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The Bluegrass Schmooze: Teddy Abrams explores why so many Christmas classics were written by Jewish composers

It's Kislev! Time to talk about Hanukkah traditions and memories with Rabbi Shani Abramowitz, Rabbi Ben Freed and this month's special guest.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas.“ “Do You Hear What I Hear?“ “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer.“ What do all these titans of tinsel time have in common? They were all written by Jewish composers.

Why were so many classic Christmas tunes written by people who don’t even celebrate the holiday? On a new episode of “The Bluegrass Schmooze,“ Louisville Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams says it’s largely because that’s who was writing songs in general. “A lot of Jews were working in Tin Pan Alley, putting out song after song after song,“ he said. Compositions would start in Broadway revues or follies, then trickle out to orchestras and jazz singers to become the hits of the day.

“That’s the practical reason,“ Abrams says. But he has a different theory about why the songs are so good:

“In music, somehow the external elements always melt away in favor of the human elements, or spiritual ones. The things that are truly universal — they’re not sectarian,“ he says. “There’s something about Christmas and Hanukkah that approaches that same universal spirit of something that’s trying to be conveyed, which is why maybe Irving Berlin got it right.”

Listen to the episode in the player above, or your favorite podcast app. You’ll hear about Teddy Abrams’ own Christmas hit single that never was, learn more about the origins of Hanukkah, and experience the intense second-hand embarrassment of having a Clay Aiken CD on your holiday wish list.

“The Bluegrass Schmooze” is made possible in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund. It’s part of the LPM Podcast Incubator, which gets support from the Eye Care Institute’s Butchertown Clinical Trials.

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