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The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus Celebrates Sholem Aleichem in Song at Merkin Concert Hall
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The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus Celebrates Sholem Aleichem in Song at Merkin Concert Hall

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The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus
Der Yidisher filharmonisher folkskhor

“To Life, To Laugh, “L’chaim”
A Sholem Aleichem Centennial Celebration in Song

Binyumen Schaechter, Conductor
Seth Weinstein, Piano

(Click Here for Current Choral Members)

Special Soloists:
Cantor Joel Caplan
Temma Schaechter
Arun Viswanath

Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)
Press: Joan Jastrebski

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 25, 2016

What a delightful, uplifting evening at Merkin Hall! Binyumen Schaechter, Conductor of the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus for over two decades, has also won awards for his cabaret songs, revues, and musicals. His impressive biography is linked here. This Chorus, known also as JPPC, sings only in Yiddish, with absolutely perfect enunciation and visible enthusiasm. The singers’ vocal talent, in tone and power, is remarkably polished and lovely to experience. As for Maestro Schaechter, he conducts with total focus, signaling his singers, within the eclectic songs. Sometimes he signals a passage for just the men, sometimes for just the women, and sometimes for a solo singer. He also introduces each work to the audience with a solid educational style, offering historical and cultural references to maximize the listener’s involvement. The vocal guest soloists were Cantor Joel Caplan, of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, Temma Schaechter, the daughter of the conductor, a high school student who’s a rising international vocal star, and Arun Viswanath, who’s also in the Chorus. Cantor Caplan performs with theatricality, as he narrated one of tonight’s works and sang numerous lead roles. And, his vocal strength enabled his songs to fill the Hall with ease. Ms. Schaechter glows with youthful ardor, as she sings with a bit of cabaret scat, while in Yiddish lyrics, of course. Mr. Viswanath’s solo is noted below.

Adding to the educational content of the program, the audience is given full English translations of each song, in order to follow along. “To Life, To Laugh, “L’chaim”: ‘A Sholem Aleichem Centennial Celebration in Song’, celebrates Yiddish songs, Yiddish language, and, most importantly, the Russian-born Sholem Aleichem, the renowned Yiddish writer, who died 100 years ago, 1916. So, it was fitting that Mr. Schaechter included three selections from Fiddler on the Roof, which was adapted from Sholem Aleichem’s novel, Tevye der milkhiker. This Broadway musical has been reviewed on these pages in several revivals. The three songs, “If I Were a Rothschild” (original English is “If I Were a Rich Man”), was sung with energy by Cantor Caplan, “Day In, Day Out” (original English is “Sunrise, Sunset”), was poignantly sung by the Chorus, and “To Life” was vivaciously sung by the Chorus.

It should be noted that Mr. Schaechter arranged most of the program’s songs with exceptional musicality and clarity. It should also be noted that Seth Weinstein, pianist, made each tune or narrative musical backdrop particularly melodic. His choral timing was highly professional. Five Yiddish songs, featuring the full Chorus, opened the program, with their English translations “Fire, Fire”, “By the Little Town”, “My Grandfather’s Melody”, “Peace Unto You”, and “How Good It Sounds”. Where narrations occur, they are always in English, and the Chorus always sings in Yiddish, a true sharing of cultures. The second, a folk melody, was my favorite here, with the Chorus especially wide-eyed and vocally vibrant.

Nine brief songs by Mark Warshawsky, narrated in English by Cantor Caplan, related to relationships, holidays, school, and marriage, among several entertaining themes. Warshawsky, from Kiev, then in Russia, showed his Yiddish tunes to Sholem Aleichem in 1890 and was encouraged to publish them, which he thankfully did. It’s possible that some of these songs were actually sung to this writer by my own grandmother, who came to America from Kiev, speaking and singing Yiddish fluently, along with her native Russian. “The Hebrew Alphabet”, also by Warshawsky, was sung by Temma Schaechter, with her father playing the piano in atmospheric ambiance. Ms. Schaechter added some Yiddish scat to her eloquent vocals. Cantor Caplan then sang Maurice Goldman’s “A Tune”, which he introduced in English, a song about the rich and the poor, and how each sees fish, meat, and bread.

Mr. Schaechter, a musical composer, added three selections from his show, Double Identity, adapted from Sholem Aleichem’s “Hard to Be a Jew”, “Let’s Live It Up” (sung by the Chorus), “I Could Just Shoot Myself” (Mr. Viswanath’s dramatic, resonant solo), and “We Live with Faith” (sung by a joyful Chorus). Three songs followed, with words by Aleichem, the choral “Sleep My Child”, “I Don’t Want to Go to Religious School” (Ms. Schaechter singing with the gestural personality of an eight year-old boy), and “Sholem Aleichem’s Epitaph” (reverently sung by the Chorus). Several retired choral singers joined for the encore, a Yiddish tune that’s been an anthem for the Chorus. Kudos to all.

The Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus
and Binyumen Schaechter, Conductor
Courtesy of Tina Ravitz

Binyumen Schaechter at the Piano
Courtesy of The Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at