Last year, I had the pleasure of composing music for the documentary film “Yellow Stars of Tolerance” by Jemglo Production Company, and at this same time last year I was at MacIntyre Music Recording Studio with engineer Reed Robins, recording the music ala solo piano.
In May, JEMGLO released “Yellow Stars of Tolerance”, a half-hour documentary about yellow stars that were painted on a synagogue exterior in the town of Elbeuf in Normandy, France during World War II. In an initiative led by former Elbeuvian/ current New Yorker Marie Lippman, the stars were officially preserved a few days after the 70th anniversary of D-Day last June as a permanent testament to the dangers of intolerance. The plaque that was installed read: “The yellow stars painted on this wall during the Occupation 1940-1944 are evidence of the anti-Semitic hatred of the Nazis. They were protected so we will always remember the mortal danger of racism.”
Ellen Friedland (producer/writer at Jemglo) and Curt Fissel (director/director of photography/editor at Jemglo) contacted me about composing music for this project in the summer of 2014. I immediately said yes because I had worked on another project with them for the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site through Voices and Visions Productions Ltd, and I really enjoyed the experience. I had also worked with Curt about 10 years ago when he generously volunteered to create a short documentary about my big band entitled “What is this thing called big band?” So I set out researching Jewish composers who were from France, or were expatriated to France at the onset of WWII. I found a very in-depth book on this subject called “Forbidden Music:The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis” by Michael Haas. I also did lots of research about the music during that time period, what the citizen’s of El Beuf might have been listening to on their radio’s, or phonographs or in the synagogue. The music I composed has influences of sacred Jewish music from Europe and North Africa and Klezmer music, thanks to my years performing and recording with Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz. I included music by other composers as well: the French Jewish composer Charles-Valetin Alkan, the Austiran hazzan, Salomon Sulzer, who modernized traditional synagogue melodies in the 1840’s and Felix Mendelssohn (Bartholdy), who refused to give up his Jewish name (as many Jews did out of survival) and who’s grandfather was the celebrated Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Even though Mendelssohn has a Christian last name on record, the Nazi’s banned his music because of his Jewish roots.
Yellow Stars was picked up for distribution by NETA (National Educational Telecommunications Association), a professional association that serves public television licensees and educational entities in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. To date, PBS and educational stations in the following regions have broadcast the documentary: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Monterey, CA; Augusta, Savannah and Columbus, GA; Salt Lake City, UT; Milwaukee, WI; Champaign, IL; Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Sparta and Columbia, SC; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; Charleston, WV; Waco, Temple and Bryan, TX; South Bend, Elkhart, Evansville, and Elkhart IN; Fargo, Valley City, Minot, and Bismarck ND; Anchorage and Juneau, AK; and Quincy-Hannibal, MO.
The documentary has also been/is an Official Selection at: United Nations Association Film Festival (Palo Alto, CA), Bucharest (Romania) Jewish Film Festival, Cincinnati Film Festival, Culver City (Los Angeles) Film Festival, San Luis Obispo (CA) Jewish Film Festival (10 January 2016), and New Jersey Film Festival (21 February 2016), and is scheduled to be screened at a program entitled “France and the Holocaust Revisited” to be presented on March 23rd by the American Jewish Historical Society at the Center for Jewish History in NY,NY.
A week after the recording session, January 7, 2015, came the attacks on the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes in Paris, France. Seventeen people were killed and twenty two people were wounded. Immediately afterwards, someone in El Beuf, sprayed red paint over the yellow stars on the wall of the synagogue, the subject of this film, the plaque had already been vandalized months before.
As I watched the news from Paris, and listened to President Holland, it felt like I had already lived this, through researching, composing and recording music for this documentary…I couldn’t grasp that this was happening again, right now, in our time. My brain had been involved in music from ancient temple days, the 1800’s, the 1950’s and 60’s…how could this be happening again? It was a sobering feeling.
Meanwhile, I leave you with this from my Diane Moser WDMO recording (2012), myself on piano, Rob Thorsen on bass, Duncan Moore on drums, Marguerita Page on vocals and my son Chad Moser who created the mix….”One Love”.