Posts Tagged ‘Orchestra and Chorus of Benedict Silberman’

Still In 1970 (LP Edition)

Friday, October 9th, 2020

Here are the top ten albums listed in the Billboard 200 on October 10, 1970, fifty years ago tomorrow:

Cosmo’s Factory by CCR (December 1998)
Mad Dogs & Englishmen by Joe Cocker (August 1975)
A Question Of Balance by the Moody Blues (February 1989)
Woodstock film soundtrack (August 1988)
Third Album by the Jackson 5
Tommy by the Who (September 1988)
Chicago (May 1970)
Abraxas by Santana (April 1989)
After The Gold Rush by Neil Young (January 1985)
Sweet Baby James by James Taylor (August 1989)

(In his Top 10 Billboard Album Charts (1963-1998), Joel Whitburn lists the Chicago album as Chicago II. The title on the spine of my 1970 LP is simply Chicago, which is how I present it here. The use of Roman numerals by the band began with Chicago III.)

The months in parentheses above tell me when those albums came to my shelves. The only one of those albums that never showed up in my home is the one by the Jackson 5. (It seems as if I write that sentence, or others very similar, frequently, as I never bought an album by the Jackson 5, although I had numerous tracks by the group on various anthologies.)

Anyway, that’s a pleasant ten hours or so of listening. If I were asked to sort out a favorite from among those ten, I’d have a hard time choosing between the albums by Chicago, Joe Cocker and the Moody Blues. I think all of A Question Of Balance (along with the single version of the title track) is in the iPod and thus part of my day-to-day listening; all of the first LP of the Chicago album is also there, so call it a tie.

As to Mad Dogs, three tracks show up in the device: “The Letter,” “Cry Me A River,” and “Give Peace A Chance.” I’ve got the album on CD, but it’s one that rarely gets popped into a player, unlike a couple other Joe Cocker efforts. I think that somewhere along the line the pace of the album became overwhelming and not very much fun anymore, kind of like a eighty-minute adrenaline rush that leaves you exhausted instead of fulfilled.

That’s possibly even the case when the single tracks pop up on random, but then, something else comes along, something by Bread or maybe even Steely Dan that isn’t nearly so manic. So, just for fun, I’m going to cue up “Cry Me A River” in iTunes and see what comes next.

And – in a demonstration that my iPod might be the most eclectic listening device in Minnesota, if not the Upper Midwest or even a larger area – we get a track from a 1964 album I wrote about in a post almost ten years ago. When my sister bought the album in the mid-1960s, it was titled Traditional Jewish Memories. When I found it as a CD in 2010, it had been retitled as Hava Nagila & Other Jewish Memories (and now, seemingly, has been retitled again as Traditional Jewish Melodies). Here, performed by the Benedict Silberman Orchestra & Chorus, is “The Welcoming Melody.”

Saturday Singles Nos. 209 & 210

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

We belonged to two record clubs in my youth: The first was the Musical Heritage Society, which released albums of classical works in mostly plain white jackets, with the occasional change-up of an album with a color picture on the front. My sister and I were about fourteen and eleven, respectively, when the records began coming to the house once a month – typical titles were Great Pages From French Organ Music or Trios for Flute, Piano and Cello – and we were, at best, skeptical.

“Just wait,” our dad would say as he’d slide that month’s arrival onto the bookshelves where the others gathered. “There will come a day when you’re glad you have these.” And he was right. For as infrequently as I listen to Music of the Hunt and the others, I am glad the records have made their ways from his shelves to mine. They sit there partly as a reminder of my dad and partly as a library of fine classical music should I be in that mood (and I am there on occasion).

The other record club was more mainstream. I think it was the Record Club of America, whose initials hint to me that it was corporately tied to RCA. (Not so, as it happens; see the comment from reader Yah Shure below.) For several years, my sister and I were each allowed to select a record from the catalog every other month.

It must have been in 1964 when we joined the club, as I recall that my first selection was the soundtrack to the James Bond film Goldfinger, which I owned before I had seen the film or read any of Ian Fleming’s novels. My sister’s selections were generally more pop-oriented, except she baffled me – and likely my parents – when she ordered one month a record called Traditional Jewish Memories, an orchestral/vocal collection of melodies that I found exotic and compelling.

I’ve written a few times over the past three years about my sister’s record collection, about her taking her records with her when she moved away from Kilian Boulevard, and about my efforts over the years to replace those records of hers that I had come to love. Eventually, and without working very hard at it, I gathered copies of almost all of the records I had liked among my sister’s collection.

