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Jan 29 2014

How Pete Seeger Calmed My Pregnancy Fears

By at 2:08 pm

pete seeger

As a mom, there have only been a handful of times I have let my children see me cry. Yesterday, when I learned of the death of the great Pete Seeger, was one of those times. When I tried to explain who he was and some of the things he stood for, I could not complete my sentences. So I turned to YouTube and let Pete speak and sing for himself. Within minutes, my 4-year-old was dancing to “If I Had a Hammer,” and then we were all singing “We Are Not Afraid, To-day.” And of course, since we are farmers,“Inch by Inch.”

Meanwhile, my family and friends started sharing their personal Pete Seeger stories. My father told me about seeing him play near his cousins’ New Jersey chicken farm when he was a boy. My husband’s mother recalled seeing Pete play concerts at Jewish Community Centers near her home in Bayonne, New Jersey, during the 1950s when he was black-listed and few would hire him. My friend’s parents had a first date at a Pete Seeger concert. Other people sailed with him on the Clearwater or sang with him at summer camp, a political rally, or on a street corner.

This is my Pete story. I was raised on his music and my parents still keep his CDs on pretty much continuous loop in their house. When I was pregnant with my son seven years ago, I had placenta previa, a medical term for a low-lying placenta. The doctors said I would need a C-section if things did not change. I got even more worried when I had another ultrasound and the doctor was questioning whether the placenta was healthy in general. This was late in my pregnancy and that night I had a dream. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 15 2014

What My Baby’s In Utero Music Tastes Say About Her (And Me)

By at 9:53 am


The other night, after dinner, my husband and I decided to play music for the fetus. We picked out a few of our favorite records, hooked a pair of studio monitor headphones into the record player, and began our baby’s musical education.

I’m the music teacher of my rural Maine island’s tiny k-12 public school and my husband and I are both musicians. We have a recording studio in our house, and spend all day surrounded by music, from beginner band to my husband unwinding with his nylon string guitar. I’m sure some of that filters through the amniotic sac and impacts the baby’s day, but we wanted to tailor a musical interlude to the baby.

I reclined on the couch and stretched the headphones across my 22-week belly. First up: Kraftwerk, Radio-Activity. We waited until the spoken introduction–a little ominous, I felt, was over and switched the audio into the headphones. The baby was quiet and still until the bass synth kicked in. She kicked, too, nailing the right headphone dead on. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

My Son’s New Retro Obsession

By at 9:57 am

record player

“What is that?” our 6-year-old son asked, as he made a beeline towards the curious box propped against the wall. The kids were wandering around a cool freshly renovated motel room we had just checked into, doing their usual assessment and getting the lay of the land within the couple square 100 feet that would be home for one night. To them, the dusty mechanism propped above a portable speaker and topped with a rotating wheel and a moveable arm had an intense appeal, as did the collection of thin square cardboard folios, each emblazoned with different images, standing next to it.

What was an essential part of my upbringing has become a readily mocked symbol of anachronistic-obsessed hipster culture– and an unknown artifact to my kids. I was embarrassed and stunned that they’d never seen a record player before. But best of all, they loved this thing.

Prince’s 1999 stood at the front of the selection, which contained other significant records and artists of my late 1970s-through-1980s childhood and adolescence: Prince, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder. This motel knows its demographic, i.e. what the 30/40-somethings and the younger set who didn’t grow up with this music first hand might dig. I pulled disc one of 1999 (this was the double LP edition) out from the sleeve and put on side one. It contains three cuts that are both some of Prince’s best and PG rated–ok, more like PG-13 when factoring in the innuendo. We gave the title song, “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious” a few listens, and headed out to the pool. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 15 2013

I Can’t Give Up My Music Just Because I’m a Mom

By at 12:12 pm


Remember the things you used to do before you had kids? I used to practice music for hours. Like, three hours at a time. I’d work on some complicated passage and just go at it over and over and over until my fingers would cooperate effortlessly. It was a meditative practice for me, in a sense. I would go into my little isolated room and be by myself until I was ready to come out.

As you can imagine, with three small children at home, that kind of practicing does not happen anymore. And I used to use motherhood as an excuse for just not practicing at all.

On the rare occasion when I would sit down to practice, a few scenarios would happen: 1) I would be surrounded by little helpers, two on either side and one on my lap. While that had potential for a cute teaching moment, it was pretty much impossible to work on the actual music. 2) Someone would desperately need something. A toy. A drink. Attention. You name it. 3) The most heartbreaking scenario. One of my children would forlornly say, “Mommy, could you please not play that song?” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 9 2013

This Pregnant Ladino Pop Star is Amazing

By at 2:07 pm

It’s not often we hear of a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish dialect) singing pop star with contemporary style such as Sarah Aroeste, a Sephardic singer who has spent the past 10 years harmonizing the sounds of tradition and modernity for audiences around the world.

Ladino dialect originated by Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, and although it’s a fairly difficult language to come by, Ladino music is experiencing a slight revival, especially with singers such as Aroeste.

Even better, her video for “Ensuenyo Te Vi” features Sarah walking around in cork wedges, pool side, accompanied by a muscular man and cascades of roses. Oh yeah, and did we mention she was six months pregnant when the video was shot? And that she looks amazing? It’s worth a watch. Enjoy!

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Oct 7 2013

How the Maccabeats Helped Me Breastfeed

By at 5:02 pm
the maccabeats

Via Flickr/NewYorkBrass


Like so many of us, my love for The Maccabeats started innocently enough with their “Candlelight” YouTube hit.

But now my passing admiration has blossomed into a much deeper and holistic appreciation of their music and purpose.

