Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Poems of Loss and Hope with Wondrous Music

Poet Jeffrey Lilly read from his new collection of poems "The Butterfly Flies" at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav on August 2nd, 2009, accompanied by composer and pianist Jonathan Comisar. The sizable audience found themselves in the temple’s sanctuary, an immense space with a vaulted roof and burnt orange and natural wood-toned surfaces. Modern stained glass and a floral tribute added some color, as did Jeffrey Lilly’s rainbow striped shirt.

The temple’s past board president, Arthur Slepian, greeted the guests and introduced Jeffrey Lilly and Jonathan Comisar. He also welcomed the guests to the temple, and described the congregation as reform progressive with LGBT’s and some non-LGBT’s. There are also conservative and orthodox members who are drawn by the large LGBT membership. Both Lilly and Comisar have a connection with Sha’ar Zahav, with Jeffrey Lilly volunteering at the temple store and Jonathan Comisar leading prayers. Comisar’s compositions are used in services, and he is considered to be a musical genius by his friends and some critics.

Arthur Slepian also spoke about an AIDS anthology that Lilly is finishing, and that he is a translator who was on the board of the National Poetry Association. Lilly’s previous CD is the well-received "Promised Land Poems." Slepian spoke about Jonathan Comisar’s work being in demand at synagogues across America. He is also a cantor and teacher and he is working on two musical theater productions.

Unlike most poetry readings when the live music is subdued, Comisar attacked the piano keys and made it clear that no one was going to be able to doze during his performance. Lilly raised his melodious resonant voice and the poetry and the music merged for an assertive stance of meaning.

Jeffrey Lilly composes his work to relate to his life, to scenes of every day living, and politics. The death of his father in a plane crash, the moon rising over the city, and the assassination of a peace-seeking Israeli leader were touched on. His mother’s death, a young man in his bed, and Palestine and Israel were mentioned. Kissing his rabbi, admiring the beauty of an Indian woman on a bus, and the legacy of Robert Kennedy were among his themes. There was a message of loss, but also one of hope.

The presentation ended with Jeffrey Lilly thanking Jonathan Comisar for his brilliant command of the piano, and he thanked the audience for attending. And there was a flurry of CD sales after the thank you’s.

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