Stein Scores Grammy


 

In the midst of all of the glamour of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, one could easily miss the hurrahs of one local cantor. But it was a proud moment for Chazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, one of a group of musicians honored Feb. 13 with an award in the Best Children’s Music category for “”cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.”

The album honors the work of Jenkins, the Chicago-raised singer-songwriter dubbed by the media as “the first lady of children’s folk music.” Jenkins created such classics as “Miss Mary Mack” and “You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song,” sung on “cELLAbration” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Cathy Fink, respectively. (Fink was also the album’s co-producer, along with performer Marcie Marxer.) Other artists on the album include Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin and the University Park Children’s Ensemble.

A previous Grammy nominee for his 1999 children’s album “Dreamosaurus,” Stein was asked to score the music on “cELLAbration” for Jenkins’ tune “Rushing Around Russia.” Stein noted how Jenkins influenced the careers of many children’s music artists, including his own, from her beginnings as a performer at various Jewish Community Centers in Chicago.

“It wasn’t silly, sing-song rhyme anymore. She [Jenkins] gave credit to children’s intelligence and imagination,” Stein said. “She gave the music real honor, real kavod. I’m very proud to be a part of this album.”

Stein is well-known locally for his devotion to bringing unique forms of music into Jewish celebrations, crafting services for Temple Aliyah centered on folk, jazz, bluegrass and swing music.

Asked what continues to attract so many people to folk music, Stein said “It’s a very honest idiom. It speaks truthfully about experiences and life. It’s centered around rhythm, and children like that, they like to be able to repeat things. You find that rhythm also in hip-hop, but it’s a hard sound, almost scary. Folk music is very warm and nonthreatening, very purely done.”

 

Spend Chanukah Barenaked


 

While naming your holiday album “Barenaked for the Holidays” is a pretty catchy way to get some attention, for the quirky pop band that calls itself the Barenaked Ladies, it made sense — about as much sense as getting naked on “The Sharon Osbourne Show” last year, anyway. Apparently, stripping down’s just part of the offbeat Canadians’ sense of fun. So it follows that anyone expecting the Ladies’ holiday album to be anything less than silly would be, well, silly.

The new CD offers up revamped Christmas, Chanukah and New Year’s classics, as well as a few original tunes, including one called “Hanukkah Blessings,” written by Jewish band member Steven Page. The reinterpreted songs include a version of “Jingle Bells” that has “the extra lines you remember from being a kid,” Page recently told rollingstone.com.

Another song, titled, “Deck the Stills,” is a variation on “Deck the Halls” that functions as a bizarre homage to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, wherein the band’s name, sung repeatedly to the melody of “Deck the Halls” makes up the entirety of the song.

Two Chanukah standards also make it onto the album: “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” and “I Have a Little Dreidel,” both redone in traditional — if a little peppier — style.

While the Ladies might not seem bent on tradition, there is at least one that it’s said they stick to. The band is known for always recording at least one song per album completely nude. Which song that is remains a mystery, although for the sake of Sarah McLachlan, their collaborator on the recording,”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” we hope it wasn’t that one.

And while in typical, unpredictable style, the Ladies released their holiday CD way back in October, Page was quick to mockingly defend the choice on the band’s official blog, noting its release was “just in time for the holidays. Well, by holidays I mean Ramadan and Canadian Thanksgiving.” Still, he added, “It might be early for a stocking stuffer, but it’s perfect as a turkey stuffer.”

 

Long-Hair Music Gets Kid’sBuzz Cut in ‘Beethoven’s Wig’


Move over Baby Mozart and Baby Bach. If you really want your children to learn the classics — and know the composer’s name to boot — check out “Beethoven’s Wig, Sing Along Symphonies.” The Grammy-nominated release by Richard Perlmutter adds witty lyrics to some of classical music’s best-loved pieces.

The CD’s title, for example, is from the lyrics set to the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: “Beethoven’s wig, is very big.” And while the lyrics are fun for children, adults will appreciate the droll humor. Regarding the finger speed of pianist Franz Liszt, Perlmutter croons that Liszt “could play the minute waltz so quickly that he’d end in 30 seconds flat.”

Last month, Perlmutter released a follow-up album, “Beethoven’s Wig II, More Sing Along Symphonies,” which proves equally amusing and addicting. Listen a few times and you’ll find yourself singing along with such lyrics as those accompanying Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: “Oh, what a wedding cake, it stands over six stories high….” In both CD’s, the sing-along versions are followed by orchestral versions without lyrics.

As a child, Perlmutter built his own guitar (“It was pretty bad,” he admitted) and later worked as a song leader at Stephen S. Wise Temple and other area synagogues in the 1980s. Perlmutter, who has produced several albums for children, was educated at the business and architecture schools at Yale.

“Music didn’t seem like the type of thing you could do as a career,” he said. Looks like he’s turned that theory on its head.

Selections from “Beethoven’s Wig” will be performed at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, Reading by 9 Stage, on Saturday, April 24, at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 25, at 1:30 p.m.

For more information, visit www.beethovenswig.com .

The Music Men


Move over Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

The Three Jewish Tenors are coming to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa next month, accompanied by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Cantors David Propis, Alberto Mizrahi and David Katz — all of major U.S. congregations — will perform cantorial classics, arias and showtunes. They’re equally at home on the operatic stage as the bimah: Mizrahi has understudied for Pavarotti, Propos’ 1998 Carnegie Hall debut was dubbed "stunning" by The New York Times, and Katz received standing ovations for his starring role in "La Boheme."

The goal of the March 14 concert, presented by the Jewish Community Center of Orange County (JCC), is to raise more than $100,000 to benefit the JCC and participating Jewish organizations. It also aims to bring Jewish music out of the synagogue and into the concert hall: "We’re trying to elevate the work in a way that makes it more accessible to a cross-generational public," says Chicago-based Mizrahi.

The Three Jewish Tenors began during a round of golf between sessions of a cantorial convention in Chicago in 1993. Propis, Mizrahi and Katz’s predecessor, Cantor Meir Finkelstein, were puttering around the course while harmonizing Yiddish songs and snippets of the Verdi opera, "Rigoletto."

The Houston cantor flashed back to the concert his renowned father, Dov Propis, had performed with fellow cantor-opera singers Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker. It was the 1950s — the Golden Age of cantorial music — a time when Tucker and Peerce regularly appeared with symphony orchestras and received the enthusiasm usually reserved for secular stars.

Propis’ mind then flashed forward to the early 1990s, when The Three Tenors — Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras — had become classical music’s hottest ticket. The opera stars were selling out concert halls and inspiring copycats such as the Three Irish Tenors and the Three Mo’ Tenors.

The light bulb went off inside Propis’ head. "I thought, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?’" he recalls. "Why not The Three Jewish Tenors?"

The cantor was so sure of his idea that he went for broke — literally — when proposing the act as a fundraiser for his Conservative shul. "I basically pledged my salary for a year if we didn’t make a profit," says Propis, who was vindicated when a 1995 concert with members of Houston’s Symphony Orchestra netted $120,000. In 1996, another Houston concert sold out a month before the performance and raised $350,000.

Concert proceeds from this stop on the tenors’ national tour will benefit the JCC transition fund to the new Samueli Jewish Campus to be built in Irvine, according to David Goldberg, JCC development director.

Propis hopes it will also build some Jewish pride. "After every concert, people tell me how proud they feel to be Jewish," he says. "Having Jewish music in a symphony hall setting gives a new kind of legitimation to Jewish music, and says it can compete with the best."

For tickets ($20-$65) and information about a preconcert reception and dinner, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 123.