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MUSIC : Singing His Praises : Synagogue composer Aminadav Aloni has established a musical legacy for future generations. He will be honored Sunday for 26 years of service.


Six months, he said. Tops.

"I was only helping out the cantor, who was a good friend," Aminadav Aloni said about his 1966 decision to play the organ at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. "At that time in my life, I was more interested in music that had nothing to do with the synagogue.'

Six months going on 26 years.

Aloni will be honored Sunday by the Valley Beth Shalom temple choir with a special concert of Jewish music that will include six new a cappella arrangements he wrote for the event. He has been the synagogue's musical director since 1977.

"He's a great composer," said cantor Nathan Lam, of the Stephen S. Wise congregation in Los Angeles.

Lam will sing at the concert. "He's one of the best at using modern musical sounds combined with traditional Jewish motifs."

In 1966, Aloni spent most of his time as a classical pianist, performing at concerts and on television specials. He also made a few records.

But two years later, after he was told he had cancer, his priorities changed.

"As a pianist, I had a lot of fun," said Aloni, 64, who came to the United States from Israel in the 1950s. "But I realized I was leaving nothing behind. I needed something to give me more expression, and it was writing. I decided that I'd rather they play my music instead of me playing theirs."

He didn't gravitate initially to Jewish music.

"You don't make money being a synagogue composer," he said.

But when he was asked in 1970 to write an arrangement of melodies for Friday night prayer services, Aloni composed a tune that has been used ever since by Valley Beth Shalom and other temples nationwide. He was hooked.

"When I walk down the hall at the temple and I see a 5-year-old and his grandfather singing something I wrote, you can't pay me enough money for that," he said. "That's why I've stayed all these years."

Aloni has been commissioned to write more than 30 pieces of music centered on Hebrew text. Many of his songs have been played by choirs and symphonies outside the synagogue.

"I want to reach as many people as possible," he said.

Aloni has written and arranged material for performers such as Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughn, Vikki Carr and the Lennon Sisters. Typically, an artist asks Aloni to compose music for lyrics already written.

"Economically, the other stuff has helped me underwrite the Jewish material," Aloni said.

In recent years, Aloni composed music for charity events and telethons, but that grew tiring.

"After seeing kids starving, I decided I wanted to write for someone else that had a little less pain," he said.

Despite his accomplishments, Aloni said his musical career has been full of "almosts." None of the songs he wrote for well-known artists ever became big hits. He composed tunes for a few musicals, but the productions rarely made it on stage.

One play, he said, was set to open in London, but financial problems canceled it at the last minute.

"I want to be a Broadway musical writer," he said. "It wouldn't take anything away from my Jewish music, but I have always loved Broadway musicals."

Where and When

What: Concert of Jewish music to honor Aminadav Aloni.

Location: Valley Beth Shalom synagogue, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Hours: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Price: $15 to $100.

Call: (818) 788-6000.

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