Following on from our review of Jacob Agar’s incredible rendition of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’, we asked him a few questions to further explain about the song, and what it means for him to sing.
Thank you for speaking with us Jacob. We’re very moved by your rendition of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’. My reading tells me it translates into English as “Our Father, Our King”, and is a prayer recited during The Ten Days Of Repentance. Could you please tell us something more about it?
Yes definitely. Avinu Malkeinu is a prayer that is recited during the High Holiday season, during Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the holiest day, the Day of Atonement). In this prayer, we ask that God may forgive us for all our mistakes, failings, inequities and wrongdoings, and allow us to start anew in the new year, with a clean slate. We ask, that the new year is a good and positive one, one that brings us new opportunities to grow and do good in the world.
The music video was shot at Beth Sholom Congregation, in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where you are a Cantor. How long have you been singing? Do you feel it’s your calling?
That’s correct. It is the only synagogue in the world that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it is a National Historical Landmark. It’s an absolutely incredible and inspiring spiritual space. I have been singing since I was 15. I initially formed a rock band with my best friend in high school, and then I started taking singing lessons which led me to fall in love with opera and classical singing. I do feel that being a Cantor, a singer and musician is my calling, and I absolutely love it.
Your rendition of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ is a modern arrangement without losing any of the solemnity of the prayer. Who made the arrangement?
This rendition is actually my own arrangement of Max Janowski’s classic composition and setting from 1967. I wanted to accent the drama and intensity of this piece, and also modernize while keeping it sounding timeless and solemn.
What inspires you to sing? Who or what inspires you most in your daily life and why?
Singing and music are to me a means of self-expression and a way of relating to others. Uplifting and moving people through music and the arts, allowing them to experience a feeling of transcendence, which I myself experience when I listen to music, is what inspires me most. Music and the arts in general have the power to heal, to meet someone in the depth of their emotions and to bring them back strength, raise them up and help them grow. This is what inspires me to create music on a daily basis.
What’s next for Jacob Agar?
Well, I am releasing an album called Genesis in a few months. In addition to Avinu Malkeinu, this album will contain songs in all sorts of styles and languages – Italian, French, Hebrew, English, Spanish and Ladino. Some of the songs will be my versions of famous songs, such as Lucio Dalla’s Caruso and Jacque Brel’s Ne me quitte pas, and others will be original compositions that I wrote.
Outside of this album, I am also creating new musical services at Beth Sholom Congregation, where on a weekly basis we have the liturgy set to a different genre of music, such as Jazz, Flamenco, Rock, Middle Eastern, Blues, Contemplative, etc..
What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does? And what is the answer to that question?
What are your biggest musical influences? I grew up surrounded by all kinds of very different music. My mom exposed me and my sister to opera, classical music, Italian and French contemporary music, Flamenco, jazz, old Soviet music. My father exposed us to classic rock, film soundtracks, middle eastern music and all sorts of other ethnic music.
Growing up with this huge mix of styles strongly influenced the music I create today and is directly coming into play on my first album. On this album I am blending aspects of all these styles to create a new, unique sound.