Michael Hunter Ochs Anthology
Welcome to the"hidden" Michael Hunter Ochs Anthology page. Those of you who know me know I usually don't post or share any music or videos until they've been tweaked and edited and polished and shined. I'm just wired to rewrite and refine -- some might call it compulsive! But in this private space, I'm planning to challenge myself to be raw and vulnerable, and more concerned with capturing the spirit of the moment as opposed to trying to be perfect.
As you scroll down you will find all the songs from the Anthology organized in alphabetical order. Each song title includes different reference materials in the form of MP3s and videos. Some of the songs might be represented by a live music video or a rough recording or a full blown production. You might even find 3 or 4 unique versions of the same piece being sung by different cantors or soloists...or even their children! You'll uncover bonus materials including behind the scenes conversations about the songwriting process and the story behind individual songs, or a piano accompaniment tutorial and/or performance ideas. Please keep visiting because I plan to update this page regularly with anything I can find or come up with to compliment the Anthology and hopefully increase your enjoyment and insight into these compositions.
At the bottom of the page there's a forum where you are invited to leave comments or upload your own interpretation of any of the songs in the Anthology. I would be eternally grateful to hear from you and for us to learn and grow and inspire each other. Here we go...
A New Year * Adon Olam * Barchu * Echad Wahed * Eitz Chayim * Hashkiveinu * Kein Y'hi Ratzon * L'chah Dodi 1 * L'chach Dodi 2 * L'chah Dodi 3 * Mi Chamocha * Mi Shebeirach * Modim Anachnu Lach * A Mourner's Song * Oseh Shalom * R'tzeih * Shalom Rav * Sh'ma * Song For Ruth * Upon My Shoulders * Va-anachnu * V'shamru * We Return To You * When We Sing * Yeish Kochavim * Yih'yu L'ratzon * Y'varechecha
“He wrote words that ignited smiles, delight and meaning. He set it to music that lifted our souls...the result was a song sung by millions.”
— Rabbi Peter J. Rubenstein, Director of Jewish Community and Bronfman Center for Jewish Life (92nd Street Y)
A New Year
With an unprecedented 10 million views on social media this song is a tribute to the powerful message of hope and renewal of the New Year - and to the art of collaboration. I cannot overstate the impact on this song of Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein and his team at the 92Y. I am ever grateful to have been commissioned to write this piece and to play my small part in this project.
A feel good, uptempo tribute to the many versions of Adon Olam that put a smile on my face as a child. Notice the dramatic tempo and feel changes, the optional modulation, and call and answer vocals and counterpoint on the chorus. Everything but the kitchen sink! I'm so happy Cantor Shira Ginsburg not only commissioned this piece but INSISTED it include all the verses! Try it as a solo piece or with your choir and band!
Below: A live run through of Adon Olam and a "look Behind The Song"with Cantor Shira Ginsburg followed by a short piano tutorial.
Hebrew and Arabic dance together in this piece inspired by the Sh’ma. This song is a safe way to start a conversation with your community about some of the similarities the Jewish and Arabic people share -- beginning easy enough with the relationship between the languages. It's as good a place to start as any. I'll never forget the tears I see whenever Alaa and I share this song on Shabbat. What a signal Alaa is sending as a Palestinian, flying to the states from Ramallah to sing and and reach out in a temple on Shabbat to the Jewish community. I think when we begin to see and feel that our divided peoples do have so much in common...we feel hope and are moved to action to make this world a better place.
Just a sweet little song about the wonder of trees. This song really makes me smile and reminds me of summers in Putnam Valley and the weeping willow outside my window. Of the red winged blackbirds singing from the branches. Tire swings and the cherry blossom in the front yard. What are some of your favorite memories of trees? There is a forum at the bottom of the page...please feel free to scroll on down to leave a comment or share a memory about trees.
Below is a beautiful, raw home recording of the song. I love the background vocals Daniel sings on the last chorus — perfect if you are singing this with your youth choir!
In searching for the perfect melody for Cantor Ginsburg's voice - I literally threw away 3 approaches to this song before the
the melody I finally landed on manifested. I knew immediately it would fit Shira's voice and chose the key of Bb to highlight how powerful, pleading, and yet gentle she an sound all at once in the bridge as the melody hovers around her sweet spots - Bb above middle C. I would like to point out how the composition structure allows for playful interaction between cantor and congregation...or in this version cantor and me! Especially at the end as “hashkiveinu Adonai” is repeated over and over I invite you to begin by learning the piece as written and then feel free to improvise your own melodies and call and response with your community.
Below: A live run through of Hashkiveinu and a look "Behind The Song"with Cantor Shira Ginsburg
Kein Y'hi Ratzon
It's funny to me! Daniel and I wrote this one basically just so our little buddy Brandon Green (he is now about 12 inches taller than me) could have a fun song to sing at Congregation Micah. Daniel started singing it at some of the Jewish camps...and it just caught on. And I'm so happy that Joe Eglash allowed us to include the original lyrics and the updated lyrics in the Anthology. It's amazing how songs can grow and evolve!
Below is a “glorified work tape” Daniel produced containing the updated lyrics. This version begins the with essentially an A7(b9) chord with C# in the bass — tasty!
