Bill Hindin wants to carry his culture.
The Shorewood native has had a career in the performing arts, including as a director, pianist, bandleader and composer. He now marries his interest in the arts with his Jewish heritage through a presentation entitled “The Great Jewish American Songbook”.
Hindin spent over a year developing the project. Over 60-90 minutes, he lectures, plays the piano, and uses multimedia to explain the role of Jews in the development of 20th-century American music. Specifically, Hindin said, it demonstrates the liturgical influences of American popular songs and explains the stories of Jewish musicians.
Hindin said he wanted to illuminate not only where you can hear Jewish influences in well-known songs, but also the personal experiences of the creators of those songs.
“I always say, ‘We don’t know where we’re going unless we know where we came from,'” Hindin said.
Given his profession, Hindin said he has long known composers such as George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein. His interest was also piqued by a documentary on the role of Jewish musicians in shaping modern musicals.
“It really fascinated me that there was so much Jewish influence in what I thought were just standards in American music,” Hindin said.
Cantor David Barash said these influences can be heard, for example, in “West Side Story”, which Bernstein composed. The tri-tone and staccato sounds heard in the musical mimic the shofar. The instrument’s influence can also be heard in the song “Maria,” said Barash, who is the cantor for Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills. Hindin has been a member of the congregation since childhood and remains involved as a musician.
Similar to Hindin, Barash said he hopes people will learn about the influence of Jewish composers to understand their culture. Also, he said, Judaism values memory, such as through Yizkor and Yom Hazikaron.
“I think it’s really important that we have different ways of listening,” Barash said.
Hindin recently performed his presentation at Milwaukee-area venues, and he wants to share it with Jewish community centers and museums across the country.
Hindin said he hopes his presentation will resonate with audiences of all ages. For older adults, he said he hopes they relate to the music they heard growing up.
“They waste all their years,” he said. “They relive their youth, and they remember what life was like – about romance and love – and they’re young again for this hour.”
Hindin hopes young audiences will develop an appreciation for Judaism’s longstanding role in American culture.
“Broadway wouldn’t be what it is today without these people who helped shape the 20th century,” Hindin said. “I hope they learn about their Jewishness and their Jewish history and not just look back today, but are willing to look back and are interested in looking back and being curious about what their great -parents and their great-grandparents lived.”
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“The Great Book of American Jewish Songs”