December may not seem like the ideal time to receive Jewish inspiration, but Barbara Lewis’ annual Christmas concert is powered by her attachment to Meir Finkelstein’s popular Hebrew tune, “L’dor Vador,” as well as her insight into the lively “Dreidel Song.”
Both are key features of her concert, which will take place at 2 p.m. on Dec. 15 at Victoria Hall in Westmount, Que. Tickets are free, but must be procured beforehand, as they go fast.
That’s because Lewis is a much-loved performer who’s able to wrap her lovely voice like a warm embrace around listeners, who respond to her heartfelt emotions with tears, smiles and applause.
“I call ‘L’dor Vador’ my most transcendental song,” says Lewis. “It sits in that spiritual plane and, to me, the words mean the continuity and passing on of spiritual knowledge and cultural traditions from generation to generation. People love it whether they know what the words mean or not.”
Lewis has been singing her entire life, although the untimely death of her first husband in 2007 temporarily silenced her voice.
“Then, after three years, I felt like I needed to rediscover my musical self, so I pulled together a lot of the songs I had written and did a concert. When I met the wonderful Anna Fuerstenberg, she helped me fashion that concert into a music-theatre piece and I performed Crossroads at the Montreal Fringe Festival,” says Lewis.
“The show was both cathartic and emotionally tiring. I felt I had been emptied by that process, so I put it aside and actually stopped singing for a while.”
Since she returned to the stage five years ago, her audiences have helped her “regain (her) footing in life.”
Lewis is renowned for her one-woman shows, which have received rave reviews from California and Vancouver, to Montreal and Cancun. Each show has a theme, like My Canada – Singing the Soul of a Country, a 150th birthday celebration, and Passionate Heart, her tribute to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell that included such Cohen classics as “Dance Me to the End of Love,” “Everybody Knows” and “If it be Your Will.”
Cohen’s immortal “Suzanne” figures in her latest solo survey of songs that celebrate women, called Blood Orchid – How Women Feel. It also features songs by Carole King and Amy Winehouse.
On Nov. 7, the singer honoured Cohen at a McGill University Health Centre fundraiser by dedicating her Rialto Theatre performance of “L’dor Vador” to him.
Lewis’ holiday concert presentation of the “Dreidel Song” may not hold the gravitas of “L’dor Vador,” but she maintains that it’s meaningful to her.
“It’s upbeat, but I introduce it with a short verbal context, like I do for each of my songs where the storytelling spills over into music,” she says. “I talk about ‘Dreidel Song’’s dark underpinnings in that the Torah was outlawed at that time. To be learning Torah was punishable by death and so the Jewish children would hide in caves to do their studies, and if they saw soldiers coming, they’d play with their dreidels.
“So the singing of this song is an expression of their courage, that they were willing to take that chance to learn their spiritual tradition. It’s a great lesson for us today.”
Lewis will be accompanied by Toronto keyboardist Doug Balfour and bass player Sage Reynolds, with guest vocalists Cheylyn Toca and Colleen Bartley.
For a taste of Lewis’ moving vocals, visit her website at barbaralewis.com.