By Matthew Kassel | Published July 2020
Theodor Adorno’s famous dictum—writing “poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”—is a good rule to abide by. It seems insensitive at best to try and create art inspired by such an incomprehensible horror—though many have tried with varying degrees of success. Composer/vocalist Dana Sandler finds a way around Adorno’s exhortation with I Never Saw Another Butterfly, based on the collection of the same name that consists of poetry and drawings done by children who lived in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what now is the Czech Republic. Fifteen-thousand children were sent through the camp; fewer than 100 survived. Sandler isn’t the first to interpret this material, but her jazz background puts her in rarefied territory. The album functions as a kind of song cycle with four parts, each dedicated to a different child.
Accompanied by a top-notch sextet—including ace klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd, whose evocative lines summon the shtetl—Sandler puts forth a series of contemplative tracks, some of which are short and instrumental, functioning as vignettes that set the mood before a new poem surfaces. Her voice is clear, direct and unembellished, letting the words shine through. So, in that spirit, here are the last two stanzas of Pavel Friedmann’s poem that serve as lyrics on “The Butterfly”: “For seven weeks I’ve lived in here/ Penned up inside this ghetto/ But I have found what I love here/ The dandelions call to me/ And the white chestnut branches in the court/ Only I never saw another butterfly/ That butterfly was the last one/ Butterflies don’t live in here/ In the ghetto.”
I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Dear Pavel; The Butterfly; Dear Franta; Home/The Old House; The Garden; Dear Alena; Untitled; I’d Like To Go Alone/Ani Ma’amin; Tears; Dear Anonymous; On A Sunny Evening; Birdsong/Butterfly Reprise. (40:03)
Personnel: Dana Sandler, Rory Sandler (4, 8, 12), vocals; Carmen Staaf, piano; Peter Kenagy, trumpet, flugelhorn; Rick Stone, alto saxophone, clarinet; Michael Winograd (8), clarinet; Jorge Roeder, bass; Austin McMahon, drums, percussion.