Cantor Linda Hirschhorn creates a most becoming CD

On any given Friday night, you can head over to San Leandro’s Temple Beth Sholom and watch Linda Hirschhorn in action. She’s the synagogue’s cantor and in-house capellmeister, writing, arranging and performing some of the most engaging liturgical music in the Jewish universe.

Fortunately, Beth Sholom congregants have not kept Hirschhorn to themselves. As founder of the all-women vocal ensemble Vocolot, she became nationally known and, with her many recordings, a world music figure as well.

Her latest CD, “Becoming,” is a 15-track retrospective of Hirschhorn originals — some dating back more than a quarter century — all newly re-recorded. It’s a mixed bag stylistically, but as a sampler of Hirschhorn’s talent, the album is hard to beat.

Because of her high profile, Hirschhorn was able to call on first-rate musicians to help her out, including violinist Darol Anger and guitarist Fran Avni (who co-produced and co-arranged the CD with Hirschhorn). Cello, balalaika and bouzouki flourishes add plenty of color.

But this CD is all about Hirschhorn’s voice, classically trained but not at all constrained by classical convention. She can cut loose when she needs to, yet has a gift for control, especially on her complex harmony arrangements. It adds up to numerous tour-de-force vocal performances on “Becoming.”

Though the native New Yorker grew up infused with Yiddishkeit, she lived in Israel for a time and has a strong feel for Middle Eastern music. Tracks like “Kumi” and “Don’t Keep Waiting” draw on that sound, with dumbeks banging out a cool desert beat.

Most, but not all, songs have a strong Jewish, even religious, context. The folk-flavored “My Beloved” and the graceful waltz “As a Lily” were both based on “Song of Songs” (Hirschhorn’s daughter, Tamara Cooper, sings with her on the latter), while “Dodi Li” and “Halosh V’Hapech” all draw on traditional texts.

As a choir director, both with Volocot and Beth Sholom, Hirschhorn is at her best, and the new album reflects that. Part Pennywhistlers, part High Holy Day choir, songs like “Bishiva,” “By Way of the Heart” and the aforementioned “Halosh V’Hapech” attest to Hirschhorn’s knack for choral arrangement.

But she’s not strictly about liturgy. Hirschhorn has fun on songs like “The Odds Get Even Better,” which features Andrew Sisters harmonies and a Stephane Grapelli-like violin solo from Darol Anger. The CD’s most daring and problematic track, “Blue,” features a cool saxophone quartet behind an original spoken-word allegory. Whether the tale works or not, the jazz is awfully good.

Hirschhorn’s inner folkie comes out in tracks like “Talia’s Lullaby,” “Mountains of China” and “Winter’s Song.” All three prove she’s put in her time at the feet of masters like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and even half-forgotten greats like Pentangle.

Despite the stylistic variety, Hirschhorn somehow pulls it off, thanks to consistently good performances from her musicians, singers and, of course, from herself. If the CD has any drawback, it’s just too long, clocking in at 15 tracks. Hirschhorn may have tried to cover too much ground. “Becoming II” might have been nice.

But this is minor quibbling. The Bay Area is lucky to have a permanent artist-in-residence like Hirschhorn, and “Becoming” explains why. Though she made the CD as a long look back, once they hear this recording, her admirers will only look forward to more.

“Becoming” by Linda Hirschhorn

on Oyster Albums is available online at or (Oyster Albums, $18.99).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.