You tube never fails to deliver when precious memories seem to fade with time.
Today as I was checking Facebook notifications, I noticed a you tube link to a Bach Cantata directed by Josh Rifkin. His face had been buried in the very darkness of the basement shule we both attended in the Bronx. (Isaac Raboy was on Giles place in one of the old Amalgamated buildings known as the Sholom Aleichem Cooperative.) It was where Bess Myerson, an early Miss America of the late 40s, resided. http://www.bronxcourtyard.com/Building_History.html
The sub-level space relegated for the shule was dreary and dim-lit, but the saving grace was its out-of-tune old upright that brought the place to life when the right hands glided over its chipped keys.
Josh, the anointed music Messiah, had to be about 8 or so at the time, (in the 50s) and he couldn’t have gone unnoticed even then. A powerful improviser of Yiddish songs that were the mainstay of our education, he rendered these modal themes to orchestral proportion! “Hava Nagilah,” “Zog Nit Keynmol,” (The Freedom Song of the Warsaw Ghetto) among many others were at his gifted command. By ear, he created florid arrangements that were so awe-inspiring that it awakened children who’d dozed off to dull repetitions of the Yiddish alphabet. (They were exhausted after a long day at public school)
Like my overtired peers, I could have gone into indefinite hibernation for three treacherous years at Raboy were it not for Josh’s life-affirming musical infusions.
Decades later, as I plan my departure to New York City in celebration of my mother’s 100th birthday, I’ll be sure to make a side journey to the Northeast Bronx to honor a treasured memory.
In the meantime, here’s Josh on musical display with an impressive attached bio. (Rifkin’s The Baroque Beatles album is noted, as well as his emblematic recordings of Scott Joplin’s ragtime treasures) Now J.S. Bach’s towering works are his artistic centerpiece.