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Samuel Alman

Samuel AlmanSAMUEL ALMAN (1877 – 1947) was born in Sobolevka, Podolia, in Russia. He began his musical education at the conservatory in Odessa and was a member of the Russian army band based there. After the tragic pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, Alman moved to London, where he continued his musical studies at the Royal College of Music. There he focused on opera composition and debuted his first biblical opera, King Ahaz, in 1912.

Soon after arriving in London, Alman was drawn into the local Jewish life and became choirmaster at the Dalston Synagogue. In 1916, he was appointed choirmaster at Hampstead Synagogue. His reputation spread quickly, and he was hired to lead several other local Jewish choirs.

Alman was deeply influenced by the Eastern European cantorial tradition, specifically by the work of chazanim Nisson Spivak and Solomon Sulzer. He also made use of elaborate modern harmony in his arrangements, evoking the impressionistic style of French composer Claude Debussy. In 1925 he published Synagogue Compositions, a collection of liturgical arrangements for Sabbath and weekday services. He also wrote and published several arrangements of popular Yiddish folk songs.

In 1925 and 1938 Alman published Shirei Beit ha-Knesset, 2 vols, which is his collection of synagogue music for cantor and choir. Volume one contains the pieces that are still most well-known among his compositions: Yehi Ratson (the prayer for “Blessing the New Moon”) and Hinenei and Ribono Shel Olam for Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer.

In 1933, Alman was called upon to update the so-called “Blue Book”The Voice of Prayer and Praise: A Handbook of Synagogue Music, first published in 1899. This was an expanded version of Shirei Kenesset Yisrael, A Handbook of Synagogue Music for Congregational Singing, which had been published 10 years earlier as a resource for members of the congregation to follow the singing during the course of the service. When Alman updated it, he added a supplement of 58 extra items, 15 of which were his own compositions. These included Birkat Cohanim and Havu laShem (Psalm 29).

Sources: Jewish Music Research Centre and Chazzanut Online (Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler)

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