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The Nigun Project: Through the Castle at Night

For the Modzitzer Hasidim, the nigun played so central a role in the spiritual life that it nearly trumped the value of Torah learning in the eyes of the community. The great Modzitzer Rebbes were as much composers of nigunim and philosophers on the poetics of music, as they were men learned in the Talmud. The first Modzitzer Rebbe, Israel Taub (1849-1920), is the composer of the melody on which this recording is based. He referred to some of his nigunim as “operas” because they took the listener on a journey through an entire narrative. Reb Taub taught that the human soul is like the octave. Even as we ascend higher and higher, like the notes of a scale, ultimately we return back to our root.

My collaborator on this month’s installation of the Nigun Project is Yula Be’eri, known to the world as the leader of Yula and the Extended Family. She is also a member of Electro-Morocco and a former player in World-Inferno Friendship Society. Be’eri is one of the greatest talents I’ve ever met. She brings to her performances and composition an intuitive sense of the dramatic arc inherent in every gesture and every melody. We recorded this track in her home studio, taking a freewheeling and improvisatory approach to constructing the song.

As a wonderful bonus to working with Be’eri, Isaac Gardner, drummer for the Extended Family and former Blue Man Group Tube performer, showed up and added some of his trademark circus-like percussion flourishes to round out the texture of the piece. Gardner’s one-man percussion/performance art show, “We Are But Dust,” runs in New York City through November 14.

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