KSU music professor Dr. Oral Moses joined with Cantor Daniel Gale of Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, in singing at the recital, which included a special appearance by the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble and KSU adjunct instructor Judith Cole at the piano. It took place Sunday afternoon on campus at the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center.
Featured were songs from both culture’s traditions, including Negro spirituals, Yiddish songs, arts songs by black and Jewish composers, and songs from the American musical theater.
The idea for the recital came about eight years ago, when Gale contacted Moses about doing what turned out to be their first performance together at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.
“Dr. Moses and I have known one another since our early days in music school,” said Gale. “Over the years we have each grown in our roles as singers within our own religious and cultural musical traditions.”
Moses, a bass-baritone who song with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers while attending Nashville’s Fisk University, said the similarities between Negro spirituals and Yiddish songs is not so much the songs as it is the history of the two peoples.
“Both African-Americans and Jewish-Americans come out of enslaved backgrounds,” he said. “The music came into existence during these enslavement periods.”
Both Yiddish songs and Negro spirituals often speak of the experience of living in exile as oppressed and often persecuted groups, said Gale, a bass-baritone who has developed programs to promote interfaith understanding and religious tolerance.
“Both often draw their themes from the struggles of daily life as a minority with a majority culture. Interestingly, both languages, Yiddish and English, are adopted languages,” Gale said.
“Jews of Europe adopted a largely German-dialect combined with Hebrew, reflecting the language of their surrounding culture. Similarly, African-Americans adopted the language of exile to express their deeply held beliefs and hopes.”
The recital’s musical selections, chosen by Moses and Gale, included: “Go Down, Moses,” “Shalom Aleichem,” “Soon I will be done,” “Kaddish of R. Levi-Yitzhok Barditshever,” “The Boatmen’s Dance,” “Ale Brider” and selections from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
The program opened with the singing of “Avodim Hayinu” and “Ani Ma’amin.”
“The opening song is a Yiddish recounting of the story of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt — a clear parallel to the African-American experience,” said Gale.
“It was coupled with a version in Hebrew of one of the most basic principles of Jewish faith: that of the coming of the messiah/redemption. While differing in particulars, both the Jewish tradition and the African-American tradition are strongly messianic in their desire for the salvation of humankind.”
Moses said music has been of the utmost importance in both cultures.
“For African-Americans, we are from a culture where music is a constant for every occasion in our daily lives; I think it would be very difficult for us to live without music,” he said. “I feel it is similar in the Jewish culture. It has been a way in which we have been most effective in expressing our deepest and most sincere feelings throughout life.”
Both men expressed the desire that the audience left the program feeling that music can be a bridge to understanding different cultures, as well as a tool for healing.
“Both Dr. Moses and I hope that the audience comes away with the sense that while our cultures each have their own separate history and culture, we deeply share spiritual roots from the influence of the Hebrew scriptures, similar histories of persecution, and the shared values regarding civil rights that motivate the participation of so many from both traditions to work for social justice and equality,” said Gale.