Monday, May 17, 2010

Moshe Greenberg, z"l

I learned today through the H-Judaic mailing list that Moshe Greenberg passed away.
Professor Greenberg was Professor of Bible at the University of Pennsylvania and then at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for many years. You can read a brief biography by his student and successor at Penn, Jeffrey Tigay, here.

I met Prof. Greenberg in 1993 when I audited his course on medieval Hebrew bible commentary at Hebrew University. It was a course taught in the Bible department aimed mainly at undergraduate Bible majors. I was taking courses for a year after graduating college to fill in some gaps, improve my Hebrew, and prepare myself for graduate study in Jewish history. The class consisted of about 20 undergraduate Bible majors and me. I could keep up with the lectures and class discussion (in Hebrew) but the level of knowledge of the biblical text by the other students floored me. On the other hand, they knew almost nothing about medieval Jewish intellectual history. Prof. Greenberg knew my situation but spoke to me only in Hebrew, even after class.

After I had enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania for graduate study, Prof. Greenberg came (back) to Philadelphia as a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. He greeted me warmly--in English--and asked me about my studies. Later that year, he spoke to some graduate students and told the following story in response to a question about how he had embarked on his career as a Bible scholar:

He (Prof. Greenberg) had travelled around Mexico the summer before his freshman year at Penn. He had fallen in love with the Spanish language and when he got back to Philadelphia he went straight to the chair of the Romance Languages department and declared his intention to major in Spanish. But, he explained to the chair, his love was for the language--its structure and its history--not necessarily the literature, so with whom should he study Spanish philology and linguistics? Ah, exclaimed the chair of the department, we have no one right now who does historical linguistics or the kind of philology that you describe. What other languages do you know, asked the chair to the freshman. Hebrew was the answer Ah, said the chair, then you are in luck: Professor Speiser in Oriental Studies is a first-rate philologist and linguist. Why don't you go see him?

Rest in peace, Professor Greenberg.

Robert Paul Wolf's Memoirs

Have you been reading them? If not, why not?


Music for the rainy season

More selections from the WUMB list, courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

#88 Dave Alvin, West of the West: Songs from California Songwriters. Yep Roc Records (2006). All songs by California songwriters... “you’ve gotta get a gimmick,” I guess. But gimmicks aside, some of the songs are great. And who wouldn’t like a kind of folkish easy listening version of “Surfer Girl”?

#87 Carrie Newcomer, The Geography of Light. Rounder Records (2008). Nice voice; good guitar playing. And interesting lyrics. I am especially impressed with the ever-more-inventive ways that songwriters come up with ways to make romantic love seem deeply philosophical.

#85 Bill Morrissey, Standing Eight. Rounder Records (1989). This is the kind of singer-songwriter New England folk vibe I like (and thought I would get more of from WUMB listeners...maybe as I go farther up the list). I particularly enjoyed his "Party at the UN" which was a Tom-Lehreresque break from the usual laments about things that singer-songwriters lament: "Israelis with uqeleles form a dance band." That is a brilliant lyric.

#84 Loreena McKennitt, The Olive and the Cedar. A Mediterranean Odyssey . Quinlan Road Limited (2009). My first thought as the opening track began was “not my cup of mint tea.” But she has a beautiful voice and I could appreciate some of the eclectic blending of folkish music sung in English with Mediterranean rhythms and instruments.

#83 Brooks Williams, Little Lions. Signature Songs(2000). If you like instrumental guitar, enjoy.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Eclectic music selection for grading papers

What I've been listening to the last few days:

Pete Seeger (WUMB #25). Had to skip ahead on my WUMB list when I saw that the recording from the Carnegie Hall Concert from 1963 was available in the library: We Shall Overcome. The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert. Historic Live Recording. June 8, 1963. CBS Records (1989). Happened to listen to this yesterday before I learned it was Pete Seeger’s birthday.

Iris DeMent (WUMB #90) My Life. Warner Brothers (1994). Kind of folksy; kind of country-y.

Hesperion XXI, led by Jordi Savall. Diáspora Sefardí Alia Vox (1999). Good to listen to while reading research papers on historical novels and films set in medieval Spain or the “diáspora Sefardí.”

And a recording of the Magic Flute [Die Zauberflöte] from the chorus and orchestra of the Bayerischen Runfunk, conducted by Bernard Haitink. EMI Records, 1981. Why not?

And a couple I listened to a while back but didn't get a chance to post:

Jennifer Kimball. (WUMB #89) The only thing I could find by her was one song on Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Volume 3. Appleseed Recordings (2003).
Track number 5 on disc 2 is her singing Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in English (an arrangement and the English lyrics by Pete Seeger). In the Seeger/Kimball version, it doesn’t sound like liturgical music--probably because the banjo provides the main melody. Overall, this is a great album. A really wide range of songs and voices (with some other WUMB favorites as well).
I learn from her website that she used to perform with Jonatha Brooke as “The Story” and that she is from Cambridge, Mass. and performed with various Boston-area groups in the 80s and 90s. She now seems to perform once a month or so in Boston and in Ireland.

Dave Matthews Band (WUMB #115), Before these Crowded Streets, [1998]
A mixed bag: some of the songs sound the same; and some of the music is technically perfect but repetitive and uninteresting. But there are some songs where the lyrics and music fit and are interesting (e.g. “The Last Stop”).