Mourner’s Kaddish (2016) was commissioned by Marissa Simmons for her recital at San Francisco Music Conservatory. A pious Jew, Marissa chose to program multiple settings of this poignant prayer, beginning with the esteemed Ravel and ending with this setting. It was my first (and for now only) foray in setting a text in a language I neither spoke nor understood.
I myself am not Jewish (I was raised as a mainline Protestant Christian), so the idea of setting a text so sacred to Judaism was extremely intimidating to me. To pay moments like this proper justice, it is important to research both the text and its contexts in depth, which I did through many articles and the advice of many Jewish friends. Kaddish is a prayer to be said in mourning of a lost loved one, and may only be recited in the presence of a minyan—a quorum of ten (wo)men required for public Jewish worship. It is oftentimes recited regularly in the aftermath of a loved one’s passing, and then recited again upon each anniversary of their death.
It is important to note that although the prayer is said in the context of mourning, Kaddish does not explicitly mention death—or, in fact, grieving at all. Instead, the text serves as a reminder for prayer and minyan alike to praise G-d in the presence of all things, even in the face of death. To honor this sentiment, I chose to err my setting of the text on the side of peaceful, perhaps in the manner of someone who has said Kaddish many times over for a family member long passed, and approaches it yet once more ten years after.