A Joyful Noise: Claiming the Songs of My Fathers

Deborah Weisgall, Author
Deborah Weisgall, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $24 (259p) ISBN 978-0-87113-758-6
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-8021-3730-2
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At the beginning of her memoir, poet and novelist Weisgall (Still Point), recalls her childhood longing for a place within the musical and religious culture of her family. But, as a girl, she was excluded from taking part in the rituals that resonated so deeply for her. Descended from generations of cantors, her grandfather Abba brought his family to America from Czechoslovakia in 1920. Her father Hugo composed secular operas (among them Six Characters in Search of an Author, which was based on a play by Luigi Pirandello and opened at the New York City Opera in 1959) and conducted the synagogue choir. Growing up in 1950s Baltimore, Weisgall developed a sharp eye for family dynamics. Her father's career as a teacher and composer periodically uprooted the family, but he was never quite able to separate himself from the Baltimore synagogue of his father, often traveling home hundreds of miles for a single religious holiday. Weisgall observes her father and grandfather's ""musical struggle between parochial and secular life"" (choosing between the steady job of a cantor and the more tenuous but diverse career of an opera singer) and tried to find for herself where faith and music intersect. It is only when she became a mother herself that Weisgall joined the more tolerant choir of the synagogue in her parents' community in Maine, finally able to take an active part in her musical and religious heritage, confident that her own daughter wouldn't have to struggle to be heard. This simply written chronicle subtly traces the author's coming of age, providing a highly personal vision of music as part of Jewish religious culture. (Sept.)
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