New columnist tackles Jewish music beat

BY DANIEL DURCHHOLZ, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many columns for the Jewish Light. My focus here will be music that has an impact on the Jewish community, whether it be from the local scene or of national (or international) import. I hope to offer some information and perhaps some insight on lots of great music, but I also want this column to be the start of a conversation, with you pointing me in the direction of things the rest of the Light’s readership should know about.

A little about myself: I’ve covered music for more than 20 years, as a writer and/or editor for Riverfront Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and various national magazines. I’m the co-author of two books, “MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide” and “Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History,” the latter of which will be published in a couple of weeks. I can be heard weekly (usually Thursday nights in the 9 o’clock hour), talking about new music and upcoming concerts, on “The Carney Show” on KMOX.

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But enough about me. Let’s get started.

The United Hebrew Congregation of St. Louis has released a CD “Kol Yisroel.” It features original compositions by Cantor Ronald Eichaker and Assistant Music Director David Cohen (also an advertising account executive with the Jewish Light), with contributions from a number of UH congregants.

The project came together over the past few years, with Cantor Eichaker and others getting together for informal jam sessions and later playing some of the resultant music at services. Eventually, others became interested in recording equipment and production techniques, so the idea was hatched of documenting their efforts.

“This CD represents a snapshot,” Eichaker says. “It’s pretty eclectic. We really wanted to give a broad spectrum as to what kind of music we do here in any given week, at any given Shabbat service.

“I also wanted it for archival reasons. That’s why it was important to get Cantor [Emeritus] Murray Hochberg] recorded, and have Rabbis Rosenberg and Kaplansky do their own personal meditations. From now on, we have an audio record of the spiritual leadership of our congregation.”

Involving members of the UH community was of major importance to Eichaker. “I think that’s what it’s about now,” he says; “getting [them] invested in their congregation in any way possible. I have a core group of people here that are really excited about it. We’re going to keep growing.”

Some of the songs are the end result of a more labored writing and recording process while others came about more spontaneously. “The one piece, ‘Shalom Rav,’ I wrote that during a silent meditation and worship Shabbat service about a year ago,” Eichaker says. “I got up and had something else scheduled to sing, but I had an idea and I said to David, ‘Work with me.’ We improvised.”

The money needed to produce the CD came from the UH’s Helen C. Millstone Fund, which was established to fund music-related projects such as this one. All proceeds from sales of the CD will go right back into the Fund.

“It’s going to help supply funding for more CDs,” Eichaker says. “We recorded enough material to do several more CDs, but we haven’t produced them yet. We’ll see what happens next and then hopefully this summer we’ll start putting together some ideas for the next CD.

The disc is available at the UH gift shop for $10. Plans are in the works to make it available as a digital download as well.

* I got a kick out of recent Twitter thread that caught fire a couple weeks ago. It never made the trending topics list (currently a subject of some controversy) but #Jewishrapnames was (and still is) quite a hoot. Some of my favorite suggestions: Dr. Dreidel, Too Schwartz, Lauren Hillel, Shvitzmaster Mike, Bubbe Down Productions, El Al Cool J, Method Mensch, Kugel Keith, Ludabris, the Lost Tribe Called Quest, Matzah P, Limp Brisket, Ghostface Kreplach and Ice Berg.

Who knew that singer/songwriter Peter Himmelman – who has released numerous albums, written for film and TV, ventured into kids music and recorded some fine Hanukkah-related songs – is a visual artist as well? Not me. But he recently started a website to display his colorful artwork and offer limited-edition lithographs for sale. The address is himmelmanart.com.

Got a tip? Please forward news of musical events, releases, singers, songwriters, musicians, etc. to Daniel Durchholz via [email protected]