Song Settings by Eliot Bailen of selected poems by the children of Terezin
Commissioned by Cantor Rebecca Garfein and Congregation Rodeph Sholom
in Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Kristalinacht, November 9, 1938
and dedicated to the memory of Settchen Levy Feist.
First performance: May 1st, 2010 Rodeph Sholom, Schnurmacher Chapel
Cantor Rebecca Garfein, mezzo soprano; Julia Bailen, child soprano; Harumi Rhodes, violin,; Toby Appel, viola; Eliot Bailen, cello; Susan Rotholz flute.
These song settings of the poetry of the children of Terezin were commissioned by my dear friend, Cantor Rebecca Garfein at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York. 144,000 Jews passed through or died at Terezin (also called Theresienstadt), many of them were on their way to Auschwitz. One of those passing through was Settchen Levy Feist, Cantor Garfein’s great grandmother, who ultimately perished at Auschwitz. There was a large and artistically active child population at Terezin yet of the 15,000 children interred there only 93 survived. The memory of some of these children was preserved miraculously by art and poems carefully hidden in two suitcases by the artist and teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, before her to Auschwitz. Some of the childrens’ stories and poems were translated and published in the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The lyrics for these songs belong to several poems from this book.
The four poems were selected for their humor, musicality and poignancy. The third song, “Perhaps a Butterfly,” combines the two poems “The Butterfly” and “Dusk.” I noticed that three of the four poems use the word ‘perhaps’ which inspired the title for the song settings. In my life, I have written hundreds of songs with children as my writing partners. In writing these songs again I have the privilege and honor of working with children, vibrant and alive when they wrote their words. I tried to imagine them so as I wrote the music. It is incredible how the tragedy of their situation is addressed in their poems – with dignity, little self-pity and descriptive skill – a moment to imagine that perhaps, things could have been different.
My thanks to Cantor Garfein and Congregation Rodeph Sholom for proposing this project and for providing me with the extraordinary opportunity to work with these poems and the memory of these children.