an original setting of Itsik Manger’s famous poem “Oyfn Veg” (On the Way). Here, the well known melody is juxtaposed with new melodic inventions, and a setting for a trio of voices, two mezzos and one baritone. It also features the hauntingly lovely tin whistle, an instrument associated with Celtic music. My dear friend, and renowned Yiddishist, Professor David Roskies, related to me the following about the meaning of the poem:
…(it) always struck me as having to do with the poetic imagination. At some point, the boundless, autonomous muse has to face reality; it has to be reined in. The song is based on a Zionist oldie that goes like this:
Afn veg shteyt a boym
Shteyt er ayngeboygn
Fort a yid keyn Erets-Yisroel
Mit farveynte oygn.
On the way stands a tree
It is bent over
A Jew is travelling to Israel
With weeping eyes
So on another level, Manger replaces the spatial-horizontal plane with the vertical and the universal; the collective ethos with the individual dream.
To round out the linguistic groups, the English title track is presented. “The Road Never Travelled” can be interpreted in many ways, but in a sense it can be regarded as a midrash (a study) on the adage from Pirkei Avot (The Wisdom of the Fathers), “Im Lo Achshav Eimatai” (translated: If not now, when?). How exactly can we get unstuck, overcome procrastination, how can a person rouse himself from somnolence and construct his own reality with strong action and determination? We leave this question in the mind of the listener, and hope the song delivers a catharsis—a
coming to terms with self-doubts, so that one can go forward unburdened.
“Oyfn Veg,” “The Road Never Travelled” and the following track, “Sweet Melissa,” form a triptych of sorts. Here the journey takes a strong turn towards a contemplation of love. In fact, Sweet Melissa is a love song, pure and simple. There is a backstory. In 1983 I was studying and travelling in India, and found myself in Rishikesh. For older hippies this may be familiar—it was the town in North India where the Beatles went to study transcendental meditation with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In fact, the meditation centre is still there. I found myself being invited to a different Ashram, where I was given my own room to do my own thing. So I played my guitar and worked on this song. Upon getting back to Canada, I completed the work, and played it in concert several times over the years, though not with Tzimmes. The piece you will hear is very much in a raga (modal) style, and is an art song of almost ten minutes’ duration. This is definitely an expression of my intercultural journey, and it features bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) and sarangi (Indian bowed string), as well as great ‘monkish’ (okay ‘synagogue-ish’) meditational chanting.
Before we get to another Beatles reference as the final tune on disc one, there are three more pieces to mention. “Joy To Your Land” is none other than an instrumental rendition of a Modjitzer Hassidic nigun, better known by its Hebraic reference, “Simkha L’Artsecha.” The piece is reprised on Liturgy Lane (Disc Two), with the singing of the actual text. More about that below. Hot on the heels of this nigun is a klezmer piece of mine called “Moishe’s Freylakh.” A freylakh is a joyful song, associated with celebrations of all kinds, and the dancing attendant upon them. This piece has received a lot of cover with colleagues and friends in the intercultural community. Imagine an erhu (Chinese two-string fiddle) or a danbau (Vietnamese one-string zither) playing the melody—well, now we’re getting way out there, eh!
“Mashiakh Hazaken” (Messiah the Elder) is a fun jaunt, and for those of you who are familiar with Israeli music of the 60s, you will recognize it as one of the popular songs sung by a youngish Chaim Topol in the movie, Sallah Shabati. This is our rather cooked up version, with a lot of twists and turns, and a village farm-like setting. I hope you enjoy all the animals!
Finally, we present an original arrangement of a Beatles tune, “In My Life.” So what does a Beatles tune have to do with Jewish music you might ask. The simple story is that we have always signed off our celebration gigs with this song, a goodbye and a ‘let us remember all those here-and-now and there-and-then.’ I originally wrote this arrangement in 1968 while living in Jerusalem, and it has always been spiritually tinged for me, and for Tzimmes. It also seems especially fitting, in this time of pandemic, to contemplate past loves and times, and to rededicate ourselves to living a loving future.
MOSHE DENBURG, March 2021