Carol Shansky, the choir director at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, is an award-winning flutist, solo and chamber recitalist, and freelance musician. She’s also an assistant professor and coordinator of music education at New Jersey City University, she’s written two books, and she is passionate about music history.
On March 22, in a duet concert with pianist Amber Liao, Ms. Shansky will combine all of those interests in “Voices Lost, Voices Born,” a concert exploring music written by little-known Dutch composers in the years surrounding the Holocaust.
“I’ve performed some of these works before in a similar program, using a few of the pieces in a lecture recital as an academic concept two years ago for the College Music Society,” Ms. Shansky said. “We also performed at the Holocaust Center at Kean University last November, around Kristallnacht. It was well received.”
A member of the Teaneck synagogue — her husband, Marc Chelemer, is a former president — Ms. Shansky calls it “a very musical place.” When she first proposed bringing her piece to the shul, she said, her rabbi, Steven Sirbu, was very receptive.
The idea for the program took shape “as one thing led to another,” she said. “I have history wiring in my head. It’s one of the things that happen when you do research.” So she looked for new flute music (flutists are jealous of violinists, who seem to have so much more music written for them, she said). That’s how she came across the work of Rosy Wertheim, a Dutch pianist, music educator, and composer, who died in 1949.
That led her to Donemus, a music publisher in Amsterdam that focuses on contemporary classical music, and that lead in turn to the music of other Dutch composers.
Ms. Shansky said that it was hard to become a well-known composer in that time and place — that is, in the Netherlands, before and during the war — and that was particularly true for women. In an article called “Suppressed Music in The Netherlands: Discovering Hidden Treasures” by Eleonore Pameijer and Carine Alders, we learn that “Music was forbidden simply because a composer either had a Jewish background or refused to comply with Nazi rules. Such composers had to give up their social positions, and their music was banned from all public performances. Most Jewish composers were deported, their personal belongings plundered. Many of them lost their lives. Their personal archives as well as their musical heritage were eradicated.”
After the war, when a new generation of musicians scorned the music of the old composers as hopelessly outdated, “Most of the Dutch music from the first half of the century was neglected and looked down upon. Those compositions that had survived the war did not survive the scrutiny of post-war musical taste.”
In recent years, research by committed researchers has brought back the music of these “suppressed composers.” It is such music that Ms. Shansky will perform.
The music historian said that none of the music she will play was written in concentration camps. “I try to portray their lives before the camps, before they were deported or in hiding — to celebrate their lives.” The music was written in the 1930s, before the occupation. “It’s interesting to see the calm before the storm,” she added.
Some of the music was not played during the composer’s lifetime, as was the case with Dick Kattenburg, whose work later was performed by Eleonore Pameijer. Some of it never has been heard in public, Ms. Shansky said.
She explained that the music of these Dutch composers was influenced heavily by the French compositional styles of the 1920s and 30s. “There are more modern harmonies, but they’re still very melodic, eclectic, lush. There is also some German influence, and some jazz. You can hear Gershwin. It’s interesting that the Netherlands was taking in what was going on. It’s cool stuff, modern, not off-putting — no atonality. The lay public seems to enjoy it.
“They were writing for their present,” she said.
Some of the composers led interesting lives, Ms. Shansky added. Two of the women survived the war in hiding. Interestingly, she said, they were better known around Amsterdam than their male counterparts were, “not because they survived but because they lucked out. One spent a year in the States with the WPA Composers Forum, created to employ musicians and continue music education.”
Ms. Shansky said that she has “a special place in her heart” for Rosy Wertheim, a wealthy woman “who wrote a lot of choir music for Jewish children in poor neighborhoods in Amsterdam. She had a nice obit in the Amsterdam papers.” Henriette Bosmans also garnered positive attention, she added.
Ms. Shansky said that her March 22 presentation will contain both music and educational material, “but will be less academic and more lay-friendly. We want to get in five different composers. We’ll play a full concert and provide background information about the composer and the music, showing slides so that the audience can see what they look like.”
The audience “will have a chance to hear about composers they never heard of, to hear delightful music they never heard, and to learn something,” she said.
Who: Flutist and Temple Emeth choir director Carol Shansky and pianist Amber Liao
What: Will perform “Voices Lost, Voices Born”
When: On Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m.
Where: At Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck
How much: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
For more information or reservations: Call
(201) 833-1322 or go to emeth.org/special programs