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Michael Eskin

Cantor Tracy Kasner Greaves

Cantor Anibal Mass

Gerry Daien circa 1978


Jane Enkin

Jane Enkin on Rady JCC's Tarbut 2014: Songs of our People: A Celebration of Winnipeg Cantors in Concert - CD Launch

by Jane Enkin, posted Feb 4, 2015


On Sunday, November 16, I spent the morning studying meditation with Rabbi Alan Green. He introduced concepts from traditional Jewish sources, then he gave us a guided meditation experience, filled with imagery of beauty and light.



That afternoon, I was guided with great gentleness to a similar depth of meditation and beauty, this time by the delicately blended voices of Len Udow and Tracy Kasner Greaves. They sang Udow's own setting of a traditional prayer. With their focus on the words of the prayer and the richness of the music, humbly enjoying one another without playing to the audience, Udow and Kasner Greaves welcomed listeners to a few moments of deeply felt praise.



This was just one highlight of a varied concert, featuring many of Winnipeg's fine singers. The concert was a celebration of a newly released CD, Songs of Our People. In 1985, a community concert including Winnipeg's many cantors was organized and Eskin was one of eight invited singers. Sheldon Laveman organized the program, planning the many lovely choral ensemble pieces, trios, duets and solos in the concert. Months of preparation went into the event, and rehearsals were quite intense. The concert was a great success, and many people called for more, but there never was another Winnipeg cantors' concert – until Tarbut 2014.

There was one tape recording of the performance, made by someone sitting in the audience, and a few people had copies. Not long ago, Eskin's wife Nella said, “Do something with it!” Eskin isn't sure of the reason it came up now – perhaps the loss of some of the singers or the changes in the role of music in our synagogues had something to do with it. “Cantors Louis Berkal and David Boroditsky have passed away, so the CD provides a glimpse of their wonderful musical talents.” The CD “represents a Golden Age,” said Eskin.

The CD, produced with the generous support of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, is for sale at Desserts Plus, the Shaarey Zedek Bookstore, and through [email protected] .

To launch the CD, Tarbut 2014 hosted a performance by some of the original singers and their colleagues. Michael Eskin, professor at the University of Manitoba and one of the prayer leaders at Herzlia Adas Yeshurun Synagogue, accompanied himself on guitar, singing the same lively Hebrew folk songs he performed in 1995. He also gave an introduction to cantorial music, and paid tribute to Winnipeg cantors of the past.

Gerry Daien, cantor at Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue, another of the singers from the 1985 concert, sang magnificent pieces that blended Hebrew and Yiddish, with liturgical and folk song elements. “Reb Motenyu” lovingly spoke to “Gotenyu”, dear God, in his second song. His charm, energy and vocal power gave a great start to the concert.

Richard Yaffe, lawyer, entertainer, and cantor for twenty years at Temple Shalom, the third singer from the original concert, drew repertoire from three of his musical loves for his beautiful performances. He sang an intricate, old-fashioned High Holiday duet with Anibal Mass. His Yiddish choice was the sweet lullaby Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen. Yaffe is as much an actor as a singer – when he sang Miracle of Miracles from Fiddler on the Roof, he transformed himself into an enthusiastic, astonished teenager.

Len Udow, cantor at Temple Shalom, teaches songwriting as an Artist in the Schools. He performed an entertaining original song in English about the importance in his life of being culturally Jewish, filled with funny local references.

Anibal Mass is the cantor at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. His duet with Richard Yaffe was a complex, sophisticated piece of traditonal cantorial music. He sang one of my favourite contemporary cantorial pieces, L'Dor Va Dor, and then sang an inspiring Israeli song with two teenagers.

Tracy Kasner Greaves, cantor at Congregation Etz Chayim and artistic director of the Chai Folk Ensemble, returned to the stage to sing a tender, moving rendition of a contemporary setting of Avinu Malkenu.

The brilliant closing brought all the cantors together on stage. The song they shared is a Yiddish folk song, Ale Brider, with an easy chorus, but within it they each sang some of their most elaborate solos. This was the best opportunity of the afternoon to hear rich cantorial improvisation, traditional chazzanut.

This leads me to my wish list:


I really hope we hear more cantorial music in Winnipeg!

I'd like to hear much more traditional and contemporary prayer music. It's rare now to hear dramatic cantorial pieces and traditional nusach (singing based on musical modes, featuring improvisation and elaborate ornamentation) in synagogue, so it would be wonderful to hear them in concert.

It's time for a new performance of the music of Winnipeg's famous Cantor Benjamin Brownstone. Many of his students and members of his choir know the beautiful melodies and harmonies they learned from him, and a reunion concert would be a delight.

Winnipeg audiences love to sing. I'd love to hear Rabbi Alan Green and others bring easy to learn melodies with a spiritual focus into the mix.

So clearly, my wish is for a longer program, or better yet, a series of programs of this glorious music.


Jane Enkin Music and Story at

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