Gerald Cohen: Adonai Ro'i Lo Echsar (Psalm 23)
Cantor Azi Schwartz, voice
David Enlow, organ
Adonai Ro’i was originally written, on the loss of a dear friend, as a solo a cappella melody. I am a cantor, and a dear friend and congregant died of cancer at the age of 42 in 1989. Her husband asked me to sing at her funeral, and I decided to write a setting of Psalm 23, which is traditionally sung at Jewish funerals and memorial services. This was indeed one of those cases of a piece of music just writing itself, in the course of perhaps 30 minutes, as I was filled with the emotions of my friend’s death.
As I started singing the piece at other services, I received a very strong response to it, and decided to make a piano accompaniment. This was published in 1995, and soon was used by cantors all over the country, as well as in churches and other services and concerts. It is a very curious thing for a composer: I write many pieces of music of all kinds, and it is hard to know exactly why one particular piece captures people’s emotions so strongly, but that is what happened with this particular piece.
I was soon asked by the Zamir Chorale of Boston to write a version for SATB chorus, and that version has also been widely performed. I have also arranged it for solo voice and orchestra, and chorus and orchestra; these versions have been performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony.
I just have to assume that the piece somehow taps into the strong emotions that I felt as I was writing it (I had also lost my father about 8 years before, so I am sure that loss is present as well) and that this then communicates itself to performers, listeners, and mourners. In 2003, I had the sad but powerful experience of singing the piece at my mother’s funeral.
I am grateful that this piece has become a way for so many to express deep and delicate feelings. I hope that if it is a piece that is meaningful to you, you will feel free to contact me about your experience with it.