CHICAGO, IL (September 15, 2023) — Cedille Records releases Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah, featuring songs from more than 25 years of performances by Chicago a cappella, an ensemble of ten singers led by artistic director John William Trotter. The collection showcases the creativity and vitality of American Jewish musical traditions through the story of Hanukkah, from the holiday itself to its candles, miracles, religious observances, food, and games. Praised for its “clarity, well-balanced tone, and deep emotional involvement” (Washington Post), Chicago a cappella captures the festive spirit of communal, collective celebrations and the primary role songs have played in shaping modern Hanukkah traditions. Miracle of Miracles will be released on Friday, October 13, 2023.
The music on Miracle of Miracles reflects the significance of Hanukkah songs in Jewish culture, emphasizing their unique role in chronicling Jewish history, celebrating family traditions, and bridging cultural borders. Many of the Hanukkah songs we know today have evolved over time to become a central part of Hanukkah celebrations, connecting religious history to secular life. During the Jewish Enlightenment in the late 18th and 19th centuries, Hanukkah songs became more prevalent in modern Jewish culture, largely due to the expansion of publishing and the creation of Jewish songbooks, which helped in preserving and spreading these songs.
Rich with liturgical and folk melodies, Miracle of Miracles demonstrates a keen sensitivity to both biblical and modern Hebrew, as well as Yiddish elements (and English) intertwined with American jazz and popular styles. Eight living composers and arrangers from different traditions and communities bring fresh perspective to songs encompassing Hanukkah celebrations. Among them, Robert Applebaum’s stirring version of “Haneirot Halalu,” which weaves English translation and commentary into the Hebrew verses that accompany lighting of the Hanukkah menorah; movements from the majestic “Hallel Cantata” by London-based Daniel Tunkel; and a lively arrangement of the traditional melody for the prayer of thanksgiving, “Al HaNisim” (“For the Miracles”), by Elliott Z. Levine. Familiar dreidel tunes take on a new attitude in Applebaum’s Hebrew/English “Funky Dreidl” and a swing version of “S’vivon” (“Little Dreydl”) by Steve Barnett.
The album also includes two bonus tracks originally released on the ensemble’s 2008 Christmas a cappella album.
John William Trotter, artistic director of Chicago a cappella, notes in the recording’s booklet:
“Hanukkah offers so many different modes of personal, social, and spiritual practice. Consider just three of these. Hanukkah offers the chance to reflect on the historical significance of the Maccabean revolt, with its consequences echoing through to the present day. It invites quiet contemplation of the candle flames, set aside from any utilitarian purpose. And it provides an opportunity to gather with family and have a really great party with really great food.”
Jonathan Miller, Chicago a cappella artistic director emeritus, offers his own reflection in the booklet:
“Why, you might ask, aren’t there more albums of Hanukkah music like this? Finding the music is a big part of the challenge. It’s hard to locate works that meet all of our criteria: superb musical craftsmanship, a Hanukkah text, and a setting for a cappella mixed choir… Jewish choral music is a recent phenomenon, begun in earnest only about 200 years ago in Berlin, so there’s a simple quantity issue: we have much less repertoire to peruse than in other choral traditions. Given all of this, we are especially grateful for the composers and arrangers whose persistence and skill have given us the works found here.”
Miracle of Miracles joins Chicago a cappella's two previous Cedille releases, Shall I Compare Thee: Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts and Christmas a cappella. Produced by the Grammy-winning team of producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone, Miracle of Miracles was recorded January 13 and 16–18, 2023, at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago. The album includes all song texts and translations (where applicable) and extensive scholarly notes by Philip V. Bohlman, Ludwig Rosenberger Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish History in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago.