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SEDUCTION IN EYNAIM: A MATERNAL SONG CYCLE
New Music from Alicia Svigals


Kadya Molodovsky

For her LABA project, Svigals wove together her original settings of poetry and Biblical texts in Yiddish, Hebrew and English to create a musical work that speaks of fertility, fear and longing; and the double-edged helix of inheritance across generations of women. Here are studio-recordings of two of the songs alongside the poetry of Kadya Molodovsky that inspired them. 

“The Women of Our Family”
Text: Kadya Molodovsky, Froien-Lider I (Women-Poems). Text in English and Yiddish below.
Music:  Alicia Svigals
Alicia Svigals violin/vocals, William Schimmel, accordion

These Are the Spring Nights”
Text: Kadya Molodovsky, Froien-Lider VII (Women-Poems). English verse from translation by Kathryn Hellerstein. Text in English and Yiddish below.
Music:  Alicia Svigals
Alicia Svigals violin/vocals, William Schimmel, accordion

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Froien-Lider I: The Women of Our Family
Translated by Kathryn Hellerstein

The women of our family will come to me in dreams at night and say:

Modestly we carried a pure blood across generations, 
Bringing it to you like well-guarded wine from the kosher
Cellars of our hearts.

And one woman will say:

I am an abandoned wife, left when my cheeks
Were two ruddy apples still fixed on the tree, 
And I clenched my white teeth throughout lonely nights of waiting.

And I will go meet these grandmothers, saying: 
Like winds of the autumn, your lives’
Withered melodies chase after me.

And you come to meet me
Only where streets are in darkness,
And where only shadows lie:

And why should this blood without blemish
Be my conscience, like a silken thread
Bound upon my brain,

And my life a page plucked from a holy book,
The first line torn?

Froien-Lider VII: These Are the Spring Nights
Translated by Kathryn Hellerstein

There are the spring nights
When up from under the stone, a grass blade pushes forth from the earth,
And fresh moss makes a green cushion
Under the skull of a dead horse,
And all of a woman’s limbs beg for the hurt of childbirth.
And women come and lie down like sick sheep
By wells to heal their bodies,
And their faces are dark
From long years of thirsting for the cry of a child.
These are the spring nights
When lightning splits the black earth
With silver slaughtering knives,
And pregnant women approach
White tables in the hospital with quiet steps
And smile at the yet-unborn child
And perhaps even at death.
These are the spring nights
When up from under a stone, a grass blade pushes forth from the earth.

Froien-Lider I: Es veln di froyen fun undzer mishpokhe

bay nakht in khaloymes mir kumen un zogn:

Mir hobn in tsnies a loytere blut iber doyres getrogn,

doyres getrogn,

Tsu dir es gebrakht vi a vayn a gehitn in koyshere kelers
Fun undzere hertser.

Tsu dir es gebrakht vi a vayn a gehitn in koyshere kelers
Fun undzere hertser.

Un eyne vet zogn:
Ikh bin an agune, geblibn ven s’zenen di bakn
Tsvey roytlekhe epl af boym nokh geshtanen,
Un kh’hob mayne tseyner di vayse tsekritst -

in di eynzame nekht fun dervartung.

Un ikh vel di bobes antkegngeyn zogn:
Vi herbstike vi-i-ntn yogn nokh mir zikh
Nigunim farvelkte fun ayere lebns.

Nigunim farvelkte fun ayere lebns.

Un ir kumt mir antkegn...
Vu di gas iz nor tunkl...
Un vu s’ligt nor a shotn:
Un tsu vos ot dos blut on a tume
S’zol zayn mayn gevisn, vi a zaydener fodem
Af mayn moyekh farbun--dn,

Un mayn lebn an oysgeflikt blat fun a seyfer
Un di shure di ershte farrisn?
Un mayn lebn an oysgeflikt blat fun a seyfer
Un di shure di ershte farrisn?

Froien-Lider VII

In nekht azoyne frilingdike do,

Ven s’vakst unter a shteyn a groz fun dr’erd
Un s’bet der frisher mokh a grine kishn oys
Unter a sharbn fun a toytn ferd
Un ale glider fun a froy betn zikh tsu veytik fun geburt.
Un froyen kumen un leygn zikh vi kranke shof
Bay krenetses oyf heyln zeyer layb,
Un hobn shvartse penemer
Fun langyerikn dorsht tsum kinds geshrey.
In nekht azoyne frilingdike do,
Ven blitsn shnaydn oyf mit zilberne khalofim
Di shvartse erd,
Un froyen shvangere tsu vayse tishn fun shpitol
Kumen tsu mit shtile trit
Un shmeykhlen tsum nokh nit geborenem kind
Un efsher nokh tsum toyt.
In nekht azoyne frilingdike do,
Ven s’vakst unter a shteyn a groz fun er’erd aroys. 

A note from Alicia:

Studying at LABA this year with Ruby Namdar I became aware of what deeply human and often tragic stories are contained in the ancient Jewish texts; histories that we might take for granted having heard them our whole lives but which shine with new meaning when we turn the prism through which we view them.  Along with my cohort of LABA artists I considered the profound meaning of fertility to the foremothers and the power it conferred or withheld, the predicaments of Rachel and Leah and their "war of the wombs", and the sexual guerilla warfare of tonight's hero Tamar.  

The poems I selected for Seduction in Eynaim are by our more recent mothers:  poets Kadya Molodovsky and Masha Shtuker-Paiuk who wrote in Yiddish in the early 20th century and Alicia Ostriker who is writing in English today.  Molodovsky in her "Women Poems" ("Froien-Lider) seems both compelled and repelled by the ancient stories, saying in one of the songs I'll be singing:  "Like winds of the autumn, your lives’ Withered melodies chase after me."  

My process writing the songs turned out to be somehow closely tied to "mothering" my new puppy and also discovering trees in a new way.  During the composing period, I would take Django for a long walk in the park, memorize and recite and consider the poems until melodies started attaching themselves in my mind's ear to the words, and sing the snippets that came to me into my handheld recorder.  I did this during a time period when I was becoming interested in learning to identify trees for some reason, and as we would walk and I'd sing I would mostly look upward (occasionally unfortunately tripping on something...), struck by the beauty of the shapes of the treetops and the unique forms of each species' leaves.  The music opened me to feel moved by the trees, and their beauty opened me to feel moved by the poetry and the emerging songs. When Django and I arrived at the dog run, our destination, I'd let him play while I reviewed the recordings and reshaped the music to fit the words as closely as I could, and to achieve just the right tone for each poem.  It was a wonderful period in my life and one I would love to recreate in every season.