When Aron Zelkowitz, founder of the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, approached me about a commission for a program of music celebrating the calendar Jewish year, and in particular the High Holidays, I was eager to compose a piece for this season of renewal, but not quite sure how to proceed. The instrumentation was for shofar, brass ensemble and tympani. As I discussed the project with my husband Michael, he remembered and hummed a song by his paternal grandfather, Abraham Tzvi Kubowitzki, who was a cantor, as well as a shoket (kosher butcher), originally from a shtetl in Lithuania, before migrating to Brussels. There, eight sons often sang his music. I was delighted that Michael remembered hearing this Rosh Hashanah melody, and that I had the opportunity to include it, whose words express the hope that the Lord will ‘understand and listen, look at and pay attention to’ our plea.
I was next faced with choosing the particular shofar. Happily, the shofar player, Ron Schneider, also a horn player in the Pittsburgh Symhony, was extremely helpful. He recorded all of his shofars, of which he had quite a number, and I picked a long Yemeni shofar that happened to have an Eb pitch! So, I incorporated the shofar, and notated it in a traditional manner. Of course this makes performance of the piece a bit more complicated, but a Yemeni shofar of approximately 3’ should work. I used the various tekiah blasts, including the tekiah gedolah associated with the Days of Awe, and Ron, who served as ba’al shofar for his synagogue, was more than up to the task. It was great fun putting the piece together, with conductor Nizan Leibovitch. And, the LA Jewish Music Commission helped by co-commissioning the piece.
The premiere, at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, was a happy event, and I was very pleased when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote “Shatin is a thoughtful and inventive composer who doesn’t write in an academic, rebarbative style. Her music pulls one in with artistic embrace.” The piece has since between performed by the Washington Symphonic Brass. An amazing part of that story, is that one of the organizer’s fiancé lived in Pittsburgh, and while visiting her, he was able to borrow the original shofar for the Washington performance!