Jewish influence on Broadway, great American music – Bill Hinden offers tour of historic connection | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Jewish influence on Broadway, great American music – Bill Hinden offers tour of historic connection


Bill Hindin wants to be a bearer of his culture. 

The Shorewood native has made his career in the performing arts, including as a director, pianist, conductor and composer.  He’s now marrying his interest in the arts with his Jewish heritage through a presentation called “The Great Jewish American Songbook.” 

Hindin spent more than a year developing the project Over 60 to 90 minutes, he lectures, plays the piano and uses multimedia to explain Jews’ role in developing American music of the 20th century. Specifically, Hindin said, he demonstrates the liturgical influences of popular American songs and explains the backstories of the Jewish musicians. 

Hindin said he wants to illuminate not just where you can hear the Jewish influences in well-known songs, but also the personal experiences of those songs’ creators. 

“I always say, ‘We don’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve come from,’” Hindin said. 

Given his profession, Hindin said he has long been familiar with such composers as George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein. His interest was also piqued by a documentary on Jewish musicians’ role in shaping modern musicals. 

“It really fascinated me that there was so much Jewish influence into what I thought were just standards in American music,” Hindin said. 

Cantor David Barash said those influences can be heard, for example, in “West Side Story,” which Bernstein composed. The tri-tone, staccato sounds heard in the musical mimic the shofar. The instrument’s influence can also be heard in the song “Maria,” said Barash, who is the cantor at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills. Hindin has been a member of the congregation since childhood and remains involved as a musician. 

Similar to Hindin, Barash said he hopes people learn about Jewish composers’ influence as a matter of understanding their culture. In addition, he said, Judaism values remembering, such as through Yizkor and Yom Hazikaron. 

“I think it’s really important that we have different ways to hearken back,” Barash said. 
Hindin recently delivered his presentation at venues in the Milwaukee area, and he wants to share it with Jewish community centers and museums across the country. 

Hindin said he hopes his presentation resonates with audiences of all ages. For older adults, he said he hopes they relate to the music they heard growing up. 

“They lose all their years,” he said. “They relive their youth, and they remember what life was like – about romance and love – and they’re young again for that hour.” 

Hindin hopes younger audiences develop an appreciation for Judaism’s long-time role in American culture. 

“Broadway wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for these people that contributed in the 20th century,” Hindin said. “I hope they discover their Jewishness and their Jewish history and don’t just look at today but are willing to look back and are interested in looking back and having curiosity for what their grandparents and their great-grandparents went through.” 

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See it 

“The Great Jewish American Songbook” 

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