Apr 10, 2024 - Things to Do

Jewish storyteller Alicia Jo Rabins performs at Revolution Hall

A person stands facing the camera with their hair blown in the wind holding a violin.

Alicia Jo Rabins performs "I Was A Desert: Songs of the Matriarchs" on Thursday with a 135-voice choir. Photo: Courtesy of Alicia J. Rose

The stage at Revolution Hall will be packed on Thursday when Alicia Jo Rabins performs her work "I Was A Desert: Songs of the Matriarchs."

Why it matters: This is a rare chance to hear a hugely ambitious song cycle, which mixes ideas from Jewish scholarship with sounds from bluegrass and classical music, backed by a 135-person choir.

What to expect: Rabins, a Portland poet and composer, took lesser-known women in the Torah or Hebrew Bible and fleshed out their stories.

  • The scholarly term for this textual elaboration is midrash, or as she puts it, "Biblical fan fic."

What they're saying: "These characters don't always get the credit for being as resilient as they are, in the original text, so I like to bring that out," Rabins tells Axios.

The vibe: In the Book of Esther, the Persian queen Vashti refuses to dress up and show off for King Ahasuerus and his partying pals. He banishes her.

  • Rabins wrote a first-person bluegrass ballad to express Vashti's forget-you repudiation of her man. It's like Lizzo crossed with Dolly Parton.

Zoom in: Rabins grew up on the East Coast with indie rock, bluegrass, folk and classical music influences, keenly aware that her ancestors studied the Torah devoutly.

  • "I wanted to bring all those influences together," she said.

Behind the scenes: The Camas High School Choir puts rock, jazz and pop into choral music.

  • Choir master Ethan Chessin persuades professional musicians to not just show up for a single master class but to work with the kids on a project.
  • Chessin commissioned Rabins to write this song cycle with creative input from the students.

Worthy of your time: "Visually and aurally, there's nothing like hearing all these young voices raised together in song, it's like they're becoming this beautiful, powerful organism," Rabins said.

If you go: 7:30pm Thursday, Revolution Hall. ($20)

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