Coming from the deep southwest, we simply don’t have many (any?) Jewish musical groups to speak of. The whole concept of a Jewish boy band or a cappella group was entirely foreign to me until I heard The Maccabeats sing in their matching white shirts and yarmulkes.

My non-Jewish husband was so entertained by their Hanukkah video; he went so far as to purchase their album and surprised me with it. When he blasted it out, I remember hot tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. I had never heard Lekhah Dodi sound so beautiful. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 1 2013

Let’s Talk About Tikkun Olam, Y’all

By at 9:51 am


With the exception of the occasional “y’all” that always elicits a chuckle, I think I have shed most of my Texan idiosyncrasies since I have been on the East Coast for over a decade now.

I do still cling to the music though, and once I drop my kids off at daycare in the morning I blast my country music until the windows rattle. To me, country music is about real life, love and loss, patriotism and simple pleasures. There are sagas of cheating lovers, brawls in honky-tonks, and heroic tales of our soldiers. Country music is my escape. One song will make me laugh out loud while the next will bring tears to my eyes. That’s country and I love it.

Country music is also filled with references to God and while the lyrics sometimes clash with my Jewish perspective, I appreciate the faith of the artists and the reminder that despite my hardships, there is a Greater Being looking out for the ones I love. But sometimes I hear a line from a song and I think to myself… hold up, that is definitely not Jewish. That was my reaction to a song I heard for the first time the other day as I was driving to work. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 19 2013

Finding the Perfect Lullabies for My Daughter

By at 10:11 am

lullabies illustrationAfter reading Elissa Strauss’ recent post, The Best Lullabies Turn Out to Be Jewish, I got to thinking about the songs I sing to my daughter when she goes to bed.

Before my little girl was born, I set out on a mission to find non-traditional lullabies. I didn’t want to croon about bows breaking and cradles falling or trying to buy my daughter’s peace and quiet with diamond rings. And really… who’s buying their babies diamond rings? And that’s the consolation prize only if the mocking bird doesn’t sing? Sheesh.

Anyway, I wanted to sing songs that meant something to me. See, my family instilled a love of music in me and I want to do the same for my daughter.

My mom always sang non-traditional lullabies from Peter, Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles” to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 8 2013

The Best Lullabies Turn Out to Be Jewish

By at 4:41 pm


Like probably every mom ever, the arrival of my first child came along with the realization of just how many things I don’t know. One of these was lyrics to  lullabies..

During pregnancy I was working on the assumption that I would be able to sing at least a couple lullabies nearly in-full. Instead, as I discovered after I gave birth, I could barely make it to, let alone past, verse two for most of them. Considering this is a time in life when most of us barely have time to brush our teeth, taking time to learn lyrics was most certainly not an option.

Fortunately for me, in his first few months my baby responded better to loud fast songs and erratic dancing – the kind of songs I can actually sing in-full. House favorites included Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” (you know it, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…), Britney Spear’s “Toxic” and perennial favorite, Hava Negila.

But eventually his taste became more pedestrian, and he started responding better to softer, more-soothing music to help him fall asleep. Still lyric-less, I began to hum. And hum and hum and hum. And then I realized I sounded like an orthodox man.

Dai – Dai-Dai – dai dai – Dai – Dai – Dai,” I’d repeat over and over again, as his body slowly softened in my arms until, eventually, he was asleep.

What came out of mouth, more unconscious than not, were the nigguns I had heard in synagogue growing up and the free high-holiday services at the Chabad I attended during college. Nigguns, for those of you who don’t know, are melodies formed out of repetitive sounds. “Bim Bam” is the most famous and the one your probably know.

Over the next few months, these nightly nigguns became the sign, perhaps the only one for two people with internal clocks as messed up as ours were, that bedtime had come. The chanting became a threshold that we could cross-through together, as we moved from the outside world to inside ourselves, and then, to sleep.

Some believe that the beauty of nigguns is the fact that we all sound like infants when we sing them; that somehow, through these repetitive, non-sensical words we become babbling children attempting to communicate our most intimate and delicate thoughts to a higher being.

When I sing them I don’t necessarily have a higher being in mind, but I do experience a respite from  the many earthly concerns that run through my head the rest of the day. Gone is trying to get my son to eat his spinach, or come up with an ending to an essay, or figuring out what exactly I need to take with me for a weekend at my in-laws house. Gone are even the words that give shape to those worries and concerns.

In those moments we are left only with my improvised melody, his breath — our two weary bodies submitting to the day’s end. And I never had to learn a single word.

Follow Elissa Strauss on Twitter at @elissaavery.

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Apr 3 2013

Free Stuff Alert: Debbie Brukman’s Jewish Songs for Kids & Tots

By at 12:31 pm

debbie brukman jewish songs for kids and totsLooking for some new tunes to spruce up your Shabbat celebration with the kids? Look no further than the new CD Shir L’Shabbat–Jewish Songs for Kids & Tots by Debbie Brukman.

Brukman, also known as the pied piper of Brownstone Brooklyn, has been sharing her kid-friendly Shabbat tunes as a music teacher for the preschool at Congregation Beth Elohim and leader of Shir L’Shabbat, a popular Saturday morning sing-along. But now you don’t have to be in Park Slope to enjoy her special blend of Shabbat tunes, which incorporates plenty of familiar Jewish preschool songs with lesser known Jewish melodies from Uganda, Israeli song festivals, and Debbie’s original compositions.

The CD features the incredibly popular “Dinosaur Knocking at my Door” as well “Bim Bam” and a live version of Debbie’s original “Shir L’Shabbat.”  Shir L’Shabbat: Jewish Songs for Kids and Tots is available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and

But we’ve got one copy to giveaway to a lucky Kveller reader! To enter, fill out the form below and we’ll choose a winner next Monday, April 8th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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