Tosun with 'Hatikvah'
Ms. Sylvia Tosun, a young talented, creative singer, was fascinated one day with 'Hatikvah' (The Hope), the 'eternal' anthem of the Jewish people and the official anthem of the State of Israel. Ms. Tosun, a great musician and successful songwriter, decided to learn anthems of other nations as well. The outcome is a new project of national anthems. Tosun's original unique and pioneering brainchild is one CD, National Anthems of Our World, Vol I, produced by her and Miklos, a CD of her version of Hatikvah.
There are ten countries whose anthems attracted Ms. Tosun for many reasons. Tosun performed these anthems in her unique approach and style. Hatikvah was twice recorded with Tosun expressing her style, love, and admiration of these anthems using traditional arrangements and her trans-remix style. Generally speaking, Anthem (Anthems of France, U.S.A., Germany, Russia, Japan and others): "...reinvents ten of the best known national anthems from around the world. Breaking from traditional arrangements, Anthem's musical and vocal styles range from electronics to world-ethno pop."
Tosun's slogan is: "To strengthen ties with patriotic traditions: musical tribute to ten world nations." Ms. Tosun plans to record Vol. II of her unique illuminating universal project. She took upon herself enormous challenges since national anthems are not just songs or music, they are sacred to many, they are national symbols and the epitome of the national soul and patriotism. They are also elements of national rituals: "My choice in this project is purely musical. No one produced my CD. It is my original idea. I decided to reinvent the beautiful music which is the bedrock of patriotism of each country. I used to be an opera singer but I left because I would like to express myself, my voice, without being classified. This CD, as well as Hatikvah which I recorded twice in the Anthem, express my approach and interpretation and my mission," remarked Ms. Tosun, at her office in Hotel Kimberly, Manhattan. She is a lovely person - modest, charming, and highly intelligent. She is tough. She will be successful accomplishing her mission. She sings, she develops a dance version of the anthems. She found the right arrangement: "My version will make people dance," she explained.
Ms. Tosun has one more mission. It is to explain her unique approach to anthems. She wants to build a bridge between parents and their children. It is to bridge 'generation gaps.' For example, she recorded and performed Hatikvah in a pop kind of style in Anthem. The target population in Israel is the young ones who go to the clubs and the discos: "The future belongs to the younger generation. They are the future. We must connect ourselves to them. Perhaps their parents will not like my personal approach. Indeed I can forecast the coming of a discussion. My idea is that my Anthem will serve as a stage for young people to show pride in their roots. Also it will push the concept of one world, universalism. My CD will contribute to harmony," Ms. Tosun said. "I also hope that the young ones who will look for their roots will also look to a life with their neighbors. Then all of them will find that they are looking for the same notion: Freedom."
Hatikvah was the first anthem which pushed Ms. Tosun to launch her Anthem project. She fell in love with Hatikvah, she fell in love with its melody. "I was inspired by Hatikvah in an emotional way. I looked into its lyrics. I translated the line which relates to the 2,000 years of Jewish exile and the Jewish quest for freedom. The idea of Hatikvah that we always have hoped to live in freedom fascinated me. We, in America, are also looking for freedom. The trauma of 9-11 also had an influence on me: patriotism and freedom. Then I came to the conclusion about the message of Hatikvah: it is a universal message. A message of hope. I saw that each country looks for freedom on our planet. Hatikvah is a universal anthem. From my point of view, each person can relate himself, like me, to Hatikvah. Mine is a deep emotional relationship," Tosun explains as to the special stand of Hatikvah in her mind and musical world. "Hatikvah, in this CD, is the most important anthem to me. It represents me. It is my interpretation."
She believes that the Israeli young generation will dance with her Hatikvah: "They will sing with the music. They will dance their anthem. The anthem will push them to move their bodies. It will ignite a positive sense of pride inside their souls. They will understand it and feel it. They will identify with it emotionally. We must integrate Hatikvah into their world, life, mentality, as well. And this is my contribution. We must advance and see the new realities. The Anthem is my contribution to them," remarked Ms. Tosun, whose father is Jewish and mother is Russian. She was active at the United Service Organization and used to sing for them. Then she performed with a rock opera group (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and her focus on anthems was rooted in singing the American anthem and Hatikvah for the U.J.A. and other Jewish organizations. And one day she decided to research Hatikvah and became its admirer.
