About the Music
This album was recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic under challenging circumstances. In order to create the music, we brought together instrumentalists in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Chicago, and Toronto, with a choir and soloists in Chicago, and were privileged to work with Robbie Grunwald in Toronto, who literally made magic happen in bringing it all together. We are grateful to all who worked tirelessly to bring this music off the page for us to enjoy.
(Unless otherwise noted, all compositions and original lyrics by Hazzan Ben Tisser)
Sim Shalom II (2021)
Peace means so many different things. The rabbis teach that we end the Amidah with a prayer for peace because peace is the greatest blessing of all. These two compositions represent two interpretations of this t’filah. This composition portrays an energetic vision of peace. It reminds us of all we will be able to do in a world at peace, of the energizing experience of peace. It reminds us that the work is never done, and that we must remain optimistic about the future.
Achat Sha’alti (2011)
This song was written in 2011 as a reflection on the well-known verse from Psalm 27, recited daily during the penitential season. We all have experienced moments of darkness, of loneliness, of fear. The verse from Psalms reminds us that all we need to do is reach out to G-d, to open our hearts to G-d’s presence, and we will realize that we are not alone…that we are alright.
B’rosh Hashanah – Meir Finkelstein
This melody was brought to NSSBE in 2015 by Hazzan Tisser, with Elena Gross as the soloist. It has since become a beloved piece of High Holy Day music.
Zacharti Lach (2021)
Dedicated to the memory of Isaac Seeds-Sack z”l
I wrote this piece in February 2021, in memory of my late stepson, Isaacz”l, on the occasion of his second yahrzeit. The text is a collection of verses from the Prophets recited in the Zichronot section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf. The final verse traditionally ends with the words, “rachem arachamenu, n’um A-donai – I will surely comfort you, said A-donai.” For this setting, I chose to repeat the words, “zachor ezk’renu od – we will always remember you.” When we lose someone we love, comfort is often slow to come. When we lose a child, G-d forbid, there is no real source of comfort. We are left with memory. I pray that this piece evokes sweet memories for all who have lost someone they love.
Hallelujah/Psalm 150 – Leonard Cohen/arr. Tisser
Over the last number of years, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has gained popularity throughout the Jewish world. It was introduced at NSSBE in 2018 at Rosh Hashanah services, with Valerie Faust as the soloist. An original English verse was appended to the end of the Psalm, written by Cantor Steven Stoehr especially for this arrangement.
Han’shama Lach – Meir Finkelstein
A haunting setting of a prayer recited at Selichot and Kol Nidre services, reminding us that ultimately both our body and our soul belong to G-d alone. Ela Weininger is the soloist.
Tzur Mishelo (2021)
An upbeat setting of the traditional zemer sung at the Shabbat table, composed in a Mizrachi (Oriental Jewish) style.
Dedicated to my wife, Robyn, who brings holiness to my life every day
In the spring of 2020 I was introduced to three beautiful settings of the Kedusha: one by Michael Skloff, another by Bonia Shurz”l, and yet another by my teacher Aminadav Aloniz”l (which I was unaware he had composed!). All three are harmonically evocative, lyrical interpretations of the Kedusha, with one thing in common: all three were set to the Reform movement’s liturgy, and as such, were essentially unusable in their entirety in a Conservative setting. I was inspired to explore the familiar text and write my own setting of it. I chose to begin the Na’aritz’cha in a more traditional choral setting – a major key, and choral responses to the Cantor. I set it in triple-meter, following the natural rhythm of the Hebrew language. I chose to set the first four congregational responses (Kadosh, Baruch, Sh’ma, and Ani) in a familiar mode, ending each with a harmonic twist, taking us on a journey from the traditional to the contemporary; keeping a sense of motion throughout the Kedusha. When reciting this prayer, we are attempting to elevate ourselves to the level of the heavenly angels as they praise G-d. The idea of the perpetual motion is that we constantly strive for higher elevation. The melodies I composed for K’vodo and Mim’komo will have a traditional, “Jewish” feel that congregants will hopefully find easy to sing along with. The Sh’ma creates a moment of unity – the choir and congregation singing together without embellishment or new melody, focusing on G-d’s oneness.
