Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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August 10, 2014
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Concert features Jewish stories and American songs

It’s easy to hear the excitement in Cantor Rollin Simmons’ voice when she talks about Tuesday’s fourth annual summer concert and fundraiser for the Aspen Jewish Congregation.

Simmons, the director and producer of the event, has many reasons to be enthusiastic about the concert.

“I’m bringing in seven wonderful musicians that are also friends of mine,” Simmons said. “They’re a combination of singers and instrumentalists that all bring a high level of talent and experience with them.”

This year’s show, “Standing Out, Fitting In,” will feature stories about Jews who immigrated to America and what it meant to keep their Jewish heritage while adapting to a new country.

The performance begins at 5 p.m. at the Aspen District Theatre.

“These are stories of immigrants and the children of immigrants,” Simmons said.

Simmons, who also performs in the show, was inspired to put the event together after watching the PBS documentary “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.”

The documentary explores how most of the major songwriters of American musical theater in the early 20th century were Jewish, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

“They were telling Jewish stories,” Simmons said. “But sometimes through a different lens.”

The performance is broken into three parts, starting with “Immigrating and Integrating,” where the old-world tradition of an arranged marriage is featured. The show transitions into the second part, “Make Me a Match,” that’s set to modern times where Jews are marrying for love. The third part, “Generation to Generation,” poses the question, “What are we passing on to our children?”

“I like to be eclectic in my programming,” Simmons said. “And I like to tell a story.”

Each of the musicians Simmons arranged to perform carries an impressive resume, with several of them holding international performing experience and professional recording credentials.

Simmons enjoys creating different textures of music and can do that by using various combinations of the performers. She’s also excited to incorporate some new instruments into this year’s show. For example, musician Ivan Barenboim will bring his talents to the show, including his ability to play the clarinet.

“Having a clarinet will add a real traditional Jewish feel to many of the selections, particularly the Yiddish songs, ” Simmons said. “The clarinet gives a real lively Klezmer feel to the music. Using different instruments and voices adds a layer of complexity to the music. For me, that’s very exciting.”

Simmons is expecting around 500 people to attend the performance. Besides the enjoyment of a musical performance, she sees “Standing Out, Fitting In” as a catalyst to bring people together as a community and celebrate a common story that many in the audience can personally relate to.

“This whole experience is fulfilling on many layers,” she said. “Having my friends come here to help with the celebration is almost like a retreat for me. For them to come to Aspen and work in collaboration is outside of their day-to-day experience. This show will offer chances for the audience to sing along and moments to reflect through. There will be funny parts and serious moments, but maybe the best part is we can enjoy these moments as a community.”

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Aug 10, 2014 08:48PM Published Aug 12, 2014 05:52PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.