Swampscott cantor hits it out of the park with new CD release

Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent




Cantor Elana Rozenfeld loves her job at Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) and last Sunday, her congregation gave her a big “back atcha” with a “Song of the Sea Soirée” that honored her six years as their cantor and celebrated the release of her new CD, “Hallelu!”


The sold-out crowd of over 260 guests was treated to an elegant evening of food, camaraderie and — most importantly — music as Cantor Elana and her six-piece band performed a repertoire that included several songs from the new CD and ranged in genre from Yiddish theater to a popular Israeli radio hit song to liturgical music.


Rabbi Michael Ragozin introduced her as the “biggest engine and vehicle” that has strengthened the temple’s ability to forge life long, meaningful relationships. “Her music brings us together in powerful ways that I haven’t experienced anywhere else,” he said. “This is the space where I want to be and it is all because of our cantor.”




“I’m an artist. That’s what fills me up, it’s what gives me something to give. If I take away the giving part of what I do, I’m not happy,” she said.


That generosity of spirit and artistry were on full display during the 70-minute concert and fundraiser that brought the audience to their feet for two standing ovations and had many wiping away a tear after her soulful encore rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”


Each of the 14 songs took on a special meaning after Cantor Elana’s informative and anecdotal introductions. The musicianship of her band (violin: Yaeko Miranda Elmaleh; guitar: Lautaro Mantilla; percussion: Jeremiah Klarman; bass: Simón Willson; back vocals: Sarah Nissenbaum; piano: David Sparr) added special texture, color and professionalism to the evening.


In the audience, 17-year-old Rachel Nissenbaum and her parents, Lilly and Jerry, were thrilled that Berklee vocal student and Rachel’s sister, Sarah, was sharing the stage with Cantor Elana as back up singer. “It’s so nice to see so many people here supporting the cantor. It’s very beautiful,” Rachel said.


“I’m so excited! I can’t wait!” added Lilly.


“Oy Mame,” a Yiddish love song, had the crowd clapping along to Cantor Elana’s exaggerated theatrical gestures and tapping their toes to Elmaleh’s klezmer-like violin accompaniment.


“Shavim,” a popular Israeli song about equality and inclusion, was dedicated to CSH and its “tireless effort to support all people in our spiritual home.” The cantor underscored her point by signing the words as she sang them.


Other songs urged listeners to look inward during these challenging times. “History Has Its Eye On You/Oseh Shalom,” a “mash up” of a song from the musical “Hamilton” and a Hebrew prayer for peace, is about life, regrets, mistakes and hope for a better future. “It should remind us that it’s up to each of us to make a change and to make peace,” she said.


“Seven Years,” a female rewrite of Lukas Graham’s top 40 hit, considers what kind of legacy we want to leave for our children. “I want to make the world a better place. Isn’t that the point of art? Isn’t that the point of music?” she said earlier in the week during an interview.


Cantor Elana is known as much for her love of teaching children as she is for her exquisite voice. The Chai Notes, CSH’s all-girl teen choir, is her pride and joy.


They performed Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” at the soirée fresh on the heels of their June 13 performance of “Star-Spangled Banner” at Fenway for Jewish Heritage Night.


How they got to Fenway is inextricably related to the CD celebrated at the soirée.


The girls recorded the song “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, for Cantor Elana’s new CD. While working with them on that track, she became aware of Fenway’s upcoming Jewish Heritage Night and a light bulb went off in her head. “I thought, ‘We need to do Fenway’” she said.


Congregant and choir mom Amanda Clayman contacted the Red Sox and found out how they selected singers and what The Chai Notes would need to submit for consideration. Since they already had studio time for the CD, they were able to quickly record the requisite “The Star Spangled Banner” in three-part harmony and then send it in.


“They responded immediately, ‘Yes. We want you.’” Cantor Elana said. “And then we practiced. A LOT.”


Although her impressive resume includes NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and cantorial posts at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, N.J. and Park Avenue’s eminent Park Avenue Synagogue, her reasons for wanting to make a CD have nothing to do with personal gain or fame. They are all about promoting the synagogue she calls home.


