February 22, 2023

Once Upon a Time the Fire Burned Brighter

By Gordon Lockwood

Gordon Lockwood, Once Upon a Time the Fire Burned Brighter recording session

This ballad by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman shifts perspective between two lovers—one who has been spurned and threatens suicide, and the other who is newly engaged and self-satisfied. The spurned voice of anguish has the last word.


Once Upon a Time the Fire Burned Brighter
by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Once upon a time the fire burned brighter.
When I see you walking with another,
I’ll stab myself with a knife
So I don’t have to see it anymore.

Don’t stab yourself, my beloved,
For what troubles you is all for nothing.
I have the fortune to be a bridegroom,
May God grant you to have whomever you wish.

You thought you were the most beautiful
In all of this world.
Your beauty will fade
Like the dew on the field.

A pair of lovers appear on a Yiddish greeting card
Image from The Yiddish Song of the Week

װאָס אַ מאָל װערט דאָס פֿײַער גרעסער

װאָס אַ מאָל װערט דאָס פֿײַער גרעסער
.װען איך זע דיך מיט אַ צװײטער גײן
,שטעכן װעל איך מיך מיט אַ מעסער
. מער זאָל איך פֿון דיר דאָס נישט זען

,שטעכט דיך נישט, מײַן טײַער זיס לעבן
.װײַל דײַן פּלאַגע איז דאָך גאָר אומזיסט
איך בין צו מזל אַ חתן געװאָרן
.און דיר לאָז גאָט באַשערן װעמען דו װיסט

דו האָסט געמײנט דו ביסט די שײנסטע
.און די אײַנגעמענסטע אױף דער װעלט
דײַן שײנקײַט װעט פֿאַרגײן
.אַזױ װי ראָסע אױפֿן פֿרײַען פֿעלד


Jeremiah Lockwood is a scholar and musician working in the fields of Jewish studies, performance studies, and ethnomusicology. He is the founder of the band The Sway Machinery and is currently a Yale Institute of Sacred Music Fellow. His work engages with issues arising from peering into the archive and imagining the power of “lost” forms of expression to articulate keenly felt needs in the present.

Ricky Gordon is a drummer, percussionist, composer, actor, and social activist. He has performed and recorded with a host of musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Carolina Slim, Public Enemy, Hubert Sumlin, Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, The Allman Brothers Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues. Some of Gordon’s acting credits include HBO’s Treme and Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. He recently worked on the Jon Batiste production American Symphony, which premiered at Carnegie Hall.