If Bono Were a Cantor

Hillel Tigay Displays a Wealth of Influences

Beyond Genesis: Hillel Tigay’s music evokes the mystery of the desert.
Courtesy of Deborah Radel Public Relations
Beyond Genesis: Hillel Tigay’s music evokes the mystery of the desert.

By Matthew Kassel

Published January 07, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Tigay, who is 43 and sings with a slightly nasal voice that evokes Elvis Costello, seems to have grown up a lot since then. “Judeo,” released through the IKAR Music Lab, is so earnest that it’s hard to dislike. The songs feel triumphant: Most of them build gradually to climactic endings with a lot of voices rising above an immense mesh of percussion and strings.

It makes good sense that this is the case. Because Tigay wrote these songs for the synagogue — a potentially soporific environment — one could imagine he wanted to use them to keep his congregation engaged, to bring the service up and not down.

Standout tracks include an affable and folk-inflected “Hineh Mah Tov,” an incantational “Kaddish” and “Shema,” played in waltz time. At first I had trouble with an altered Sh’ma; Tigay’s take doesn’t have the potency of Salomon Sulzer’s famous melody, which feels almost sacrosanct by comparison. But it grew on me. By far, though, the best song on this album is “Hallelujah,” a bright, soaring, seven-minute rendition of Psalm 150 featuring the IKAR choir, which has a couple of other cameos on the record Herb Alpert, of Tijuana Brass fame, plays trumpet on this track. It’s a simple song with a short, uplifting melodic pattern that gets repeated over and over again.

Tigay writes in the liner notes to “Judeo” that he introduced “Hallelujah” to the IKAR congregation last year, during the High Holy Days, “After a few minutes,” Tigay recounts, “we tried to wrap it up so we could leave and break the fast. But we couldn’t. People kept singing. The song went on for 40 minutes after the fast had ended; people were caught up in the power of this moment. I will never forget that.”

I can only imagine how invigorating that experience must have been. And even if “Judeo” doesn’t make it in the world music arena, it seems to me that Tigay’s music has already succeeded where it counts the most.

Matthew Kassel has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice and The Paris Review Daily, among other publications.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.