Modern music edges out Mendelssohn during ceremonies

"If music be the food of love, play on," wrote Shakespeare four centuries ago. And all this time, the music has been playing and lovers have been listening.

Tradition tends to govern the choices Jewish couples make in music for their wedding ceremonies. A number of Bay Area experts agree that the old Wagner and Mendelssohn wedding marches are out and Israeli music is in, but opinions are mixed about "Sunrise, Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof."

"The music from 'Fiddler' is very popular," maintains Cantor Henry Greenberg of Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco. "The classical stuff, like Mendelssohn, a little less."

Greenberg's been performing weddings in the synagogue for more than 25 years.

"Some of the couples want more modern, contemporary 'love' music rather than Jewish music," he continued, "but we try to encourage the Israeli music. It's really up to the rabbi. What makes the bride and groom happy is the first consideration. Russian Jews enjoy having the music of their own background, and that's OK with me."

"Erev Shel Shoshanim," "Dodi Li" and, for the recessional "Siman Tov, Mazel Tov," were pretty universal among others who were asked, as well as selections from the Song of Songs. They are, in fact, the undisputed selections of Cantor Roslyn Barak of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El.

"I tend to sing liturgy," Barak said, "the wedding blessing, the Sheva Brachot. If I do a song, it's from Song of Songs. I like to stay traditional. But actually, I don't get a lot of requests. [The bride and groom] may want more from the organist. I think I sang 'Sunrise, Sunset' once."

That's one time more than composer Stephen Richards has sung it lately.

"Years ago we got a lot of requests for music from 'Fiddler,' but that's kind of gone by the wayside now," says Richards, cantor emeritus at Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek.

He says he tries to guide couples toward appropriate wedding music. "Sometimes couples come with their music pre-selected and, if I don't like it, I'll let them know."

In addition to the selections already mentioned, he noted that the Pachelbel Canon in D is frequently used as a processional. He also likes the music of contemporary composer Michael Isaacson, one of whose songs was played at his own wedding in 1958, along with Richards' own arrangements of Israeli music.

Jerry Derblich, owner of Afikomen in Berkeley and its adjacent 5-month-old Wedding Store, hasn't seen a change in taste in the 10 years he has been in business. And he's prepared to help couples who are not having a cantor.

"People come in, they have a band that doesn't play much Jewish music and they ask us for sheet music," he said.

For that purpose, he stocks "Mazel Tov: Music for Jewish Weddings" (Tara Publications, $14.95), a book that contains music for three different types of ceremonies. A CD and cassette also are available.

Isaacson also has a CD called "Kol Simcha: Jewish Wedding Music."

And, finally, "The Real Complete Jewish Wedding & Party," a two disc collection from Worldwide Success Records (800-292-3389) has 50 songs performed by David and the High Spirit that will take a couple down the aisle, through the ceremony, dinner, party and out the door into a new life.