Ami's improvisatory talents were remarkable. I can recall a party I attended, where Ami sat at the piano, receiving requests for a musical phrase, whereupon he would ask for a composer's style. He could make the phrase sound like J.S. Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov -- you name it. His jazz and pop techniques were remarkable, too.
I believe the year was 1953 when, recognizing Ami's great musical gifts, I asked him to play some classical works in the first concert of my cantorial career. Ami's playing wowed the audience. There was drama and verve, Aloni's verve, I called it, in his performance.
In '59, I became cantor of Valley Beth Shalom and just a few years later, I urged Ami to help me out as my organist. As you know, he became our musical director and remained there for more than the 20 years I was there -- loved and admired. He had a great sense of humor and a brilliant mind. I marveled at his capacity to analyze situations and come up with workable solutions. He knew how to touch the right buttons with people.
Perceiving his creative talents, I commissioned him to write his first Jewish composition, a Friday Evening Service, based on Chassidic elements of bim boms, joyous pieces, etc. I encouraged Ami to continue composing and took delight in his contributions to the development of Jewish music.
In an age when anyone who puts a melody to L'cha Dodi is called a synagogue composer, the greatest praise I can give the memory of my colleague's music is to say that Ami Aloni's music was informed. He knew what he was creating; from what materials, for what occasion, for what resources, and for what effect. He was an insider who was steeped not only in trope, nuschaot and Scarbova tunes, but he knew the texts and the poetry of our worship intimately.
Week in and week out he met with his congregational choir and offered them something new and fresh. Whether it was for Hallel or for the Torah Service, Ami had an aural vision of what the experience could become and made that conception into a reality.
His literacy as well as his art will be missed.
It is touchingly ironic that, largely because of Ami's own reticence, the wonderful memorial musical archiving and recording of his music today was not pursued to the same extent during his lifetime.
I'm delighted that the larger community will now finally hear Ami's music. May it be a blessing for us all.
Aminadav Aloni was a composer whose music reveals a complexity originating in his multifaceted personal history. Born in Israel, he became a gifted mathematician, athlete, chess champion and virtuoso pianist. When he came to the United States in the late 1940's, he pursued music, studied piano at Juilliard, won numerous piano competitions, and settled in Los Angeles. Some time later, he began to compose for television and film and was associated with many important singers on the jazz and popular scene.
I met him at the point when he first began to compose Jewish music as organist and music director at Valley Beth Shalom, a large Conservative Jewish congregation in Encino, California. In the more than three decades which he spent at Valley Beth Shalom as composer-in-residence, he produced a prodigious library of important works of Jewish music.
At the same time, he continued a busy life composing in his secular career. He was one of those whose energy and vision led to the founding of the Jewish Music Commission in 1982. We became close personal friends and worked together on many exciting projects, even until shortly before the end of his courageous battle with a fatal illness.
It is my belief that the great success of his music is attributable to his profound understanding of Jewish liturgy, his great familiarity with all the sacred texts, and his devotion to Hebrew literature, classic and modern, prose and poetry. His English lyrics reflect his gift of language even beyond his native tongue. All of this is superimposed on impeccable, daring and sometime outrageous musical writing, full of light, wit, dance and poignancy. He was a passionate advocate of the best in music, secular and sacred, and his works will continue to be part of life for us all.
Ami had a great gift, not only for writing beautiful melodies, but for musical interpretation of text. I have told many people over the years that his music sings itself.
When the musical director at Valley Beth Shalom was on maternity leave, Ami came back for a brief stint as choir director. Needless to say, those of us who had left VBS for one reason or another flocked back to sing with him.
We loved it when Ami would take the time to explain to us how he came to write a particular piece, how it tied in with the text, and what he was trying to achieve. There wasn't a singer present who wouldn't have happily listened to him for hours. With Ami, we were truly like an extended family.
