It is out of a necessary desire to preserve our cultural history that I release
this drop of information to the bottomless wellspring of the internet.

I hereby present the music of Taraf Degrief, a unique musician (born Shmuel Schenderovitch) whose songs were heard by only a handful of people while he was alive. He was my great uncle, a defiantly unconventional man whose mystical fervor for Judaism was expressed most purely through his music. The only audio recordings that were ever made of his music were produced during his final days in the basement of the old Spanish Synagogue in Prague.

During the winter of ’63, Shmuel accompanied his 12-year-old nephew, Mendy, to the Spanish Synagogue, the place of his future Bar Mitzvah. An intense blizzard swept through the city and the few people inside the shul (including Shmuel and Mendy) found themselves snowed in, unable to escape the building for three days. Everybody soon hunkered down in the basement, as it was the warmest region of the building. All they had to entertain themselves was a dusty upright piano, Shmuel’s newly purchased recording equipment, a case of blackberry manischewitz wine, and a lone dreydel.

Shmuel sings what is the meaning

During these dramatic days and nights of struggle, Shmuel enlivened the spirits of those trapped with his entertaining songs. The songs consist of old Yiddish tunes and improvised piano accompaniment of Russian folk tales. The pianistic style reveals an intimate acquaintance with the music of Sorabji while preserving the Jewish folk idiom. At times, you can hear Mendy playing the tunes or improvising in the highest register of the piano.

Shmuel sings the spider

Although he was kept warm with a good supply of blackberry wine and a burning passion to sing, Shmuel had long been in poor health and succumbed to exposure as a result of the three-day and two-night ordeal in the basement. Furniture was burned for heat, and apparently there was a desperate attempt to set the large Torah scrolls aflame. Shmuel intervened and proclaimed that he would sooner die than burn the word of G-d.

After having lain dormant for decades, the tape recordings (11 hours altogether) have been passed down to me from my uncle Mendy. The more I listened to these tapes, the more captivated I was by this haunting music.

Shmuel sings belz

These were Shmuel’s last words, scrawled on a singed shred of notepaper:

The Rebbe is happy and the Hassidim also! I obeyed my clever father and followed his words as my mother let the lovely melody gently rock us till the stars fell asleep. When my father danced, all the Hassidim danced. When my father sang, all the Hassidim sang. I obeyed my father and followed his words. He told me when I was a child that it’s good to rise at dawn, for whoever has a heart and an ear can surely find a melody.

The music I have left you is inspired when the ancient book lies open before me. I read it, I read it a thousand times! The Jew always has a word of comfort for his plight. To ease his pain and strengthen his heart he comforts himself by singing. Songs, simple songs. Songs are all I have – let the songs remain.
Gai shlog zich mit Got!

rebbe, rebbe tanz
the foolish german
oy, what a schiksa 
the sick tailor 
the beggar’s plan 
what is the meaning (revisited)
the arrant fool
oh beloved, we have sworn
du, du
the goat comes back
i am a boarder at my wife's
shh, hush, and don't make any noise! 
dreaming dreams

If you have questions, comments, or want to hear more of the Taraf Degrief tapes,
please email me at jacobadler@gmail.com