Chorus goal: To bring Yiddish song to the next generation

Chorus goal: To bring Yiddish song to the next generation

The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by Binyumen Schaechter, center, will perform June 5 at New York’s Symphony Space. courtesy jppc

If you find yourself in Manhattan on Sunday, June 5, finish your business, grab a bite, and head over to Symphony Space, on Broadway between 94th and 95th streets, where, at 4:30 p.m., the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus is presenting a concert of Yiddish music that will make you want to sing along and tap your feet.

This year’s concert, “Love, Loss, Laughter: Favorite Yiddish Folk Songs” includes “Oyfn Pripetshik,” “Der Rebbe Elimelech,” “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen, and “Zuntik Bulbes,” along with lesser-known songs that illustrate what life was like in Eastern Europe a century ago. The concert also includes newer Yiddish numbers, by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman and the late Avrom Sutzkever, and one written by Josh Waletzky to commemorate 9/11. English translations and explanations are always provided, so the audience enjoys the concert and learns about the backgrounds and meanings of many great Yiddish songs.

There will be a world premiere of a new arrangement of “Tum, Balalaika” unlike any version of the song ever heard before. Says conductor Binyumen Schaechter, “‘Tum, Balalaika’ is an example of a true folk song – it’s so old, no one knows who wrote the words or music. For those who have heard or sung the song hundreds of times – and who might be perfectly happy never hearing it again-this arrangement will change their minds. And those who’d like to hear the traditional version will have the chance to sing along with us before we present the premiere. We always make sure to have at least one sing-along, which revs up the audience.”

The concert will also feature two delightful songs performed by Schaechter’s dynamic 11-year-old daughter Temma, who, with her sister Reyna, compose “Di Shekhter-tekhter,” the duo who tour the world with their father, singing Yiddish songs, bringing our Jewish musical heritage to life. Schaechter told The Jewish Standard, “I try to bring Yiddish song to the next generation.” With that goal in mind, he has also traveled the States with a sing-along called “The Yiddish Top Chai -The 18 Most Popular Yiddish Songs That People Love to Sing,” similar to the Top 40 radio programs.

Founded in 1922, the JPPC’s singers range in age from 25 to 85. “Some people, when they hear ‘Yiddish chorus,’ think of elderly folk who speak Yiddish,” said Schaechter. “Not so. One-fourth of the JPPC are students and young professionals in their 20s, and one-third of the chorus doesn’t speak a word of Yiddish.” Schaechter, as director, makes sure that even if a singer doesn’t know Yiddish, the meaning is understood and the pronunciation authentic. “And what attracts the young non-Yiddish-speaking folk to the JPPC? It’s a darn good chorus, singing in four- to six-part harmony, and often a cappella. There are lots of young people in our audiences, too. And the younger singers often bring their parents to performances, exposing a ‘lost’ generation to songs they never knew.

“This year we are focusing on folk songs,” he continued. “In other years, we perform Yiddish operettas and oratorios, classical music with Yiddish texts, traditional Yiddish songs that have been transformed into big production numbers, as well as songs by great Yiddish poets and songwriters like Gebirtig, Manger, Warshawsky that were arranged for chorus. Each of our concerts has songs lively and touching, old and new. Each piece has its own history and mood, and we have something for everyone, Yiddish speakers and not.”

Schaechter is the son of prominent Yiddish linguist and professor, the late Mordkhe Schaechter, founder of The League for Yiddish. Binyumen Schaechter and his three sisters speak only Yiddish with their children -16 fluent Yiddish speakers under the age of 30.

Conductor of the JPPC since 1995, Schaechter was a composer and performer in off-Broadway musical theatre and cabaret, with a number of award-winning musicals and songs that have been performed on five continents and recorded by many artists. When he was asked to revive the JPPC, he realized he could combine his Yiddish and musical passions.

To learn more about the concert, visit To learn more about the JPPC, visit To learn more about Di Shekhter-tekhter, visit, e-mail, or call (212) 989-0212.

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