It is not surprising that Ms. Tosun fell in love with Hatikvah, but it is important to note that her CD will contribute to the full rehabilitation of its author, Napthali Herz Imber (1856-1909). It is not a secret that the Jewish people developed a hate-love relationship to this genius poet. Israel even, today, does not integrate Imber into its Hall of Fame.
Recently, Israel's Minister of Education, Ms. Limor Livnat, said that "Many Israeli teenagers are ignorant about Hatikvah and do not know its words! Israel still refuses to enact a 'Law of Anthem: Hatikvah' which I personally had lobbied in the last decade. It is officially the Israeli anthem but there is no law like Israel's 'Law of the Emblem and Flag.' The reason for this omission is unclear but certainly the daily objection of the Israeli-Arab minority, to sing it, turned out to be an important factor. As I will explain later, there are many Israelis who would like to dismantle Hatikvah, which is not just a national symbol, but also a prayer.
As I will point out, Hatikvah, our unique anthem, has been the only anthem in the world whose history was a defensive-apologetic one. This posture was born in 1878 when Imber, 21 years old, wrote this song. I will only document my notion by the fact that in 1978, the 100 year anniversary of Hatikvah, the Israeli post office produced a special stamp which said: 'We have not lost our hope yet!', but the stamp ignored Imber's credit!
"Imber, himself, was afraid that his Hatikvah (originally Tikvahtenu or: Our hope will not disappear) would be ignored. Although in his poem 'Goblet', he wrote: "But I and Hatikvah will endure forever" but he certainly was forgotten. As to Hatikvah, Imber was right. Hatikvah has become the unique and enduring anthem of the Jewish people and Israel. The irony of history was that Imber's fame and legacy was gone with the wind when his Hatikvah slowly but surely moved on the road to victory.
"When I decided, in the 1970's, to research the history of Hatikvah, I found that the Jews developed a love-hate relationship to Imber, who died in 1909 in the East Village, New York. I will discuss this issue in this article but in short: Imber was a non-conformist, Bohemian poet, poor, living on welfare and private donations. But his major crime in the eyes of his contemporaries was the following: 'Imber turns into a sub-human when he drinks to excess.' Another contemporary wrote about this alcoholic, drunkard, vagabond: 'He looked like a dark Indian ...a bottle of whiskey stuck out of his coat.' Jews of his time were ashamed of him. A Jewish Bohemian alcoholic! It was too much for them to absorb. They were not permissive like the U.S. He often compared himself to Edgar Allen Poe, who also loved to drink.
"Imber was the 'Hebrew Troubadour.' He was a Zionist, beatnik, hippy type of person. He himself believed in the good life, in Paganic Zionism. He cherished happiness, joy, drinking. He hated the Jewish non-stop lamentation. For many scholars, he was then the epitome of the sabra generation. Contemporaries depicted Imber's lifestyle in negative terms. His negative image was transmitted to the next generation and to Israeli society, as well. Imber was a stepchild of the Jews. He had a negative image in the Jewish heritage and folklore. So in Israel, whenever a songwriter or a novelist related to Imber, they depicted him in negative terms. For them, Imber was just an alcoholic who by accident wrote Hatikvah.
"Since 1980, we can see some change in the attitude toward Imber in Israel's literature. His works are not reduced only to Hatikvah. He wrote more songs, such as the popular Jordan Watch and many others. But he never received the national recognition that he deserved. In 1953, he was re-interred in Jerusalem. In the small ceremony, his Hatikvah was defined as the 'Marseillaise of the Hebrew Revolution.' On his grave it was engraved with: "Only when the last Jews on earth disappear, the hope will disappear too."
Born in December 1856, in Zloczow, Galicia, in the Jewish ghetto, Imber was a congenital maverick: restless and hyper-individualist, he hated any authority. He started to write poems as a child. At an early age he dedicated his life to poetry. Once in a letter he reacted to his mother's pressures to get married: "I do not have to marry, I am already married to the muse of Hebrew-poetry." As an adolescent, Imber, according to his brother Shemariahu, a strange child, developed links to the first Jewish East European Maskilim, who also challenged the traditional power elite of the ghetto. Later when his father, Samuel Jacob, who owned a bar, died, Imber decided to be a professional wanderer, and never settle down. He always said, pretentiously: "The fate of the Jewish people is my own fate." He, who later turned to be a herald of the Zionist quest, wrote once, "We want a home. The fate of the individual is like that of a nation. From my own experience I can say: I have everything, what I lack is a home. And the only home is Zion. And there, where our cradle stood, must be our grave."