Personally, I've always felt that Ami didn't get the credit he deserved as a choir director. Having sung for some outstanding choral conductors (Paul Salamunovich and Jon Bailey, to name just a couple), I feel qualified to say that Ami did a terrific job, not just as our accompanist and composer in residence, but as our conductor. And he did it with just one hand (while the other played the keyboard)! Of course, he used head nods and glares quite effectively as well. By rights, we should've been fried by some of those looks he gave us when we really messed up; we half expected to set off the smoke detectors at times.
Of course, our greatest regret is that we didn't have him longer than we did. We're selfish, but then, we really loved him. We're so grateful for Ami's tremendous musical legacy, and for all the wonderful moments we were privileged to share with him.
I had the privilege of knowing Ami, of blessed memory, for the past thirty years. My father, Hazzan Uri Frenkel z'l, was a very dear friend and colleague of Ami's, who realized the gift of music Ami had in his soul. As a young boy, I had the privilege of watching Ami and my father work together on numerous projects, including Shabbat services, theater productions, life cycle events and countless concerts.
Years later, when I became a Cantor, I was fortunate enough to commission music from the magical pen of Ami Aloni -- the likes of B'rosh Hashana and the Sheva B'rachot for the wedding service. In the last years of his life he wrote a new Selichot service for my congregation in honor of our new sanctuary.
We go through life searching for ways to touch the lives of others, hopefully leaving a legacy that will be remembered by the future generations. Ami's legacy will emanate throughout the many souls to come, through his angelic melodies and dynamic harmonies. I thank G-d for the gift of life and music Ami bestowed upon all who were privileged to know him, the music man.
Music for Israeli Service
I commissioned a number of works from Ami over the years, including "Songs From Home," the Israeli Service. I always liked the way the idea for it was born. We sat together numerous times thinking of an idea for a service, something different. One day, Ami looked at me and said: "Wait a minute! You're a Sabra. I'm a Sabra. Why not write a service representing OUR roots? Israel is a melting pot. Let's have lots of various styles included."
That is why the service has a Russian Veshamru, a Yemenite Aleinu, an early Chalutzim-style Hashkivenu, an Oseh Shalom (that, with a change of tempo and rhythm, moves from mystical Chasidic to near-pop music), and more. I love it and use pieces of it throughout the year.
Music for Or Ha'am
Light is part of Jewish History and the integral part of the Jewish way of life, so when I was asked to write a composition for Chanukah, I decided to choose eight important Lights in the Jewish tradition. I tried to cover the history of our people from "The First Light" - the Light of Creation, and "The First Light of the Jewish Religion" - the Burning Bush, to "The Newest Light" - the Light of Renewal, the Light of Israel, the Light of Today.
Music for Hallel Service
When Dad was trying to write "Pitchu Li" from the Hallel (which was the song that people broke into spontaneously at his gravesite), he was stuck. He just couldn't think of anything. Then one day he was walking on the beach with a friend, and the melody just came to him, complete. A real inspiration.
He said to me one day that you could tell how much he liked the piece because he put a repeat sign at the end. It gets sung through twice. And I don't ever remember the choir singing it without at least one person (but usually more) with tears flowing down their cheeks.
Music for the Torah Service
Our favorite moments during VBS choir rehearsals were when Ami shared with us the creative process he went through in connection with one of his works, and what he had been trying to achieve. We remember once, when we were rehearsing the Torah Service, Ami was trying to get the proper feel for Kol Adonai. He told us it should feel like a dance. No wonder we could never stand still while singing it!
Music for Ruth
It was Passover dinner, probably in 1980 or 1981. My little brother Danny was about 17, both of us just a tad too big to be fighting over the Afikomen.
In those days, I sang in the VBS choir. As altos, we always sang the harmony line, and listened to the beautiful soaring voices of the sopranos carrying the melody. Since I couldn't make my voice higher, I decided to try to bring Mohammed to the mountain.
I stole the Afikomen before it was hidden (Dad giggling the whole time), and when Danny realized it was gone, he got really annoyed. He immediately started trying to coerce me into sharing my prize with him. So I told him if Dad would give me what I wanted to redeem the matza, I'd happily share the prize with him.
