Jewish Folk Choir to perform Yomervokhets

A Yiddish translation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” will be performed at the  Saturday night cabaret at LimmudVan ’16.

The Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir will sing the delightful oratorio called Yomervokhets*. The choir’s conductor David Millard had set the nonsense poem to music especially for the choir.

The cabaret is shaping up to be a lively evening of entertainment and interaction – with a soupçon of learning, because this is Limmud, after all. A participatory Havdalah leads off the evening of music, video, comedy, table-activities (think Jewish trivia quiz, prizes) and of course food and drink. All with a Jewish flavour and all designed to get you out the door knowing more folks than you knew coming in.

* Yomervokhets

 By Victor Neuman

Jabberwocky imageEveryone recognizes the name of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures  in Wonderland. Fewer people know his real name. It was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

How did Carroll arrive at his pen name? Well, it was simple, really. First you drop the Dodgson. Then you translate Charles Lutwidge into Latin and you get Carolus Ludovicus. Carolus rendered into Irish becomes Carroll and Ludovicus transforms into Lewis. Then you take Carroll Lewis, invert the names and you get Lewis Carroll. It’s all very simple really – if you have a mind like Lewis Carroll. In fact if you complained to him of some confusion about it all, he’s probably say, “Good – then my work here is done.”

Lewis Carroll liked nothing better than to confound expectations, turn all rational thought processes on their head, and do murder to meaning and language until the reader is forced to park all rational thought at the door and jump on for the ride.

Which brings us to Jabberwocky. That particular ode to language minus meaning appears in the second volume of Alice’s Adventures – Through the Looking Glass. Alice is confounded by the Jabberwocky poem and all its made-up words. She speaks for all of us when she concludes, “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are. However somebody killed something: that’s clear at any rate.”

Alice tries to make sense of things by asking Humpty Dumpty to explain the poem. Humpty Dumpty only confuses and frustrates her even further when he inverts the whole process. Where Jabberwocky has real meanings described with nonsense words, Humpty Dumpty uses real words with nonsense meanings. Alice is getting a little peeved by this point and tries to stand her ground. She objects when he uses the word ‘glory’ to mean a winning argument.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful voice, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

humpty“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master. That is all.”

And then we come to Raphael Finkel’s Yiddish translation of Jabberwocky. We’ve had Jabberwocky – real meaning with nonsense words – Humpty-Dumpty’s diatribe which has real words with nonsense meanings. Now we have nonsense English words translated into nonsense Yiddish words. The fun just never stops!

But let’s not sell the translation short. Finkel is definitely plugged deeply into the Jewish psyche. It is a well-known fact that the Jewish mind is not terribly frightened by a Jabberwock but absolutely terrified of a Yomervokhets. Check your program – even the spelling is terrifying.

And who among us has not lost sleep at one time or another fearing the darkness and the ominous approach of a “froymdikn Bandershnits” – which is a precisely correct translation of “frumious Bandersnatch.” If you doubt this, then look it up in your Yiddish-English dictionary.

Furthermore – in support of this translation – the hero’s sword in the English version is wielded with a sound like “snicker-snack.” It is a well-known fact that Jewish swords do not make the same sound as other swords. Because they are heavier and made of tempered matzo meal, they make a different sound – a distinctive “shnoker shnik” sound. If that is not in your Yiddish-English dictionary, it should be.

It is also a well-known fact that most lies begin with the phrase, “It is a well-known fact.”

In this original composition by David Millard, we hear the story of the Yomervokhets stanza by stanza. It begins with a scene of serenity and pastoral bliss. Then comes the ominous approach of the dreaded Yomervokhets. Listen for the heavy bass notes of the piano that herald the approach of the monster. It’s sort of like the theme from Jaws, only far more – ummmm – frumious.

The hero then slays the dreaded Yomervokhets  and a celebration ensues. Afterwards the land returns to its previous serenity.

David Millard deftly portrays it all in this original composition. It is a little-known fact that David Millard is one of the most brilliant composers of our time. And since well-known facts are mostly lies and this fact is little-known, it follows that the fact that this fact is little known makes it more factual than well-known facts. If you can follow all that then you are ready for Yomervokhets – and a little disturbed.