1900 - 1971
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Everyone has their favourite Chazan, the one with whom they would most
like to spend (or have spent) Yom Kippur. For me this is Pierre Pinchik.
Born in Zhivitov, in Kiev in the Ukraine, as Pinchas Segal, he attended
Yeshiva there, and then went on to the conservatory where he studied
piano and voice. In his early days he was a folk singer and, sponsored
by the anti-religious Soviet government, and adopting the name Pierre
Pinchik, he travelled around the country giving concerts. From 1923 to
1926 he served as Chazan to the Leningrad Shul, but without fanfare.
In 1927 he went to America and, attracted by the freedom that was denied
his fellow-countrymen under the Bolsheviks, he decided to remain there.
It was not long before he was celebrated as both a Chazan and an
outstanding performer of folk-songs, many of which he recorded.
Pinchik was endowed with a very sweet and distinctive voice. It was not a
'great' voice in the traditional sense, but he had the unusual ability
of singing everything with his heart. There is also an originality about
his compositions that makes them immediately recognisable as his work.
Unusually, Pinchik accompanied himself on the organ on some of his early
Pinchik's most famous compositions are as fresh today as they were when
he first introduced them to the public.
His Ribono Shel Olom for Sefiras ho'Omer (with its recurring theme
of Dee, da-da-da, Dee, da-da-da, Dee, da-da-da, Daa) and his Rozo
DeShabbos are perhaps, the most famous, and they are, without doubt,
classic pieces. But there are others that are just as appealing. Areshes
Sefoseinu, for Rosh Hashanah and Hashem Hashem from Neilah illustrate
supremely well how he could interpolate the style of a folk-melody into
Tefillah or, with the most uncomplicated Chazanut, rend your heart in two.
I've heard it said that he was a very temperamental performer, even
on the Bimah, and would refuse to conduct a service if there was the
slightest sound coming from the congregation. He would wait until there
was total silence before starting and would stop immediately if there was
an interruption. Perhaps today's Chazanim could take a lesson from him!
Although there are still fine Chazanim today, Pierre Pinchik
represented one of the last of the Golden Age of Chazanim, the last
true composer/performer who could pull in the crowds, whether to hear
him lead a service or concertise.
We are fortunate that a number of his recordings were made at a time
when the technical ability to reproduce the voice accurately had improved
enormously. Thanks to this, countless generations will still be able to
thrill to this unique talent.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Keywords: Pierre Pinchik, Pinchas Segal, biography.