I may have been the only listener to the international pre-Pesach online Leil Shimurim concert of chazanim to enjoy the narration by the master of ceremonies, Cantors World co-founder Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky, more than I enjoyed the essence of the concert itself. However, that’s just a reflection on how little I know about chazanut and how much I appreciate the spoken word. Cantor Rogosnitzky’s remarks were spoken in both Hebrew and English, so I was able to savor each of his presentations twice as he wove a description of each chazan into a description of each piece to be sung.
Chazanim are known to inspire emotion. The truth is, I think that all of the chazanim in the program had fantastic voices and exuded emotion, but their singing voices sounded almost identical to me—except that I am a particular partisan who admires Chazan Zevi Muller of the West Side Institutional Synagogue on many levels.
The emotion of the MC in describing how much he enjoyed the rendition of each chazan was really moving to me, and the biographical references he made about each chazan individually were fascinating. There were seven chazanim on the program, not counting the MC and the pianist, including Motti Boyer, Leizer Brooke, Shlomo Glick, Chaim Eliezer Hershtik, Zevi Muller, Avremi Roth, and Beryl Zucker, who each sang two pieces. Most were from Israel; only two were from America.
Some tidbits about the chazanim on the program: Leizer Brooke has posted a new composition every single Friday since the pandemic began. Chazan Zevi Muller, of the Muller chazanim dynasty, just obtained a doctorate in computational neuroscience at a prestigious Ivy League university. He is in a rare category of Chazan Doctor, even more unique considering the doctorate is not in Judaica or in medicine, after having studied in top yeshivot in America and in Israel. Most of the chazanim who performed were relatively young; one just lost his wife during this past year to the pandemic.
There was one guest chazan, Zvi Lider from London, but the only difference I could detect in his role was that his photo wasn’t on the announcement of the event.
The official title of the concert was Leil Shimurim, and of course the MC made the point that in this day and age of the pandemic, we really need more than just an evening of protection.
For years, the pianist accompanying the chazanim at Cantors World concerts was a chazan himself, Daniel Gildar. He is no longer with us, but listeners to the concert were introduced to not one but two new chazan-pianists, most prominently Menachem Bristowski. The references throughout the presentation to the people no longer with us because of the pandemic added to the emotional impact of the event. Throughout the evening, people were asked to share where they were listening from, and it definitely seemed that the concert reverberated within every meridian of the globe.
For the record, the cantors participated pro bono; there was no charge for the event. The other co-founder of Cantors World is Charlie Bernhaut, who also deserves much of the credit for all of these events. Readers and future listeners are encouraged to go to the Cantors World website and find out how much the site has to offer and how people can offer their assistance. A link to the concert is at https://vimeo.com/512695287. But don’t expect light singing for the seder, except for the opening interlude on the piano and a Carlebach niggun. Most are serious chazanut masterpieces from Yossele Rosenblatt and other masters of the classics.
Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq., attended Yeshiva University’s Cantorial Training Institute when it was so named, and served professionally as a chazan Shacharit a few times, rarely graduating to Musaf, but takes pride in having heard and written about some of the best.