Sarah Riskind

Choral conductor and composer

Par’o Era Estrellero (arr. Epstein)

I came across this gorgeous arrangement (view the score!) as part of my research on choral arrangements of Judeo-Spanish music. I haven’t yet conducted it myself, but it would be great for an SSA group with a lot of low altos.

You might not know much about Sephardic/Judeo-Spanish music (the traditional music of the Jews who lived in places like Turkey and Morocco after being expelled from Spain), but it’s a nice way to go beyond the token Hebrew pieces in your library. You can do some exploring on Youtube and hear how singers have many takes on it, often adding a medieval sound, or a Spanish sound, or Middle Eastern instruments… but most of the Ladino melodies are traditionally sung in unison by women working in the home.

Voicing: SSA a cappella with rare divisi

Why would singers like it?
It’s a well-crafted arrangement that gives interesting material to every part. Even at the beginning, the drone-based soprano II part intermittently responds to the first sopranos with melodic fragments, growing more and more active as the piece proceeds.

What is meaningful about it?
The text is about a pivotal time in Jewish history that is commemorated at Passover (you could program it in the springtime, or throughout the year). It is also about the agency of women.

The translation reads:

Pharaoh was a stargazer. He went out one night to look at the moon.
He saw a divine star foretelling that Moses would be born.

He commanded that the midwives be called – all that were in Egypt.
To all of them he warned- Don’t catch a Jewish baby!

The midwives were Jewish, beloved by God.

They caught the babies and fled, and so Moses was born.

His sister, the Levite, made him a basket.

She covered it with pitch and placed it in the Nile.

What is challenging about it?
The rhythms of each part are fairly independent, and the conductor and singers will have to pay close attention to the Ladino pronunciation. However, it is close to Spanish, which many singers in the US might have studied or might speak fluently. I would call the difficulty level “moderate.”

What is easy about it?
Once they get comfortable with the mode, the pitches should come together. It’s essentially harmonic minor, or you could say the fifth mode in the harmonic minor modal system (characterized by the augmented 2nd).

Where can you order it?
Transcontinental sells it, and they have a brand new website where you can now see perusal scores! It’s an enormous improvement; I highly recommend that you browse the Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish choral music.


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