Dad listened to all of this bargaining very suspiciously and then asked me what I wanted. I said, "In the next piece of music you write, I want the altos to get to sing the melody." Danny's face fell like he'd lost the lottery by one number. Dad laughed out loud and agreed. Which is how it came to be that one of the pieces in "Ruth" has an alto melody line.
Music for the Sephardic Service
One very powerful memory we have of Ami dates back to the first time the VBS choir visited him as a group at his house after he had been diagnosed with cancer. It was the first time he ever seemed frail to us; we remember being afraid to hug him as we would have liked because we were afraid we would hurt him. After visiting and sharing a meal with us, Ami told us he was working on a Sephardic service, and led us into the music room to play a sample for us.
When he played Shalom Aleichem, he was transformed before our eyes. The life force flowing through him came out when he sat down at the keyboard. We were reassured to see that the creative fire still burned in him, and were able to believe for the first time that we would have him a while longer, since he clearly still had so much music left in him to write.
Music for Isaiah's Consolations
Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco was holding a Cantorial Concert in honor of the 10th anniversary of their Cantor, Roslyn Barak. As part of the concert, Cantor Barak and the Emanu-El choir performed Ami's recently completed "Isaiah's Consolations." Ami sat rapt, in the audience, deeply involved with each sound.
At the end of the pieces, and after tremendous applause, Cantor Barak spoke to the audience about Ami and this music, and looked out to the audience to find him. Ami, not looking for praise or attention, shrank back in his seat while Cantor Barak looked around for him. I happily pointed him out, and Cantor Barak asked him to stand for the audience to see him. He humbly rose from his seat, waved to the audience, threw a kiss to Cantor Barak, and shyly sat back down in his seat.
Once again, his music had brought great joy to many, and he had been satisfied to simply be part of the audience. How proud I was to be sitting next to this great artist and friend, a man who was always more interested in the music than in celebrity.
Music for Ta-amei S'Pharad
We believe it was the Aleinu from Ta-amei S'Pharad which Ami dubbed "from Bach to the Beatles" when we began rehearsing it, since it is faintly reminiscent of both styles in some ways (the beginning melody being Beatle-esque, and the fugue-like part in the middle being Bach-like).
Ami came up to Santa Rosa in September of 1997 to attend my wedding, where he played his own Wedding Music quite beautifully for our ceremony. I cannot tell you how many people commented at how lovely and unusual the music was, and how impressed they were!!
Music for S'fatai Tiftach
Arguably, the greatest compliment Ami paid to the VBS choir was that, over time, he wrote increasingly more challenging pieces for us to sing. A prime example of this is S'fatai Tiftach, Ami's 13-piece a capella work, which is relatively modern and more complex than what had come before.
Music for the Jazz Service
We remember when Ami first started bringing the VBS choir pieces from his Jazz Service. We recognized that the feel of Ein Keloheinu was similar to "One, Singular Sensation" from "A Chorus Line"; it was difficult to stand still when our feet wanted to do a kick step out of the choir loft.
Most of us were hopelessly square, so we needed lessons to teach us how to lay back on the syncopated rhythms, as in Ami's bossa nova version of V'Shamru.
Perry may be the sole choir member remaining at VBS who was present when Ami received the inspiration for Yism'chu. Perry was in a barbershop choir which performed at a bar mitzvah reception. He remembers that Ami was sitting in the front row, just beaming, while the group was singing. He apparently loved the sound, because he presented the choir with the barbershop version of Yism'chu at the very next choir rehearsal.
Music For The Synagogue Choral Music of Aminadav Aloni CD
I remember very clearly a conversation I had with Ami in about April of 1990, when the VBS choir was recording the Hallel and the Torah Services. During a break, when I told Ami how much I was enjoying the recording experience, he said that people thought he was crazy for having the choir make the recording, instead of using professionals; but Ami said he knew that, even though it took a lot longer to do the physical recording, no one else could sing those pieces with the same feeling and love as the choir. I think he was pleased with the finished product, and I know that no one could have sung with as much love, for both the man and his music.