On November 20, Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker, one of the most influential American Jewish composers of religious and liturgical music, passed away at 91. A child prodigy born in 1925, Shenker became the musical secretary to the Modzitzer Rebbe, Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub, after the grand rabbi spotted the 15-year-old Shenker sight-singing the rabbi’s own compositions from a book of sheet music in his home. Shenker would soon release the first Hasidic record ever, collecting the first of his numerous compositions.
As The New York Times noted in its obituary, “Rabbi Shenker composed more than 500 melodies, and they have been recorded not only by him, but also by other musicians, including the violinist Itzhak Perlman; Andy Statman, the klezmer clarinetist and bluegrass mandolinist; and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.”
But the best way to appreciate music is not to read about it, of course. It’s to sing it. And so to mark the end of the traditional 30 days of mourning following Shenker’s death, three noted Jewish musical performers got together to pay tribute to the composer’s memory. Gathered around a piano and captured on video, Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson of New York’s Jewish Center and recording artists Shim Craimer and Yitzy Spinner performed several of Shenker’s most famous melodies. See how many you are already familiar with:
Read more about Shenker and his legacy in NYU professor Lawrence Schiffman’s comprehensive obituary. May his memory and melodies be a blessing.