Michael Slon, Director of the University Singers at UVA, wanted to commission a piece for the ensemble that would be a Hebrew setting of the original Priestly Blessing. He had heard it at a friend’s wedding and was drawn to it. Since he knew some of my prior Hebrew settings, he approached me about this one, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to delve into it. Birkat Hakohanim, the Hebrew name of this blessing, is drawn from the Bible, Numbers 6:23-27, of which I have set verses 24-26. Michael first approached me in June, 2012, but it was not until August that the details were settled – rather a tight deadline for a November premiere! But it’s amazing how deadlines can focus one, and they performed it beautifully, surprising me by doing so from memory!
In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, this prayer, a blessing of the Israelites, is recited by male descendents of Aaron. There are varying traditions within Judaism regarding its use, in the daily liturgy, the Sabbath service, and as a benediction, or at ceremonies such as weddings. However, I was glad to think of it in a concert context. Birkat Hakohanim also forms part of the Christian liturgy in multiple traditions. There are a variety of translations, with differing interpretations of the Hebrew. The one below is close to its literal meaning. Birkat Hakohanim is dedicated to The University Singers and to Michael Slon. They premiered it on November 9, 2012 in Old Cabell Hall at UVA, and included it on their east coast winter tour in January 2013.
May the Lord bless and keep you
May the Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious unto you.
May the Lord lift up His face to you and give you peace.
Ye-va-re-khe-kha A-do-nai ve-yish-me-re-kha.
Ya-er A-do-nai pa-nav e-ley-kha vi-chun-ne-ka
Yi-sa A-do-nai pa-nav e-ley-kha ve-ya-sem le-kha shalom.