search

Song of an Exile: The music of Adrian Snell

Thinking of the rage-drunk, unjustifiable and impotent barrage of Iranian missiles against Israel a few months ago, we should recall King David’s Psalm 2.

Why the big noise, nations?

Why the mean plots, peoples?

Earth-leaders push for position,

Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks.

There are some few journalists and book authors who dare to defend Israel’s right to political self-determination, in the land that G-d gifted to the sons and daughters of Abraham.

But are there creatives who compose nuanced songs and poems, or paintings and photos?

In recent years, I have become much more aware of the plight and prophetic testimony of the Jewish nation, partly through the empathetic songs of Adrian Snell. He is a long-term friend of Israel and Anglican composer, who trained in The Leeds Conservatory.

For decades he has used Psalms, Ezekiel, Jewish prayers and children’s Holocaust poems  as lyrics for his classic-rock, piano-centric melodies in his recordings, such as:

Songs of an Exile

City of Peace

The Cry – a Requiem for the Lost Child

How did an English gentile Christian come to embrace Jewish biblical and Holocaust history with melodic and vocal empathy?

In the mid 80s, Snell composed some poignant music in response to his visit to Bergen-Belsen. Soon after that visceral visual education in antisemitism, he visited Israel and Yad Vashem. In the Art of the Holocaust section, there are hundreds of Jewish childrens drawings, depicted their hopes while trapped in the ghettos and concentration camps of WWII.

Those juvenile illustrations depict lost family lives, colorful gardens in sunshine and other positive metaphors. They also depict harsher realities: Nazi soldiers, barbed wire, tanks and other symbols of war.

When Adrian saw the hundreds of children’s poems from Terezin Ghetto Camp, a few song concepts slowly gestated in his heart, mind and soul. In particular, one poem by Eva Pickova, 12 years old and a relative of the late rabbi and author, Hugo Gryn of London.

Pickova was murdered in Auschwitz a year after writing this mature realization of how she was forced to grow up before her rightful time:

I was once a little child,

Three years ago.

That child who longed for other worlds.

But now I am no more a child

For I have learned to hate.

I am a grown-up person now,

I have known fear.

Adrian’s visit to Prague a while later revealed another child’s poem, this one by Hans Hachenburg, who died in Auschwitz at 15. His poignant poem became a second part of Adrian’s Song of an Exile. As well as childrens poems, there were the lyrical reflections by adults as well.

Shir Golah, by Menahem Dolitzki, became the first poem on Adrian’s composition, Lament For Jerusalem. Then God’s Beloved by an unknown Yemeni Jewish author of the 15th Century. Snell’s suite ends with If I Were Here by 16th century poet, Israel Najara. That is a profound expression of trust between God and his people.

Snell’s Song of an Exile recording got launched in the West London Synagogue, UK. At that, he stated that his Christian faith was completely rooted in Judaism. Some time later, on his 40th birthday, August 1994, he and his small music team, plus modern interpretative dancer Richard Frieden, were honored to be allowed to perform those songs in The Valley of Communities, at Yad Vashem.

City of Peace was his next heartfelt homage to all things Israel. That two album recording closes with a Yiddish poem by Aaron Zeitlin, Holocaust survivor who sought to reconcile his faith to the horrors of the Holocaust:

If I become a storm

Or if I blaze in rebellion against Him

Is He not still the one bleeding in my wounds?

My cries still praise, my cries still praise…

Perhaps some of Adrian Snell’s thoughtful, G-d praising music might be biblical balm to some troubled hearts and minds in the world’s very troubled and tested Jewish landscape…

About the Author
Louis Hemmings has been writing prose and poetry since 1972. Some of his work has been published in Poetry Ireland, The Irish Catholic, Forward (USA) and Books Ireland. He is a late-life journalism student in Dublin, Ireland. He is married 38 years, has two boys, buried a stillborn and holds an ecumenical Christian point-of-view.