The nigun, a wordless spiritual folk melody, is one of the great achievements of Jewish aesthetic expression. I grew up hearing nigunim at the family table on the Sabbath and holidays with my grandfather and my cousins. We sang a continuous stream of melodies, one flowing into the next, for what felt like hours. As I started developing as a musician, I would often think about those experiences and marvel at their natural flow of feeling and energy. These group sessions brought me a pleasure in music making that, as a professional musician, took me many years to revisit.
“The Nigun Project” by Jeremiah Lockwood is now available from Amazon.
In this installment of The Nigun Project, Forward artist-in-residence Jeremiah Lockwood performs with drummer Amir Ziv and trumpeter Jordan McLean of the musical collective Droid.
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.
For this nigun, from the mid-century Lubavitch Sefer HaNigunim, Jeremiah Lockwood performs with Basya Schechter of “Pharaoh’s Daughter.”
In the seventh installment of The Nigun Project, the Forward’s artist in residence, Jeremiah Lockwood, performs with Khaira Arby and her band, in town from Timbuktu, Mali.
For the latest installment of the Nigun Project, I am indebted to a Forward reader who posted a link in the comments section of a recent piece in the nigun series. The link led me to a website that contains many selections from a wonderful multi-volume series of albums of Chabad nigunim released during the 1960s.
In the fifth installment of The Nigun Project, The Sway Machinery’s Jermiah Lockwood collaborates with rappers Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd, of the hip-hop collective Felonious, on a melody inspired by a story about the Baal Shem Tov.
“From Our Hiding Places,” this month’s installment of The Nigun Project, features Alexander Benaim, the singer and songwriter behind the indie rock band The Harlem Shakes. Benaim, a composer and writer, is now working on a solo project, which will draw on the sounds of his family’s Moroccan and Iranian origins. Benaim’s flair for creating a sense of place in his music is on full display in our collaboration.
In the third installment of The Nigun Project, The Sway Machinery’s Jeremiah Lockwood and Balkan Beat Box’s Itamar Ziegler reinterpret the 1947 song, “Melodies I Have Seen.”