Maternal music

Celebrated poet Haviva Pedaya has turned a tribute to her mother into a rock opera.

Hilula La'em by Haviva Peday (photo credit: SHLOMIT CARMELI)
Hilula La'em by Haviva Peday
(photo credit: SHLOMIT CARMELI)
There are grand state memorial ceremonies and there are very personal ways of commemorating our dearly departed. Haviva Pedaya appears to be treading the middle ground between pomp and circumstance and intimacy with her production Hilula La’em (Tribute to a Mother), which will be performed as part of this year’s Israel Festival.
Pedaya is a celebrated poet, researcher and lecturer who also does her bit in the ethnic music sphere. The Hayona Ensemble, which Pedaya founded, has been putting out quality ethnic material, including liturgical pieces, to enthusiastic audiences up and down the country for more than a decade, and its best-known member has fond memories of Pedaya’s mother, Simcha, who died four years ago.
“Berry Sakharoff came to the shiva and told me he always remembers the time my mother came to one of the ensemble’s shows and, after the concert, she brought the artists a pot full of kubbeh,” Pedaya recalls with a smile. “She came to almost all the shows.”
Sakharoff is on board for the upcoming project, along with a surprisingly diverse array of topnotch performers. Pedaya wrote the poem that provides the textual bedrock for the venture, and she enlisted the seasoned and richly talented support of Peretz Eliyahu, who wrote the music, plays tar (long-necked Persian stringed instrument) in the show and is responsible for musical direction. Eliyahu’s similarly lauded son Mark plays kamanche (spiked violin) and takes charge of production and the musical arrangements. The rest of the performer lineup includes singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum, jazzblues- ethnic music percussionist Moshe Yanakovski, high-energy keyboardist Assaf Talmudi and guitarist Idan Armoni, with Deckelbaum forming part of a formidable vocal team that also includes Shai Tzabari, Yehudit Enosh and Dikla. Add to that the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra under the direction of conductor Shmuel Elbaz, and visual augmentation courtesy of video artist Revital Elkayam, and you get some idea of the scale of the maternally oriented venture.
Pedaya put in the requisite footwork before getting down to the business of devising a stage production and says the inspiration came from her mother’s hometown of Jerusalem.
“I looked into material about mekonenot [professional lamenters] at the National Library [on the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem] after they put out a call asking for people to look into the archival items there,” she explains. “I always had this idea of writing a memorial work for my mother and incorporating mekonenot. I walked around Jerusalem a lot, and you could say I wrote the poem in a state of ecstasy.”
The words may have come pouring out, but it transpired that the ode needed to be taken an incremental disciplinary step further.
“Later I realized that the work should not remain exclusively written but that it needed to go through a process of being put to music,” she says.
With that epiphany safely stored away, Pedaya then got down to sorting out the hands, voices and hearts that would put the poem out there in its musical form.
“I knew that the lineup of the artists would dictate the way the concert would evolve and the choice of the music,” Pedaya continues. “I deliberated for quite a while over that; but once I made my selection, I knew I had the right musicians for the job.”
The poet clearly went for broke in terms of quality, experience and diversity of style, genre and artistic ethos.
“I knew that Peretz Eliyahu would be the composer and that Assaf Talmudi would bring his input, that doesn’t come from the East, and that he would bring the faster rhythms. And the voices of Dikla and of Shai Tzabari, there is something black in there, something from the soul.
They have luxurious voices that I really like,” she says.
The Israel Festival background material describes the show as “a new Oriental rock opera.” It is a bit hard to equate Pedaya’s description of the subject matter to that multi-sequined epithet. While Deckelbaum, Talmudi and Sakharoff may have a generous dose of rock intent in their artistic makeup, Hilula La’em does not exactly pertain to the Hair or Rocky Horror Picture Show music industry category.
“We had a show in which we performed an abbreviated version of the work, and I think the audience, and other people, had a hard time with trying to classify what they’d seen and heard,” notes Pedaya.
She adds, however, that operatic endeavor is not entirely anathema to the production.
“The work does not try to be a Western opera, although it does get close to that.
If you think of Verdi’s Requiem, that is very close to opera. There were works in progressive [rock] that were rock music but went in the direction of classical music.”
Hilula La’em, says Pedaya, feeds off all manner of source and culture baggage.
“Here there is music that sits on the maqam [mode] and Arabic music while, on the other hand, with artists like Assaf Talmudi and the rest of the musicians, the work gets into very rhythmic and stirring parts so that the whole thing is a bit reminiscent of progressive rock but with the colors of the East. The faster sections also reflect the pain of separation from my mother,” she explains.
Pedaya’s rich CV includes a stint at the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem; but she says that today she is drawn more to sound than to visible imagery.
“I left my studies in Jerusalem because I realized that I was less interested in visual theater and more interested in musical theater, which is very appropriate for Judaism,” she explains. “You don’t see theater on the stage with Hilula La’em.
You see music that, through musical means, conveys theatricality. And you shouldn’t come to the show expecting to see something Western, even though there are Western elements.”
Although it wasn’t premeditated, Pedaya says that she created a work that reflects her mother’s personality.
“She was a pioneering soul and was very active in all sorts of things. She was given to great joy but also to deep sadness, and she was always getting into projects from every which way. She dealt with the publication of my great-grandfather’s writings. He was a Kabbalist, and women didn’t normally engage in that. She also established the first organization in Israel that supported people with psychological problems. My mother had a masculine side and a feminine side, and I think the music in Hilula La’em reflects all of that,” says Pedaya.
Hilula La’em will be performed at the Jerusalem Theater on June 10 (9 p.m.) For more information: