An Interview About the Music
Our recorded livestream of AN EVENING OF SHORT STORIES BY ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER has had almost a thousand views since it was posted in February. Audience members loved the stories told by Rebecca Garron and we got a lot of requests for more information about the music. Director Joana O’Neil sat down with Paul Baeyertz who both chose the music, all contemporaries of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and played the piano for the performance, to talk about the process.
Joana: Thank you for joining me to talk about the music for An Evening of Short Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Paul: You’re welcome.
Joana: This was our second project together, and I seem to remember that on the first project, we gathered a lot of suggestions for music from the cast. On this project, I think it is accurate to say you took on the role of music director. I seem to remember sending you a link to a list of Jewish composers early in the process, but the rest of the work was yours. What was your approach to choosing the music?
Paul: I was very happy that you and Rebecca asked me if I would accompany the IB Singer program. At first it seemed self explanatory that a reading of works of a great Yiddish author should be accompanied by recognisably Yiddish music. Yiddish music is characterised though by the voice and it’s near relative, the klezmer. I am a pianist and would be the only musician on stage. Transcribing songs and klezmer music for the piano could only produce something second hand, and that would have been a waste.
Joana: The obvious choice didn’t work, so what did you do?
Paul: That lead me to side step to the larger historical context of Jewish music in the American diaspora. I searched through the American Jewish composers, emigres and children thereof, from Copeland to Glass and Ornstein to Morton Feldman.
Joana: How many of the composers were new to you?
Paul: For me there were discoveries. Joseph Acron I might have known from Heifetz’ recording of his Rhapsody on Hebrew Melodies. Leo Ornstein was but a footnote in a study book. Stefan Wolpe, I knew as an important figure in twentieth century music. Morton Feldman, David Tudor and Gil Evans were among his pupils, but I didn’t know of his emigration by way of Palestine.
Joana: You researched the work of those composers and found enough music for our show?
Paul: Absolutely. The music in the interval was from sons of immigrant cantors, Irving Berlin (whose first language was Yiddish) and Harold Arlen. Otherwise, I collected many small piano pieces and we tossed them onto the script and those we took, were those that had just fallen into place.
Joana: The rehearsal process is just for that, trying things out and seeing what works best.
Joana: As a director, I was thrilled with the options you brought to rehearsals. The addition of this music added a very important element to the show. Many people’s first introduction to Singer are through the Zlateh the Goat stories or perhaps Yentl, so their impression may be that his work is old fashioned and quaint. Juxtaposing these stories with music that is modern to the ear makes the viewer curious. My absolute favorite moment in the show is from one of these juxtapositions. I think it creates a connection for our audience from today to the music of the 20th century to pre-war Europe. Hmmm… I wonder what Singer would have thought about it.
Paul: Although several of these composers were close contemporaries of Singer, I don’t know that he had any connection to them. His interest was literature and life. And Yiddish, ofcourse. I don’t know that Singer was striving for any synthesis of the arts, so the synthesis was ours, for the reading!
You can watch AN EVENING OF SHORT STORIES BY ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER online until August, 2021.