For Daphna Mor, having the chance to perform with the Newberry Consort at their upcoming concert featuring the music of Sephardic Jews in Renaissance Spain couldn’t be a better fit. Not only is Mor a well-known recorder player of Sephardic descent — she is also a regular performer of Jewish liturgical music, Middle Eastern music, and North African music, too.
“All of this is coming together in this program, so it was really perfect,” Mor says.
A native of Israel, Mor first discovered the recorder as an elementary school student. But after many years focusing on early music performance, Mor decided to study at the Boston Conservatory with the goal of expanding her repertoire to other genres.
“It was clear to me that I wanted to use my recorder in other ways, other than just early music,” she says.
Since then, Mor has developed a varied career that has included performing as a soloist with early music ensembles, playing with a Moroccan band, performing at world music festivals, singing as a cantor, and even playing on an album by Sting.
In 2009, Mor and another recorder player, Nina Stern, formed a group called East of the River, which explores the traditional music of the Balkans, Armenia and the Middle East, as well as classical music from medieval Europe.
Mor says European medieval music is more similar to Middle Eastern music than you might think.
“A lot of this music sounds very connected and related,” she says.
Mors says medieval music and traditional Middle Eastern music are primarily monophonic, and both types of music encourage musicians to use their own creativity to interpret the notes on the page, ornamenting and improvising as they go.
“We are so used to the idea that the notation is just our set of guidelines,” she says.
That’s why Mor says when you hear an early music concert or a Middle Eastern or North African music concert, you’ll never hear the exact same performance twice. “Every rehearsal is different, every performance is different,” she says. “I just love that.”
Another similarity between some of the music of the Sephardic Jews and the traditional music of the Middle East and North Africa is that they are based on the maqam scales, which were developed in the Arabic world and have their own set of rules that are different from Western scales.
Mor is thrilled to be part of the Newberry Consort’s upcoming concert, where she’ll have the opportunity to work with so many other musicians who are passionate about this music, including our guest curator for the program, Nell Snaidas, another leading figure in the Sephardic music world.
During the concert, Mor will be singing and playing the recorder as well as the ney, a traditional Middle Eastern flute. She’ll also have the chance to sing a Piyyut, which is a Jewish liturgical poem.
“I’m very excited that Nell included the Piyyutim, which I feel have been underrepresented and are things of beauty,” she says.
The Piyyut that Mor will be singing is traditionally sung at sundown at the beginning of the Sabbath, which reveres and welcomes the day of rest as a new bride. This will be followed by another Piyyut, sung by the ensemble, which welcomes the dawn. Both of these texts are still sung in synagogues all over the world today.
For Mor, another meaningful aspect of these concerts is the chance to perform secular Sephardic music, songs that were passed down from generation to generation – often by women singing to their daughters in the kitchens.
“There is something that is really fascinating about a tradition that has been carried down for hundreds and hundreds of years,” she says. “This kind of feeling of us being connected through this oral tradition has always been touching and exciting for me.”