Three were challenges: Two by Leo Kottke – Circle ’Round the Sun and Mudlark – and Traditional Jewish Memories. In the 1990s, as I was doing the heavy lifting on creating a vinyl archive and was looking more closely than ever for my sister’s records, I could not find any of those three. As to the third, I didn’t even recall the name of the artist or artists who recorded it. I recalled the cover: mostly white, with a yellowish photo of an older Orthodox Jewish man flanked by burning candles. But it was an album I loved, maybe more than I liked the Kottkes and the rest of my sister’s records, filled as it was with dramatic, poignant and exuberant melodies that obviously came from a far different culture than mine.

One day, I did find a copy of Traditional Jewish Memories at Cheapo’s, marked as being in “Good” condition and performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of Benedict Silberman. I took it home, of course, and was reminded once again that visual inspection of records does not always provide an accurate check of quality. The music was as moving as I remembered, what I could hear of it: The record played hissy at too many points to be easily listenable. It wasn’t the fault of the folks at Cheapo’s. They had so many records come in the doors each week that there was no way to listen to them all; they did their visual grading in good faith, and there had been times I’d brought back to their store records that had a hidden defect. This one, even though it was essentially unplayable, I kept, hoping to someday replace it with a better-sounding copy.

And all through the record digging of the 1990s, I looked.  The two Kottkes came home eventually after I hooked up to the world in 2000 and then found the world of music blogs a few years later. I found mp3s of Circle ’Round the Sun and Mudlark at blogs or boards, and not long after that, two friends I’ve met through blogging each sent me one of the Kottkes on vinyl, in very good condition.

That left Traditional Jewish Memories. While I was constructing my vast LP database in 2001 and 2002, I found several listings for the album in libraries – most notably in the on-line files of Dartmouth University’s Jewish Sound Archive – and some digging through the Warner Bros. listings at the Both Sides Now discography site gave me a release date of 1964. But nowhere could I find a listing for a CD release, nor could I at that time find a listing offering a better quality copy of the record I had or any mp3 rips of the album.

Until a few weeks ago.

Over the past eight years, I’d occasionally gone looking, checking blogs and boards and at Amazon and other online retailers, as I’ve done for other elusive albums over the years. I wrote not long ago about doing the same with Cover Me, the Springsteen tribute. And, as happened with Cover Me, it was like a switch flipped somewhere. Suddenly, there were vinyl copies of the record offered for sale – one at Amazon this morning is going for $42 – and I found some listings for CDs. The CDs, however, had differing titles, though all were credited to Silberman – about whom I know nothing, really – and listed some of the same tracks as on the vinyl I have.

So I invested a couple bucks in a CD, but when it came, I found that it wasn’t quite complete. It was missing two of the fourteen tracks on the LP. Disappointed, I set it aside unopened and went back online, this time heading for a different retailer. And I found the album.

Now titled Hava Nagila & Other Jewish Memories, the CD has the same recordings in the same order as the LP my sister ordered from our record club so long ago. The notes in the CD package (augmented by one bit of information from the back of the LP jacket) tell me that twelve of the fourteen tracks are drawn from Jewish music prevalent in Eastern Europe as far back as the Sixteenth Century and are part of the Jewish tradition that resulted in, among other things, the musical style called Klezmer. (Silberman wrote one of the tracks himself, basing it on traditional themes, and the fourteenth track is “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” a Yiddish song written in the 1930s that was a hit for the Andrews Sisters in the late 1930s.)

In other words, the music on the CD – and on the vinyl that preceded it – is in large part the music of a Pre-Holocaust culture that no longer exists. It’s true that that the professionalism of Silberman’s orchestra and chorus smooths out the rougher and more exuberant edges the more celebratory songs would have had in the Klezmer tradition, and the instrumentation is no doubt different, but still the songs remain.

I’ve never known why my sister ordered Traditional Jewish Memories from the record club, and I never knew when I played the record in the late 1960s and early 1970s why those melodies from so long ago and so far away moved me so greatly. Knowing now quite a bit more of the tragic history surrounding nearly all of the songs on the album – and feeling more and more the weight of the Star of David I’ve worn around my neck for years as a memorial to the Six Million – I know now what it was I heard along with the music in the basement at Kilian Boulevard.

I was hearing ghosts of a culture and a people diminished and nearly destroyed.

Here are two of those tunes with ghosts, “Rosalie” and “Mitzva Dances,” today’s Saturday Singles:

Both tracks are from Traditional Jewish Memories by the Orchestra and Chorus of Benedict Silberman, 1964. (Reissued on CD in 1994 as Hava Nagila & Other Jewish Memories.)

Edited slightly.