Imber wandered, in fact, all over the world: from Berlin to Jerusalem, from Bombay to London, from New York to San Francisco. We can no longer trace his itinerary: he used to offer original poems or publications in payment for board or bread instead of money. A prolific writer, he was not usually superficial. He published articles and brochures on Jewish history, Bible, Talmud, Kabbalah, social issues, economics, American politics, music, philosophy, psychology.
Imber always used to discuss the Jewish or Hebrew aspects of each topic. He was a master of surprise and fantasy. For example, he "proved" that King Solomon used electricity in the Temple, millennia before Edison. Another example of his view of history: Jesus was the first leader of the Jewish working class. In Imber's opinion, Jesus was a true Jew, not a Christian, and was murdered by the Jewish capitalists who cherished Mammon. These ideas were published in his The Fall of Jerusalem, a Populist brochure (ignored by Kabakoff). He was always a fighter for social justice. Some contemporary Socialists even viewed his lifestyle as a revolt of the poor and homeless people against the Jewish landlords of New York City. Imber was also ahead of his time - a true feminist!
It should be stressed that Imber, the Bohemian, fell in love with Oriental religions and hence was also called Mahatma Imber, or the Fakir. This passion involved him with the world of spiritualism, mysticism, and occultism. In 1895, he tried to publish in Boston, a Kabbalah publication, Ariel, but failed. He was one of the earliest promoters of Kabbalah study in America.
Imber's Zionist "crusade" first manifested itself in the composition of Hatikvah in Yassi, Romania, in 1878. Imber was then a guest of Moshe Waldberg, a well-known scholar and rich to boot. He financed the needs of the poet, who at the age of 23, composed this unique Jewish national anthem.
The history of this anthem has turned out to be, symbolically, the modern history of the Jewish people from the Holocaust to the martyrs who were hanged by the British in Palestine, and was heard at the ceremonies of the Camp David peace accords in Cairo. Hatikvah has been Israel's national anthem since it was played twice by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra during the ceremony of Israel's Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. Since 1948, many attempts have been made to dethrone Hatikvah, but they have failed. Recently, some suggested that is should be replaced by Naomi Shemer's famous song Jerusalem of Gold.
Hatikvah brought Imber some fame. Many argued that the poet, far from modest, used to shnorr the money he needed for financing his ever-growing drinking expenses. The King of the Shnorrers believed society had the obligation to provide the poet with his basic needs. At the same time, when approached by others in need, Imber was always generous. In the final analysis, Imber felt money was worthless. The truth was that he was disappointed at his lack of recognition and, of course, reward.
Herzl, for example, did not like Hatikvah. Imber used to write for him, for instance, urging him to declare Hatikvah the official anthem of the Zionist movement. Imber's first sweet victory came only in 1933, the second in 1948, the third in March, 1953: Imber's remains were brought from a Long Island cemetery for re-burial on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. It was at the official Israeli ceremony, at that time, that Hatikvah was proclaimed "the Marseillaise of the Hebrew revolution." But these 'victories' came too late.
Imber used to come to Zionist rallies and meetings. Once he decided to go to a meeting in Cooper Union, New York. But, as usual, he was drunk, and filthily dressed: as usual, the ushers refused to let him in. When at the end of this Zionist meeting the participants arose to sing Hatikvah, Imber pushed his way in and screamed: "You may kick me out but you must sing my song."
In spite of this habitual treatment, Imber never betrayed his Zionist message and zeal. This Hebrew troubadour was first of all the voice of the modern pioneers who came to Palestine, the Biluim.
Imber came to Palestine in 1884 together with Sir Lawrence Oliphant, a British Christian dreamer who believed in the Zionist idea. In Palestine Imber turned out to be the first modern Zionist poet. He believed in the pastoral-agrarian concept of Zionism, a Zionism that for him was, essentially, going back to nature.
