It’s Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the evening service is preceded by Kol Nidre(i), the renunciation of vows. Only a few days ago did I discover (through NPR) that there’s a rich vein of versions of the Kol Nidre chant, including one by Johnny Mathis.
Of course, as a collector of unusual musical juxtapositions — I especially prize the Marlene Dietrich German sleigh-ride version (“Schlittenfahrt”) of “Surrey with a Fringe on Top”, and only this morning was introduced, via Facebook friends, to the Cleverlys’ bluegrass rendition of the Bangles’ old hit “Walk Like an Egyptian” — I had to check these things out.
So now I have a Kol Nidre sung by a legendary cantor, Manfred Lewandowsky, plus a version sung by cantor Theodore Katchko with his cantor daughter Deborah Katchko-Gray; a whole Kol Nidre service sung by cantor Richard Tucker (I think this is the version, powerful and intense, I remember from my childhood, heard on the radio); the moving Johnny Mathis version (with orchestral accompaniment); a klezmer version (I could have predicted that — but not the version on Johnny Mathis’s Good Night, Dear Lord album); a respectful and passionate, but (to my mind) deeply misguided surf-guitar version on the Chosen Surfers’ album Meshugga Beach Party (I swear on this holy day that I am not making this up); and of course the Electric Prunes’ celebrated English-language rock version (also intended to be respectful, but tending to the theatrically unhinged) on their Release of An Oath album.
And how, you ask, does Gracenote categorize these pieces? Cantor Lewandowsky’s chanting is Classical, and so of course is Richard Tucker’s (the man was, after all, a celebrated opera singer in his alternative career). Johnny Mathis’s version is Pop, since he’s a pop singer. The Chosen Surfers count as Rock.
And that brings us to the Elie Rosenblatt and Pete Rushefsky klezmer version and the Klatchkos’ version. At some point someone decided that these had to be recognized as pieces of religious music, and, alas, put them into the Christian & Gospel genre. Maybe Religious & Gospel wasn’t available at the time (it certainly is now), but Christian & Gospel is a singularly inept piece of categorization; we can only hope that the people who chose this classification didn’t think that Christian meant ‘religious’, and I suppose we can be a tiny bit thankful that Lewandowsky and Tucker didn’t get swept under the cross of Christ as well.