L'chah Dodi 1
I am so happy we included three versions of this song in the book. For me, L’chah Dodi is one of the most challenging pieces of liturgy to compose for because the verses are so long and there are so many. And they all sing a bit differently! This version was written first with Daniel Leanse and to me is the most traditional...of course with a twist.
L'chah Dodi 2
I cannot thank Cantor Rebecca Garfein enough for commissioning this piece and for uttering these words...L'chah Dodi Gospel. I love the chance to be inspired by cantors and to assist them in their search for just the "right" version of a prayer. Try this one with a gospel choir and a full band and usher in Shabbat with an uptempo, foot stomping celebration! Here's a link to MLK Shabbat 2015 at Temple Rodeph Sholom.
Below Cantor Rebecca Garfein MLK 2015 and an accompaniment tutorial.
L'chah Dodi 3
Did you know there are over 2000 documented musical settings for L'chah Dodi? But very few contain any English. Thank you and huge props to Cantor Shira Ginsburg for being persistent and challenging me (I really resisted at first!) to write yet another L'chah Dodi. In this piece the English verses are not a translation of the Hebrew - they are a telling of the story of the Jews of Safed and of the hopes and beliefs of the Kabalists of the time.
The clip below is one of our first times playing the song together and we had the cameras rolling to capture the moment. You might notice...I'm still reading the music, missed a chord or two - and in need of a haircut! But I love Shira's performance so figured this was a good one to share with all its imperfections.
Below: A live run through of L'chah Dodi and a look "Behind The Song" with Cantor Shira Ginsburg
The lengthy opening guitar solo is so inspiring...and totally optional. If you are not able to find a flamenco style guitarist to open the song...try beginning with the outro niggun! Sing it slowly and quietly, gradually building to the down beat and the words...mi chamocha...who is like you?
Below: the original Gesher recording and an performance/accompaniment tutorial.
This song means so much to me...written with my dear friend Stephanie Lewis while my dad was in the middle of his stem cell transplant just before Biennial, 2005. It is my deepest and most sincere hope this piece brings comfort and healing to you, your congregation and loved ones. On certain Shabbats, if there is somebody on my mind during Mi Shebeirach, I might end the song by repeating the call and answer for a full minute...a capella. Below are two different approaches to the same song. The video version is the way I usually play the song live...though I always experiment a little! The MP3 version follows the sheet music more closely and is a bit more of a band and soft rock approach. Feel free to experiment and come up with an arrangement that best fits your community. And feel free to post it in the forum below or to email it to me!
Below: a live video recording, an accompaniment tutorial, and a full band recording of Mi Shebeirach.
Modim Anachnu Lach
This song has been a beautiful and inspiring journey. What began as a commission by Cantor Tracy Fishbein at The Temple (Nashville, TN) has evolved into much more than a song. As Tracy discusses below The Temple has used the song as a beautiful exercise with students and congregants of all ages (even on women's retreat) by inviting participants to write their own lyrics of gratitude to this melody.
The song has also become a powerful interfaith experience. We could not have imagined when conceiving the original version back in 2014 that in 2015 a Muslim Palestinian would end up adding the beautiful Arabic verses - truly poetry - to the English and Hebrew text. Thank you my brother, Alaa Alshaham...you brought your heart and so much beauty and sensitivity and hope to this song.
Below: the Pursuit Of Harmony version, the original version commissioned and performed by Cantor Tracy Fishbein and a short (technically challenged) Zoom conversation with Tracy about the piece.
A Mourner's Song
Again...thank you to Cantor Shira Ginsburg. It was her idea to commission a song for mourners. We decided quickly that it had to be rooted in the traditional kaddish, to feel familiar. But it also needed to incorporate something more, something that would help connect those in mourning, or those remembering, to their loved ones. In English. Hours of research about Judaism and death ensued and the result is this song that weaves lines from the mourner's kaddish and 23rd psalm together with original English lyrics...like the waves upon the sea are separate and connected, you are gone and still by my side. As the seasons must change to dust we must return again, but love, love, love...never dies.
Below is a live video recording of A Mourner’s Song followed by a “behind the song” video and a short conversation between me and Cantor Ginsburg about the piece.
This is the first of my songs to catch on with the reform movement across the states. I literally wrote it parked in my car outside of Congregation Micah in Nashville, TN. And I've now heard it sung in Oslo, Copenhagen, Israel, Germany...just so beautiful when a song connects with so many people and finds its way around the world. Here are two VERY different versions of the same song! The first is the original - from my Gesher project with Daniel Leanse. Then an unbelievable Gospel version recorded by Walt Whitman and Soul Children Of Chicago! I've been so fortunate to have my songs recorded by some of the biggest artist in the world. But when I heard the Soul Children singing Oseh Shalom...I had chills. This may be one of my favorite cover of any of my songs ever! But perhaps perhaps the truest test of a melody is if it is singable by the youngest among us. I was blown away when Cantor Magda Fishman sent me the video clip below of her 3.5 year old singing his own rendition of Oseh Shalom!
Below: The original Gesher version, a full blown Gospel version with 500 voices, and Cantor Magda Fishman's 3.5 year old song brings his spin!