Imber viewed this process as a new love, freedom, hyper-individualism, a revolt against the ghetto mentality of the Jews, an earthy redemption. He even advocated the establishment of a Hebrew army. He also believed Zionism to be, first of all, a cult of joy, a dismantling of the lamentation psychology of traditional Judaism, the salvation of Jews through a deep integration with Mother Earth. Therefore, Imber presented the Biluim, the true heroes of his poetry, as a new tribe: "I introduced the spirit of love and wine, the pagan spirit... I want them (the Jews) to be joyously themselves and so I am a Zionist. I am the origin of the Zionist movement... when my Hebrew poems were published a whole race was made enthusiastic for Zion..." This was what he emphasized in his conversation with the well-known writer, Hutchins Hapgood.
By his poet's intuition, Imber understood the need of the first "lovers of Zion" to challenge the traditional psychology of the Jewish people. Indeed, it should be stressed that those who conceive the Zionist idea as solely political ignore its quest for linking the Jewish people to their natural habitat.
As to the music of Hatikvah, the first notes were published only in 1895. Naturally, there are still many enigmas and we still need more research. Ms. Sylvia Tosun gave credit of adaptation to Shmuel Cohen, who was the first one to sing Hatikvah in Palestine. He was a pioneer. Did he compose the music? It is hard to say. It was written by scholars that Cohen used as a Slavic-Romanian song by Popovitch. But there are scholars who believe that Imber composed the melody of Hatikvah, which is similar to the Moldava by Smetana. But it is a mistake to blame the composer for stealing from the Moldava. All of the composers were influenced by Slavic song or folksong.
The most distinguished Israeli scholar of Jewish music, Dr. Peter Grandowitch, claimed that Hatikvah was influenced by 12 sources (tunes) such as Bohemian folk tune, the Jewish traditional prayer Igdal, the Sephardic prayer 'Tal', all kinds of wandering melodies, and even from Basque folksong, as well. Dr. Grandowitch concluded: "The Hatikvah melody can be found in a greater number of folk tunes and musical works..." He tends to link Hatikvah to the Jewish world of music or cantorial music. Therefore, not many scholars tend to credit Cohen, the pioneer from 'Rehovot', (Israel) of the 1890's with Hatikvah's tunes. But others do believe that Cohen is the one. Sylvia Tosun pointed out in her Anthem: music adapted - Shmuel Cohen.
As to Tosun's mission and illumination, as to her arrangement and style, as to her great performance of Hatikvah, Imber would have said: "Go on, revolt for freedom and universal love, for harmony and joy." Tosun was free to express her hope. When she was only 14 years old, she was a singer, a songwriter, and won many awards. She traveled in many countries and saw the universe. She developed a universal-global approach to life, music, dance and learned many languages, as well. Her world turned out to be like a U.N. and that explains her idea of challenging national anthems.
At eighteen, Tosun was awarded a full scholarship to Juilliard, where she studied opera performance and music composition. Her Juilliard audition was conducted by Vincent LaSelva - founder of the New York Grand Opera Company - who immediately offered her a spot in his company (providing she was accepted to Juilliard). Although Tosun's voice continued to develop in strength and range, she credits Juilliard more with helping her develop her skills as an arranger and composer.
Sylvia's next big opportunity came when she was asked to record and perform with Atlantic Records' Trans-Siberian Orchestra, in their rock opera Beethoven's Last Night (which sold over 2 million worldwide). Singing in the World Music genre marked a turning point for Sylvia. Between appearances with Trans-Siberian, she continued to perform and, most notably, opened for the Istanbul Orchestra.
Around this time, Tosun met Julie Flanders and Emil Adler of the award-winning Epic Records' October Project. Almost immediately the three began collaborating, and this eventually led to Sylvia's debut CD Too Close to the Sun. Acclaimed by critics as a remarkable debut effort ("Tosun has a voice that shows remarkable range and restraint. She never shows off. A high-quality piece of work that deserves attention"), Too Close to the Sun won the 2001 USA Songwriting Competition Award in five categories (out of 33,000 entries).
Sylvia Tosun, perhaps by her unique Anthem, as to her Hatikvah, built a bridge between Imber's legacy and the Israeli younger generations: They can sing, they can express their patriotism in their own way and they can dance, dance with hope, for a better world, for a future with hope, 'Tikvah' for enduring peace.
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