3 Musical Lives
We still get the newspaper delivered every day. I have been lobbying lately for subscribing to only the digital edition of the paper in order to save the lives of a few trees (OMG, could I be reading newspapers made from the same trees that the JNF planted in my name when I was in Hebrew school??)
In any case, my daughter Kaziah nixed the idea, because it would make it far too difficult and far too time consuming for her to read the 2 pages of comics that she consumes in the Washington Post every day. And my wife Renée likes to cut out recipes from the Food section, which let's face it, cannot be done on a computer regardless of its' cut and paste options.
I must admit that I need the paper too. Otherwise, I couldn't say that we "get the paper" every day and, I wouldn't have the obituaries to read.
Does anyone know whether it is true or an urban myth that would-be renters in NYC read the obits and then pounce on the apartments that the now deceased left unoccupied? Can anyone confirm or put to rest this idle roomer? (sic, pun intended, or sick pun, intended)
Either way, the obits hold a certain fascination for me. And becuase of what what published in today's paper, I got to meet three people whose lives would otherwise have gone unnoticed and unappreciated by yours truly. What makes it all the more lovely is that all three were music lovers.
The picture above is of Lambert Bartak (pretty darn close to Bartok don't you think?) who died last Tuesday, November 5th, at the age of 94. For over a half century Mr. Bartak was the organist at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, entertaining the crowds for the College World Series.
Bartak also played the organ for minor league baseball's Omaha Royals from 1973 to 2002. In 1988, he was ejected from a game when he played the theme song from "The Mickey Mouse Club" during an onfield argument between the Royals' manager and an umpire over a call. Talk about the power of music!
Al Johnson died on October 26. He was only 65 (Uh-oh, I just turned 60 last week), and I wonder if any of you recall his 1960's rhythm and blues vocal group called the Unifics, because I sure don't. But Mr. Johnson went on to produce and arrange for Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, and Jean Carne. I just love the truth of what he had to say about love songs: "For something that causes so much pleasure, love causes a whole lot of pain. Love songs allow you to experience the emotion without having to do the roadwork or, if you have been through the mill, make you feel that it was somehow for a worthy cause." I'll say.
The third person I had the privilege to meet today is Chana Mlotek, who died at her home in the Bronx on November 4. Music archivist at YIVO, she was an impassioned collector of Yiddish songs. Isaac Beshavis Singer once called Chana and her husband Joseph, "the Sherlock Holmeses of Yiddish folk songs." In 1970 the couple began writing a column in the Jewish Daily Forward called "Perl Fun Der Yiddishe Poezie" ("Pearls of Yiddish Poetry") One section of their column, "Readers Recall Songs," asked readers to submit small portions of songs they remembered from their youth. The Mloteks would then research and identify these songs and write about them. One of the most memorable letters came from a man who had been in a concentration camp. A boy there sang, "My Yiddishe Mame," and the Nazi officer was so moved that he told the guard to give the Jews another bowl of soup. A week after the letter was published in the column, a writer wrote that he was the boy who sang the sentimental song, and a week after that, another letter came from someone who said, "I was there too."
As an enthomusicologist and folklorist, Chana said that songs were powerful stimulants to retrospection. "There's a song everybody loves." She wrote her first research paper on a song called, "The Beard" in which a wife asks her husband why he cut off his beard because she no longer recognizes him. "I found it to be a poem by Mikhl Gordon from 1868," Chana said, "It went through many different translations and melodies. When a songs is transmitted orally like that, it becomes folkloric." (BTW, my family folklore has it that many years ago my father-in-law came home having shaved off his beard. My late mother-in-law told him, "If you shave it again, don't bother coming home")
Lambert Bartak, Al Johnson, Chana Mlotek and my late mother-in-law Randy Brachfeld.
May their memories be for a blessing.
11/12/2013 08:15:27 am
Thanks Reb M for introducing us to these unsung musical heroes (sorry). I've been thinking a lot recently about how many we have lost in the last year or two who created the music that has meant so much to me and my family.
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Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and