Music group reconsiders Jewish liturgical music
Infinite Lights, an eight-piece ensemble, is recasting Jewish liturgical music with new, original compositions that include classical music, klezmer, and jazz, its spokesperson says.
Managing director Annette Lieb, a Jewish flutist, said the members of this eclectic group “each bring their own perspective to a unique sound that leaps out and captures listeners’ imaginations.
“The Jewish liturgical music is presented in a whole new way in order to evoke powerful emotion, genuine soul and meaningful connections with audiences,” Ms. Lieb, who also plays in the New Jersey Wind Symphony, said.
Infinite Lights Ensemble, which performs in the tristate area, is the brainchild of Ken Corneille, 74, who is its musical director, composer, and keyboardist. He is well versed in both Jewish and Christian liturgy, and sings baritone. He is not Jewish, but his wife of 35 years is.
He is a prolific composer — he’s written at least 15 symphonies, seven suites, 135 preludes, and fugues, and three Roman Catholic masses in the last five years alone. He is also a sought-after organist, music director, music minister, and cantor who now works for the New York Archdiocese at Saint Anthony’s in Yonkers.
Mr. Corneille has been playing in synagogues for almost 30 years, including Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge for 10 years. He sees his original compositions as a response to a decline in the quality of music coming from the bimah. He laments the folk-singing of Jewish liturgical music, the repetitiveness of bimah music, and a lack of experience in the younger generation of cantors.
“Expecting everybody in the congregation to sing along with everything is OK, but there are moments within the liturgy where there are reflective times, meditation times,” he said. “They could just actually sit and listen instead of singing.”
Mr. Corneille wrote seven settings of “Oseh Shalom” with varying feelings and tempos. “If there is an occasion where you should be joyous, then you do a joyous setting,” he said. “If it’s more reflective, you can do a setting that’s more reflective.”
The ensemble, playing since 2018, has performed at Temple Israel and JCC in Ridgewood, where Ms. Lieb is a member, among other local synagogues and churches. They played five concerts in the fall. No other concerts are scheduled now.
“Churches, curious about Jewish liturgical music, have been asking us to come, which is surprising and unexpected,” Ms. Lieb, 64, said. “We walk them through the meaning of some of the prayers. They love hearing about it.”
The ensemble consists of soprano voice (Kristen Plumley), flute (Lieb), clarinet (Sabrina Tempesta), tenor saxophone (Andre Baruch), acoustic guitar (Seth Himmelhoch), bass (Dan Asher), keyboard (Mr. Corneille) and percussion (Nadav Snir-Zelniker). Their backgrounds include classical, blues and jazz.
Two of the performers have ties to Jewish venues. Mr. Snir-Zelniker is an Israeli-born drummer who is the percussionist of Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains. Mr. Himmelhoch is director of the Suzuki guitar program at the Thurnauer School of Music at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in in Tenafly.
Ms. Lieb’s interest in Jewish liturgical music extends back to when musical instrument playing wasn’t allowed on the bimah. “I really wanted that joy of Shabbat, more music, more music, more music,” she said. “So when I was a member of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and they started allowing music, I jumped on it and put together a little group.”
She got together with Mr. Corneille in 2012, when he was composing new music for the bimah. He arranged it for an ensemble. “With all of his music, it’s been a joy to enable people to really hear the music in a whole new way,” she said.
“We haven’t heard any complaint yet. No one has said, ‘Wait, that’s not the way it’s supposed to sound.’ No, quite the opposite. They’re saying, ‘That’s an interesting twist.’”
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