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My Takeaways from Chanukah Music

Posted on: December 6th, 2015 by bubbyjoysandoys 8 Comments

Enjoyed this? Share it, and attribute it. Copyright 2014, Bubby Joys and Oys, M. Hendeles

happy-hanukkah-holiday-text

While lighting the first candle of the Chanukah menorah this evening, my husband sang the traditional hymn “Maoz Tsur” song with my accompaniment on the piano.  After the guys left  to eat the latkes, I continued, playing almost the entire book of Chanukah music.

Chanukah is a holiday that holds a great deal of meaning for me, and so it’s no coincidence that its music puts me into a good mood. Although there aren’t oodles of  songs out there for Chanukah, the Chanukah songs we sing are representative of deep and relevant themes.  Catchy melodies are set in major keys, evoking a peppy, uplifting and happy spirit.

Growing up in NY I heard Christmas Holiday songs while shopping with my mom during the winter holidays season,.  These childhood memories come in handy nowadays as a music therapist, when I sing and play music in nursing homes.  After all, my gentile clients are not so interested in Hava Nagila or Chanukah songs.  Why should they be? So I take out my green and red anthology of Holiday music, and I play for them on my instrument.  Many of the tunes are familiar and I play by ear.  Others are not, so I  sight-read the music and I’m good to go.

But, in  real life I’m a Jewish mom and mother-in-law (and little girl at heart) who loves her Jewish Chanukah songs. The ones that my first piano teacher, Miss Miller taught me when I was in 4th grade to improvise on the piano with cool arrangements.

The songs our family sang every year  and the melodies that my children sang and performed in school plays.

The tunes my husband and sons and I sang at the top of our lungs while any one of our piano lesson-ed sons played the piano.

Each of those compositions has a message. The lyrics resonate with relevant themes today in modern times, although many were  composed decades or centuries ago.

Many Chanukah songs were originally composed for young children – often in pre-school – but the tunes are endearing. so even adults enjoy them. The messages are timeless, ageless, conveying themes that encompass all our lives whatever our age and stage.

Here are a few of my favorite Chanukah Songs.  Click on the links and enjoy the music provided on videos. For more Chanukah songs, see this anthology

Dreidel Song – when I hear or play this song I think of happy children spinning their “tops” (dreidel in Yiddish, sevivon in Hebrew) while the lights of the menorah are burning. I think of the warmth and security of the children and the blessings we have while G-d watches over us in our homes. I think of how the children during the time of the Maccabees had to hide in caves and pretend to play these games while the Romans showed up suddenly. Anything but to study their Torah forbidden by the Romans.

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English version
I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
And when it’s dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.
It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!
My dreidel’s always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let’s begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it loves to dance and spin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. Come play now let’s begin.
I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it’s dry and ready, dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

Maoz Tsur – the timeless song of the Maccabees’ fight for freedom. I think of the concept of victory of few against the masses, when it is meant to be and when G-d is on our side. I think of hope, faith and courage in the face of troubles and storms. I think of perseverance and doing what’s right and what’s true to ourselves.

English:
Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.

Furiously they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah – When I listen to this song (it’s usually sung in Yiddish, so I’m not so good at the words!), and then play it on the piano (too difficult for the harp so far!), I think of the happiness in the air during Chanukah. The festivities. The celebrations. The donuts, the potato pancakes. The celebration of the little tiny oil that lasted for 8 days, the gratitude we have for all that is good, because even though there is darkness in this world (for sure!), there is that little light that illuminates our world, and we can make that happen. That’s what I think of when hearing the words to this song.

Oh), Hanukah, Oh Hanukah
Come light the menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the horah
Gather ’round the table, we’ll give you a treat
Dreidels (or Sevivon) to play with, and latkes to eat
. ( (
And while we are playing
The candles are burning bright (or low[2])
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago.

 

Chanukah Blessings – this is the blessing (melody) we sing on the candles, in which we declare our gratitude to G-d for the miracle of Chanukah. There are actually 2 blessings.

menorah-bokeh

 

So, from gratitude to strength to courage to optimism to confidence and to peace….

To any important value out there –music really does it for me, and Chanukah music really gets me going faster than you can say “Happy Chanukah!”

Happy Chanukah to all! Don’t forget to sing! – And OH  – here’s a video of the Maccabeats a cappella group doing their latest (unconventional) version of Chanukah music


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8 Responses

  1. Joan says:

    Loved the way you expressed your joy of this tremendous holiday. I could hear your voices singing together as a family as I read your words! I hope you have sparked little lights in all of those who read this article. Best wishes for a beautiful Hannukah, from the first night to the last!

  2. mf la says:

    this is the most wonderful post in the world!!! I can feel your joy and the music resounding throughout all your words. I can (yes) feel even the shopping decades ago when all you heard piped in all around were those lovely holiday (not our holiday) tunes. (A&S?) Music is joy and what a gift & blessing it is that you have, miriam. Hag Sameach Q! mf

  3. Lisa Winkler says:

    Wonderful post! I wish I knew the songs better. Of course now the grands are singing them. I love making latkes… a production but fun and never any left.
    I grew up with Christmas carols and don’t mind them- some are beautiful music, but all the music has been cheapened by the incessant playing in shopping malls, etc. Happy Hannukah to you and yours and keep singing, Miriam!

  4. The song Maor Tsur reminds me of my dad, Growing up we sang it along with him and I stared at him as he looked wistful while thinking of my Opa. I couldn’t spend Chanuka with him this year but he sent, via youtube, a version close to the German one he grew up with, the one I learned so long ago. I can’t sing Maor Tsur any other way. It was a choir of children and it touched my heart.

    I think if I had to do it all over again I’d become a music therapist. It must give you great joy to be one. I played the flute in grade school and high school but gave it up. How blessed you are, Miriam.

    • Thanks, Cathy. Isn’t it great when we have those childhood memories? I’d love to hear that version in German? I will ask my mom about it….

      I love the flute – so cool that you’ve played that. And yes, being a music therapist is great! Thanks!

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