Local cantor sings cabaret of the ghetto
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Local cantor sings cabaret of the ghetto

Cantor David Reinwald

Even as a young man, David Reinwald, student cantor at Temple Beth-El in Jersey City, was drawn to the music of the Holocaust. For his bachelor’s degree, he researched the classical music of Terezin. He was particularly intrigued by the Czech children’s opera, "Brundibar," by Hans Kr?sa, performed dozens of times by children in that camp. According to Reinwald — who has been with Beth-El for four years and is now preparing for his senior recital on Feb. 8 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music — a large amount of research has already been done in this area. "I wanted to find a new approach," he says. "I came upon cabaret music from the ghettos and it spoke to me." While a few recordings exist, he says, the music was preserved mainly through survivors who had copies of the written music or through the efforts of researchers, "who ‘pulled’ the music from survivors." The cantor is struck by the challenges of performing this music during the Holocaust. He points out that cabaret is traditionally "very rebellious, trying to comment on politics through satire. I wanted to find out how they could do this" in those terrible times, he says. "They had to walk a fine line," he notes, explaining that the lyrics often included veiled criticisms of ghetto leaders. "A lot of people were involved," he says, noting that besides composers and singers, there were people working "behind the scenes, creating artwork for scenery." The performers were men and women, from the caf?s of Warsaw — until the ghetto was closed off — to the streets of Lodz, where musicians roamed, often looking to be paid for their songs. "They were gifted poets who could change their lyrics constantly," says Reinwald. In his recital, Reinwald will recreate the music uncovered by other researchers, interspersing it with monologues from primary documents. Some songs will be accompanied by piano, guitar, or viola, and some will be ? capella. "Every song was different," he says. The music he will explore derives mainly from the years 1939-44 and hails primarily from Eastern Europe. "One song from Vilna, called ‘Friling’ (spring), written on top of a tango melody, emphasizes the heartbeat of the singer," says Reinwald. "It talks about going home, and about a love that is missing. The music is taking listeners back to another time." Reinwald says that current research on Holocaust cabaret "is scattered. No one has pulled it together or bridged the gaps." He is hopeful his project will change that. The ‘6-year-old cantor, who plans to bring a "scaled down" version of his recital to his Jersey City synagogue in the near future, points to a sad irony in some of the music. Noting that the circumstances of the Holocaust threw together Jews from eastern and western Europe, who often didn’t get along, he says some songs display more of an "internal anti-Semitism" than complaints about the Nazis.

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