“People are starting to know me in the Jewish world and to know Shirat Hayam. We’re this hidden gem and I want us to be less hidden,” she said. “No one would know that a shul (synagogue) like this would exist in Swampscott,” Cantor Elana said.


The CD also allows CSH to put their liturgical music on their website. “This is a fraction of the musical legacy of CSH,” she said, adding she hopes people will hear the music and say, “Yeah. I want to go there.”


All the money earned by the CD goes to CSH for music programming. Although she owns the copyright to her own music, Cantor Elana does not reap any personal financial benefit from sales.


She hopes that people will buy CDs for themselves and for “100 of their closest friends” to support the work she is trying to do.


“We say it supports music at Shirat Hayam, but music IS Shirat Hayam. If someone gives money to the Hebrew School or preschool, there’s music programming in both of those. Everything we do is around music,” she said.


Rabbi Michael is especially pleased that the CD contains most of the musical prayers which comprise the Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat services, giving CSH the ability to reach beyond the weekly live prayer/performance experience and give others access to these same connections any time they want.


“Many of the things we do are aimed at increasing accessibility and giving someone this CD also gives them tremendous accessibility to what we’re doing here at Shirat Hayam,” he said.


For more information or to buy the CD “Hallelu!”, visit https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/cantorelanarozenfeld.

‘Hallelujah!’ Combines Jazz and Judaic Melodies

Hallelujah! Jazzy and Classical Piano Variations
Eugene Marlow Oasis Disc Manufacturing, 2015

Eugene Marlow has done it again. The composer/arranger/ performer of classical and jazz compositions recently released an anthology of Heritage Ensemble piano tracks that puts a new spin on traditional and familiar Jewish melodies. This CD, the group’s fifth, is guaranteed to make you rethink and appreciate new melodies that have become old hat.

Try listening to the songs before reading their titles. Marlow is a superb pianist, his style a blend of innovation and tradition. It is several bars into “Hatikva,” for example, before the familiar strains of the melody beckon recognition and then fade into the background of a composition that could hold its own among that of any contemporary jazz pianist. What a thrill for a jazz fan to hear “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Passover’s Four Questions)” as a bright, lively rendition of the traditional Passover melody. Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), recorded specifically for this album, feels playful and new.

Pianist Marlow founded “The Heritage Ensemble,” a quintet dedicated to performing and recording his original compositions and arrangements of Hebraic melodies in various jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical styles. Other members are of Puerto Rican, Lebanese and Eastern European descent. Marlow’s family background is Russian, Polish, German and British.

Marlow didn’t get serious about music until he was in his 20’s and didn’t start studying composing formally until he was in his 50’s. He is a professor at New York City’s Baruch College in the department of journalism and writing.

Moshav: You Can Go Home Again

“Moshav,” the internationally acclaimed American/Israeli group, began when Yehuda Solomon (vocals, percussion) and Duvid Swirsky (vocals, guitar) met as youngsters growing up four doors apart on the Moshav Mevo Modiin. The religious communal settlement in central Israel was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and attracted a group of eclectic individuals, including Solomon’s and Swirsky’s parents.

“My parents were living in a hippie commune in northern California and they moved to the Moshav and never left,” said Solomon, who is in his late 30’s and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three young children.

Swirsky arrived at the Moshav on Shabbat when he was ten years old. “I remember Shlomo as a Santa Claus-like character,” he said. “Everybody danced and sang, banging and screaming and jumping up and down. It was a very accepting and comfortable environment.”

“A lot of us kids from the Moshav are singers, spread out all over the world. We run into a lot of them when we travel,” Swirsky added. He also lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two-year-old son Lev (“heart” in Hebrew).

The duo was singing at the Moshav when they were discovered by some American students traveling in Israel who heard their band play and raised money to bring them to the United States to play for a college tour in the 1990’s. “Moshav” was born and relocated to Los Angeles, where they recorded their first album in 1998.

“Shabbat Vol. 1, released in November 2014, pays homage to the many Sabbaths they spent with their beloved Reb Shlomo in the small synagogue packed with family and friends dancing late into Friday nights. “This record brings us back to our childhood,” said Solomon.


