Daughter Of The Arts chats with song leader, musical educator and performer Cindy Paley.
Cindy combines education and entertainment through her music,
while teaching Jewish values, holidays and traditions to adults and children
DOTA: Where are you from originally?
CP: I am a native of Los Angeles as well as a Valley Girl (San Fernando Valley). I grew up around the corner from the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center and recall fondly all the wonderful classes, clubs and activities that I attended there after school.
DOTA: Are any other members of your family in creative fields?
CP: My brother, Aaron, has an MBA in Arts Administration and produces family festivals at the Getty, Santa Monica and throughout Los Angeles with his company, CARS (Community Arts Resources) He is also the founder of the non-profit organization, Yiddishkayt Los Angeles. Since 1995, Yiddishkayt Los Angeles has been dedicated to the promotion of Yiddish language and culture through educational seminars, concerts, festivals, and a quarterly newsletter.
DOTA: Describe your first experience with music?
CP: I first began singing in the elementary school choir and learned my first Yiddish folksongs at the Valley Kindershule, during the 1960’s. Singing was an important part of growing up at Camp JCA in Barton Flats as well as the Valley Cities JCC. (VCJCC)
DOTA:. Which came first, playing guitar or singing?
CP:. I started guitar lessons at VCJCC when I was ten in order to play and sing the folk music of the 1960’s. We sang the music of the Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell .
DOTA: Did you always know you were going to do what you are now doing?
CP: My musical career began as a songleader at Camp JCA, Barton Flats. My first job was as a songleader, folk dance teacher and drama specialist. I was chosen to accompany the JCA Israel Teen Trip in 1972. Traveling to Israel for the first time opened my eyes to all the beautiful Israeli folk music and I started expanding my repertoire of Hebrew/Israeli songs.
From Israel I traveled to France for my year long Education Abroad Program in Pau & Paris. I began learning children’s French songs I returned to UCLA to complete my B.A. in French and a Teaching Credential in French and ESL.
I worked at various Religious Schools as a song leader while also substitute teaching French, Spanish & ESL in the L.A. Unified Schools. When, I became the music, folk dance and drama specialist for the new Day School Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Los Angeles in 1980 in addition to singing with the VBS Hebrew School and Nursery School.
DOTA: How do you combine education and entertainment to teach Jewish values and traditions?
CP: The children’s shows that I’ve directed at Valley Beth Shalom, Camp Hess Kramer and the New Jersey “Y’ Camps are both educational and entertaining. Through musical theatre productions the children learn about Jewish heroes, Israel, Bible stories, Jewish holidays and Jewish values.
I am also the founder of “The Shpieler Troupe”, a 4 person musical theatre ensemble which has toured the United States for the past 15 years with its original Chanukah production of Mac and the Bees.
Through my family concerts and two person holiday shows I always combine education and entertainment. In “Di Gantze Megillah”, the Purim Shpiel that I perform with Carl Weintraub, or in the Chanukah show with Stan Taffel, we utilize costumes, storytelling, contemporary songs as well as the traditional holiday favorites to bring the story to life.
DOTA: How long have you been with Lev Eisha? How did your participation evolve?
CP: I have been the cantorial soloist at both Lev Eisha with Rabbi Toba August at Adat Shalom, (Los Angeles) and N’shama with Rabbi Nina Bieber Feinstein at VBS for seven years.
DOTA: How would you describe the experience?
CP: Lev Eisha meets the first Saturday of each month, while weekly, traditional Shabbat morning services are taking place at Adat Shalom. Lev Eisha is anything but traditional. Women of all ages dance between davening, beat tambourines and sing loudly, and instead of praying silently they share with one another
DOTA: In what ways are you able to reach audiences of many ages with your music?
CP: I prepare song sheets for every age group and always encourage these audiences to “sing along”. I often include sign language as a way of encouraging movement expressing the songs’ texts.
DOTA: Do you write your own songs?
CP: I don’t write my own songs. There are so many incredible songwriters and I’ve never felt that songwriting was my strength. All the compositions are by well-known Jewish American composers such as Debbie Friedman & Craig Taubman, well known Israeli composers (with English verses by Cantor Shimon Gewirtz) or they are considered folk tunes. I select a variety of musical styles and my voice has been described as “folk rock.”