Hu E-lokeinu is more of a statement than a prayer. It is a statement of faith, of recognition of G-d’s uniqueness and supreme power. The Cantor chants, and the choir repeats – first in unison, and then in harmony, building to a climactic moment “V’hu yashmi’einu – G-d will declare again, in G-d’s mercy ‘I am the Lord your G-d’”. That is our hope, for a better time, when all the world will know and recognize this truth. We respond as a congregation with a soaring “Yimloch – May G-d reign forever and for all generations.”
The piano interlude brings us to a new place. We have reached the heights of our holiness. We are in a spiritual place that is different from where we were just minutes ago. We can relax into a contemporary setting of L’dor Vador. This setting is for the new generation – the next generation. In singing this melody we acknowledge their uniqueness – although they share our prayers and hopes and dreams, they interpret them in their own way, with new harmonies and new melodies. All throughout the chorus, the choir sings a cascading “L’dor vador”, almost like drops of rain watering the fields for future growth.
Oseh Shalom (2020)
A fun, upbeat tune, this was composed in honor of Israel’s 72nd anniversary, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was set in the style of contemporary Israeli liberal worship. Enjoy the special bonus track at the end of the album where I am joined by my children, Talia and Ethan, and sing with us!
Kol Ha’olam Kulo (2012)
For my daughter, Talia, on the occasion of her Simchat Bat
I wrote this just after my daughter, Talia, was born, while still a Seminary student. I thought about what Jewish message would be most important to teach her throughout her life and I decided on this teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is to have no fear.” The lyrics surrounding this chorus are original, offering my prayers and dreams for my daughter, ending with a Hebrew verse which plays on Reb Nachman’s: “And you are my whole world. I will always be with you.”
Sim Shalom I (2010)
Sim Shalom I is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Dr. Julian Satnick z”l
This setting evokes the tranquility of a lullabye; a vision of beauty and solace in which we can rest, knowing that all is well.
Chassidic Kaddish – Traditional, arr. Tisser
A High Holy Day classic, I wrote this fun arrangement based on many famous choral arrangements.
Adon Olam (2021)
For North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, with gratitude
Every service ends with the hymn Adon Olam. It is one of few opportunities I have to sing facing the congregation. I always enjoy seeing the smiles, watching friends begin to congregate, as the service ends. I am a fan of Italian opera, and it seems a bit of that influence has crept into this piece (Rigoletto, anyone?). It’s lots of fun – sing it with me, then make a L’chayim!
Producer / Audio Engineer: Robbie Grunwald (Toronto)
Vocals recorded at: Soundmine Studios (Chicago) / Dennis Tousana
Piano recorded at: Dead Aunt Thelma’s Recording Studio (Portland, OR)
Mastering: Justin Grey (Toronto)
Graphic Design: Abby Lasky (Highland Park, IL)
Album Cover Photo: Morton Steinberg (Highland Park, IL
Valerie Faust (Hallelujah)
Elena Gross (B’rosh Hashanah)
Talia and Ethan Tisser (Oseh Shalom)
Ela Weininger (Achat Sha’alti, Han’shamah Lach)
Justin Grey (Toronto) ~ Bass (Oseh Shalom, Tzur Mishelo)
Robbie Grunwald (Toronto) ~ Additional keys (Oseh Shalom, Tzur Mishelo) / Bass (Kol Ha’olam Kulo)
Chris Hardin (Portland, OR) ~ Piano
Benny Koonyevsky (New York) ~ Percussion (Oseh Shalom)
Mathias Kunzli (Los Angeles) ~ Percussion (Tzur Mishelo)
Howard Levy (Chicago) ~ Harmonica (Tzur Mishelo)
Daphna Mor (New York) ~ Ney (Oseh Shalom)
Avi Rothbard (New York) ~ Guitars (Oseh Shalom, Tzur Mishelo)
NSS Beth El:
Rabbi Michael Schwab
Ron Goldberg, President
Jeffrey Baden, Executive Director
Brian Jacobson, Music Committee Chair
This album was generously sponsored by The Glass Family Music Endowment Fund (NSS Beth El)