Helfman 2010 - What Was, What Will Be?

The Max Helfman Institute – New Perspectives on Jewish Music – The 2010 Experience About 18 months ago, Cantor Phil Baron of Valley Beth Shalom  approached me as Chairman of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles with a new possibility - educating a group of experienced Jewish composers, who have not written music for the synagogue, to write new synagogue music. The program would be called the Max Helfman Institute of Jewish Music, in honor of the great composer and teacher who was such a powerful influence on so many people fifty years ago at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Los Angeles .  Cantor Baron felt that there is a real dearth of new, quality music for the synagogue, and that this program might address that problem.  As a former songwriter for Disney Studios, he knew a number of such composers.   The Jewish Music Commission and Cantor Baron applied to the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for a grant and were pleased to receive $5000, which covered a portion of the costs.  The remainder was funded by the Jewish Music Commission with additional assistance from the International Archive of Jewish Music. It was initially intended to have about 12 to 15 participants, but as the word got out, there was a virtual deluge of applicants.  So, in March 2010, organized and led by Cantor Phil Baron, a carefully selected group of twenty experienced Jewish composers from many parts of the country met for twenty-six hours of stimulation and study at the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University (the very same Brandis-Bardin Institute) with an exciting faculty including Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Dr. Michael Isaacson.  Over the ensuing eight months, the Fellows, as they were now called, were introduced to the texts and literature with which to enrich the palette of their writing.  They met periodically with selected faculty, individually and as a group, presenting their compositions as works in progress, seeking and offering encouragement and critiques, under the mentorship and scrutiny of Dr. Isaacson and Cantor Baron.  In the course of this experience, they have become a closely-knit group, despite the great disparity in age, background and personality. The culmination of the program was on Shabbat Shira, Friday evening, January 21, 2011 at Valley Beth Shalom.  The service comprised twenty-one new compositions, plus new music written for the occasion by Cantor Baron and Michael Isaacson.  Performed by the Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir, under the direction of Dr. Noreen Green, and with an ensemble of instruments and soloists, this was an achievement of major proportions.  There were over eight hundred people in the congregation, who were deeply moved and excited by what had transpired.  It was unclear at the onset what would be the outcome of this endeavor. The trajectory and timeline of the future of the Institute are under consideration, but there seems to be promise for authentic music for the synagogue written at a high level and which can reach the current generation and the ones to come. The Helfman Fellows 2010 are: Karmit Bar-Lev, Julie Bernstein, Steven Bernstein, Miriam Cutler, Coreen Duffy, Bernardo Feldman, Richard Friedman, Aaron Fruchtman, James Fuchs, Michael Gill, Rita Glassman, Chris Hardin, Michael Mogley, Robert Remstein, Sheldon Sands, Michael Silversher and Michelle Green Willner. Richard A. Braun, MD Chairman, Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles