Reading the story of Taraf Degrief (check out www.tarafdegrief.blogspot.com) is like poring over Jonathan Safran Foer's abstract, sometimes heartbreaking, and intriguing-as-all-get-out novel Everything Is Illuminated. We'll spare you the sordid details, but basically, the way-underground musician (born Shmuel Schenderovitch) was trapped inside Prague's Spanish Synagogue for three days in 1963 because of a crippling snowstorm. To keep everybody's spirits elevated, he and his nephew, Mendy, performed and recorded 11 hours of traditional Yiddish songs, which remain the only known recordings produced by Degrief. Days later, Schenderovitch, already in failing health, died a depressive death in the basement of the worship house.
The master tapes of these unique performances were gifted to Jacob Adler, Schenderovitch's great-nephew, an accomplished and creative musician who continues to keep Degriefs music alive through a Yiddish music duo "for voice and out-of-tune piano." Taraf Degrief and A Minimal Offering an ensemble that includes Adler and is dedicated to interpreting Philip Glass's early compositions performs.