The High Holy Days have arrived yet again, the busiest time of a cantor’s year. I find that a song without words (Hebrew: nigun) puts my heart and mind at ease more than any other. When composing this one, my friend and teacher Joey Weisenberg was inspired by the famous phrase in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye” (Hebrew: nachamu). Although the melody seemed ironically discomforting the first time I heard it, by the second and third times through I found myself completely entranced. I hope you will too!
At the Thursday performance of Rodgers, Rodgers, and Guettel I met a man I had only heard about: pianist, composer, and thererminist Rob Schwimmer. Rob is a close musical associate of Adam Guettel’s, and a friend of Michael Barrett’s. He was very warm to me after the concert—apparently I’d passed muster with him—and sheepishly handed me a copy of his CD that he wrested from his backpack. “Sorry the plastic cover is cracked.” “Oh,” I answered, “it’s what’s inside that counts. And I shall replace the broken case at home. I have tons of them.”
I gave the recording a spin the next night. It’s called Beyond the Sky, and that it exactly where it sent me. I was bowled over by Rob’s musical prowess. People use the word “humbled” a bit too often for my taste, but that is what I felt: humbled. Rob is a master of the 88s—and a fine composer—and a modern jazz wizard (some of the tracks sound like Alban Berg with a backbeat)—and he can even play a theremin in perfect tune. “Oh, he’s a better pianist than either of us,” Michael Barrett said breezily the next day. My hackles quietly went up, of course. My motto is “Never compare, never compete,” and it has served me well. But I had taken the measure of my new colleague, and I was in awe. A breathtaking musician, and a man of warmth and generosity.
Here is a song without words called “Holding You in My Arms.” “I haven’t written a lyric for it yet,” said Rob when I quizzed him on the subject. It’s something I play over and over again. Hell, it even got me through the election. The CD version has a slightly more introspective quality than this live one—you can find it on Spotify if you want to compare.
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