DOTA: How do you select the music you perform or put on your CDs?
CP: I like to combine Israeli children’s songs with both Hebrew and English verses which enables my audience or class to understand the song lyrics and make the song more accessible for American children.
My first recording, “Sing With Cindy,” which included over 90 holiday, Shabbat and Judaic songs for Nursery School was recorded in my parent’s living room with Ann Brown (vocal harmonies) and David Kamenir, (pianist) in 1984. This self-produced cassette and songbook with guitar chords was a big hit at the BJE (Bureau of Jewish Education) Early Childhood workshops and locally at many synagogue gift shops.
After that first endeavor Ann and I decided to record “Chanukah with Cindy” at “The Rainbow Garage”, a real studio with Rick Cunha
A Singing Seder and Chanukah: A Singing Celebration were both released in 1987 and both CDs are still my two best sellers. I decided to record Shabbat melodies in 1989.
In 1989 I organized “Koleet,” an exciting new women’s trio with Ann Brown and Amy Helperin Krivis for a concert at the University of Judaism. (Linda Kates, Cantor at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and Lisa Wanamaker, were also part of the Koleet ensemble)
Koleet performed at the LA Jewish Festival and debuted nationally at CAJE (Conference for the Advancement of Jewish Education) in Seattle, WA in August, 1989.
The music for Koleet was intended for adult performances using our fully arranged instrumental tracks instead of a live band, which was unaffordable.
Following Koleet in 1992, I decided to focus on Early Childhood Education with the recordings of Celebrate with Cindy, volumes 1 & 2 and Eizeh Yom Sameach, What a Happy Day! The Celebrate CDs included over 60 classic Israeli holiday songs as well as some songs by Debbie Friedman, which I had been singing at the VBS Nursery school and Day School.
DOTA: Talk a little about your holiday concerts such as Chanukah, Purim, and Pesach?
CP: I started performing Chanukah holiday concerts in order to sell my CDs. Mac and the Bees debuted at the Gindi Auditorium in December, 1989, just 2 weeks after giving birth to my youngest child, Daniella. The original Shpieler Troupe included Andrea Massion, Ed Bender and Chris Craven, (old friends from the Valley Cities JCC). I was very ambitious and decided to rent the University of Judaism Gindi Auditorium to produce six shows on two Sundays. While nine months pregnant, I was busy selling tickets and also rehearsing for our original musical theatre production.
Mixed-up Mac and the Bees are telling a “Hanukkah story” about old Uncle Latke, who flies up people’s drain pipes distributing Hanukkah gifts, when they’re sprinkled with “anti-confusion dust.” They sneeze “Ah-Jew!” and suddenly the true story of Hanukkah resurfaces in the hills of Judea. The wordplay amuses parents.
The success of Mac and the Bees led to a Purim Shpiel by the Shpieler Troupe. Then, in 1990, I met Kenny Ellis, , and we decided to create 2 person holiday shows for younger children. Using mostly songs from my Celebrate with Cindy CD, colorful costumes and Kenny’s incredible humor, we developed shows for Shabbat, Israel, Purim, Pesach, Chanukah and a general holiday review. We also combined our talents for adult performances. He would perform a fabulous Catskills Comedy show and I would sing Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino folk songs, closing together with beautiful harmonies. We toured together for nine years (1991 – 1999).
DOTA: Describe the experience of working with children? Why is it important to you?
CP: I’ve always enjoyed working with children starting from my early years as Music, Dance & Drama Specialist at Camp JCA. I especially like singing with the younger children who are always so enthusiastic and eager to sing along. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction and joy from singing with children. Music also has the power to touch us emotionally, helping to create whatever mood is needed, in our lives and in the classroom.
Singing is an act of communication and art. Singing Jewish songs helps children to feel comfortable and positive with their Jewish identity. My main focus at Valley Beth Shalom Day School and Nursery School is teaching Jewish music which helps to build a strong and happy sense of Jewish self in the children. The more they sing a song, the more it becomes part of their lives.
