Holy Hummer! Thinking about nigunim
nigun (Hebrew: ?meaning “tune” or “melody”, pl. nigunim) or niggun (pl. niggunim) is a form of Jewish religious song or tune sung by groups. It is vocal music, often with repetitive sounds such as “bim-bim-bam” or “ai-ai-ai!” instead of formal lyrics. Sometimes, Bible verses or quotes from other classical Jewish texts are sung repetitively to form a nigun. Some nigunim are sung as prayers of lament, while others may be joyous or victorious.
I am a hummer. When I was a kid, I would often hum songs I heard on the radio. I never could and, in fact, still can’t remember more than the first line of most songs. When I started working at Eldridge Street and was charged with curating concerts that would fit the space and mission of the Museum, I remember finding musicians who had re-discovered nigunim and their haunting beauty. I shared their recordings with my father, the king of hummers in our family, and much to my surprise, he knew many of the tunes.
It turns out his father and uncles were also hummers, but of the religious sort. He told me that as a young boy some of his favorite memories revolved around my grandfather and my grandmother’s brothers sitting around the Sabbath table singing tune after tune, the afternoons often stretching into the evening and the end of Sabbath and calling for a new set of tunes.
I am certain my fondness for humming tunes and my cavalier attitude towards the words are the pop descendants of these nigunim. I am thrilled that Joey Weisenberg will be performing them at Eldridge Street on Sunday and know that my mishpocha in heaven will be there humming along.
Find out more about this Sunday’s concert, Joey Weisenberg Ensemble – Transformation of a Nigun, October 21, at 3 pm at the Museum at Eldridge Street.