Moshav 2014 Moshav Music

The 15 tracks include original, traditional, and Carlebach compositions that the two recorded at their home studio in Los Angeles. “We tried to give it a raw vibe, like we’re all just hanging out again and jamming on the Moshav,” said Solomon.

“This record feels like home,” said Swirsky. “Shabbat is music. Shabbat is roots. Shabbat is open. Shabbat is no judgment.”

Among the songs are “Lecha Dodi,” “Adon Olam” and “Havdallah.” With its mixture of reggae, middle-eastern and traditional styles, and instruments that include bouzouki, banjo, cello, trumpet and oud, the album is an exciting and refreshing way to celebrate Shabbat. “It shows all our colors,” said Solomon.

Standout tracks are a meditative “V’shamru” with its overlay of cellos, the lively reggae-middle eastern styled “Boi Beshalom,” and the catchy, folksy “Shiru.”

“We try to make music that we really love and connect to. We draw from our Jewish roots and heritage, but hopefully the result is universal, something that also sounds really interesting and cool to someone who isn’t Jewish,” Solomon said.

Pictured at top: Duvid Swirsky (left) and Yehuda Solomon met as kids growing up at Shlomo Carlebach’s Moshav commune in Israel.

New CD Commemorates Kristallnacht and Reimagines Hebrew Melodies

When composer Eugene Marlow had the inspired idea to include a track on his upcoming CD, “Mosaica,” to commemorate Kristallnacht’s 76th anniversary, the first person he thought of was his Aunt Ruth Rack in Australia.

Now in her mid-80’s, she was a 9-year-old in Leipzig, Germany when she witnessed the 1938 event, also known as “The Night of Broken Glass.” “I decided I had to have her narrate this,” said Marlow. The result is “Zikkaron (Remembrance)/ Kristallnacht,” an original composition that opens with the sound of Goebbels’ harsh voice and then fades to Ruth’s memories of that awful night.

The quasi-classical/Hebraic melody, according to the CD liner notes, represents Ruth’s mother’s resolute calm against the surreal, destructive aggression by the Nazis. Repetitive, single piano notes bring to mind the shattering of glass. The marching rhythm of the brass and percussion evokes a dark terror and brutality.

Marlow sent Ruth a rough mix of the track. “She liked it very much,” he said, adding that he also included an instrumental- only version on the ninetrack CD.

Pianist Marlow founded “The Heritage Ensemble,” a quintet dedicated to performing and recording his original compositions and arrangements of Hebraic melodies in various jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical styles. Other members are of Puerto Rican, Lebanese and Eastern European descent. Marlow’s family background is Russian, Polish, German and British.

“I am a third or fourth generation musician/composer,” Marlow said. “This is my passion,” he added, jokingly, “If you open up one of my veins, little quarter notes will jump out.”

“Mosaica” is the ensemble’s fourth album and the first to include a vocalist, Cantor Shira Lissek. “I heard her sing and loved her voice. She and I chose specific melodies,” Marlow said, adding that Lissek was concerned that as a classically trained cantor, she lacked a strong background in jazz. ”I told her, ‘You sing it straight. We’ll do the jazz around you.’” The result is a stunning collection of songs that simultaneously feel familiar and brand new. “Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet)” is an exciting combination of moving vocals and silky jazz accompaniment, while “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Passover’s Four Questions)” is a bright, lively rendition of the traditional Passover melody.

Marlow, who holds a Ph.D. in Media Studies, an MBA, an M.S. and B.S. in music composition and a B.A. in English, is a professor at New York City’s Baruch College in the department of journalism and writing. He didn’t get serious about music until he was in his 20’s and didn’t start studying composing formally until he was in his 50’s.

He plans a spring 2015 release of a DVD visualizing the “Kristallnacht” track with vintage photographs from Austria and Germany to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a fall 2015 release of original Brazilian-inspired compositions.

“I have accelerated my music output in the last five years,” Marlow said. “With ‘Mosaica,’ in particular, I made it a mission to do something different than our previous albums.”

To purchase the CD, go to cdbaby.com/cd/eugenemarlow6.