DOTA: Describe how you weave songs and stories and fun into your concerts.
CP: In the 2 person holiday shows we use colorful costumes, clever dialogue and contemporary music to bring the characters in the story to life. For example, in our Purim shpiel, I play Vashti, Queen Esther and Haman while Carl Weintraub takes on the roles of King Achashveyrosh and Mordechai. (I also bring extra costumes to dress up the beauty contestants as they parade across the stage). We have lots of fun involving the audience as we act out the story and sing some new Purim songs by Debbie Friedman as well as the old favorites.
During Chanukah, the younger children especially love wearing our ‘dreidle’ costumes or being chosen to join us on the stage as the ‘Maccabee’ marchers. We also have ‘latke’ costumes for singing “I am a Latke”. Of course, I have to travel with a large trunk to accommodate all the props and costumes for each show.
DOTA: Explain how Yiddish is reaching a new generation of children through your music.
CP: My love of Yiddish music and culture began as a child at the Valley Kindershule in Van Nuys, CA, where I had my first introduction to mame-loshen and the richness of my Eastern European heritage. I want to pass on the rich treasures of Yiddish folk music through my Zing Along CD and my newest project S’iz Yontev Kinder! Lomir Zingen! It’s a Holiday, Children! Let’s Sing!
Although our day and religious schools instill in our children a knowledge and love of Hebrew and Israel, the thousand-year link to the Yiddishkayt chain has been missing. My goal is to instill in the children a love for Yiddish songs and inspire in them a desire to learn the language.
This latest CD and songbook “S’iz Yontev Kinder! Lomir Zingen!” has not yet been released to music distributors. This past year, I presented three teacher workshops to introduce these Yiddish holiday songs to Religious School, Day School and Music Educators in Los Angeles. In the coming year I hope to give many more teacher workshops throughout California while distributing, free of charge, the new songbooks and CDs.
DOTA: Describe your album “Koleet: a Celebration of Jewish Folk Music.” Did you write any of the songs?
CP: The music for Koleet was intended for adult performances using our fully arranged instrumental tracks instead of a live band, which was unaffordable. Our repertoire included: Yiddish folk songs such as Margaritkelech, 2nd Avenue Yiddish Theatre songs Abi Gezunt, Bei Mir Bistu Sheyn, love songs in Ladino Avre Tu Puerta & Los Bilbilicos, Yemenite melodies Dror Yikra & Likrat Kallah, Russian folk songs translated into Hebrew and many Israeli folk songs. Uri Ophir, my musical arranger, wrote wonderful vocal and instrumental arrangements for our new women’s trio and we performed together from 1989 – 1993.
DOTA: How long have you been involved with the folk dance camp Ramah Rikkudiah?
What are your contributions to the program? Do you enjoy dancing?
CP: I think this will be my 5th year at Ramah Rikkudiah. I’ve been a folk dancer since childhood. I remember going to the Ojai International Folk Dance Festival as a child. I actually met my husband, Herzel Aboody, at Café Danssa in 1978. When I first started teaching at Valley Beth Shalom in 1977, I was both the music and folk dance teacher. However, I haven’t been dancing regularly now for quite some time and find it difficult to keep up with all the new Israeli dances.
DOTA: How do you integrate your activities into the folk dance weekend?
CP: I like to include many contemporary Shabbat melodies in addition to the liturgy on Friday night. I also lead a short Shabbat morning service and a spirited Havdallah ceremony at the weekend. On Saturday evening before the children’s presentation, there’s a time for a quick sing-along and then on Sunday morning I sing a few closing songs. Since almost all the Israeli folk dances come from popular Israeli music, it would be nice to provide songsheets so that everyone can sing together and know the meaning of the beautiful words to which they are dancing. Maybe we’ll include a real sing along this year?
Cindy will be cantorial soloist, and song leader at Ramah Rikkudiah dance weekend, January 12-14, 2007 in Ojai, California. http://www.ramah.org/pr_rikkudiah.shtml
For more information about Cindy Paley, go to http://www.cindypaley.com
For details about Lev Eisha, go to http://www.leveisha.org/