Leo Bryll

Leo Bryll
1906 – 1985

The Rev Leo Bryll was born in Kishniev, Bessarabia in 1906, during a pogrom. He was widely regarded as a child prodigy and sang from a very early age.
He started studying music formally at the age of 13 and was soon appointed choirmaster at his local synagogue.In order to further his musical studies he travelled to Russia, France, Belgium, Italy and Ireland, and he gave public performances, not only in Cantorial singing, but also of Opera, oratorio and other secular genres. For these performances he used other names such as Leonid and Brylli.During the time he studied at the Irish Academy of Music he was awarded gold and silver medals for singing. In the early part of his career he sang as a baritone, and he performed in Elijah while he was in Ireland. As he matured his voice lightened and he retained the ability to sing even to top ‘C’ at an advanced age!At the age of 25 he was appointed Chazan to the Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation where he officiated at the famous Middle Street Synagogue.

He remained there for just five years and then went to another prestigious post in the Bayswater Synagogue in London where, in competition with fifteen other applicants, he succeeded the Rev David M Klein. He remained until he resigned over a matter of principle in 1955.

He became Chazan to the then fledgling congregation of Marble Arch, in London, and then served as its choir master until 1963.

The Rev Bryll was lecturer in Chazanut at Jews’ College, for more than 32 years, and he was justifiably proud of the fact that pupils of his served congregations throughout the world.

He served as honorary musical director of Chazan Association of Great Britain and was the conductor and musical arranger of its very fine choir.

Rev Bryll was an outstanding accompanist and was well-known by every Chazan of note in the world, who would call upon him to accompany them when they visited the UK for concerts. He also was a frequent accompanist of the London Jewish Male Voice Choir.

He was also a talented amateur actor, and specialised in delivering Yiddish monologues.

Rev Leo Bryll died at his home in London at the age of 79.

The Revd Leo Bryll
An Affectionate Remembrance
by Geoffrey L ShislerThis article appeared in the Spring 5745 issue of ‘L’eylah’
It is very difficult objectively to assess the influence that a teacher has over a particular pupil. When you, yourself are that pupil it is indeed hard to perceive that that teacher has played a part in moulding your personality, character or thoughts until you hear yourself utter phrases that you recall from twenty years ago, or more. It is then that your lips betray to your own ears the impact created on you by that teacher.I have been and I feel certain many of his numerous pupils have found themselves in this very position – for the Rev Leo Bryll was certainly a wise man. He was well-learned and well-versed in the classics of Jewish learning and literature and an apposite aphorism was ever ready to appear on his lips. Indeed, his ready wit – he was never frivolous – was invariably laced with wisdom.I first met him as a youngster of sixteen, when I applied to join the Chazanut class at ]ews’ College, I had heard of him. Who, with an interest in Chazanut could not have done! · and I well remember singing for him, and his advice to my father that he should stop me singing until my voice had matured more. This kindly, grey-haired man, agreed to accept me into his class (there were some twelve of us in those days) and so began an interesting relationship which lasted for the next twenty-two years.I was certainly never an intimate, and I doubt if there were many in his life. He was a remarkably private person who only reluctantly, and after considerable pressure, would accept hospitality or the common courtesy of a car-lift somewhere. He could be charming in the extreme, especially to the ladies, and one was always surprised that he did not have the fortune to marry.

But there is not doubt, that he could also be a very difficult man. He could be quite irrational, and then no amount of discussion or reasoning would budge him. New students had to learn this quickly and, most of us would try to avoid confrontation, Being a very fine musician, he would frequently edit a piece of music whilst he was actually teaching it. Since he did not write down the changes he had made, this could sometimes lead to a difference of opinion the next day between Bryll and the students. He would insist that he had altered the composition in one way, and we, that he had made different changes. One soon learned that such argument was fruitless si.nce we would have to learn the revised-again version just the same!

I can recall when the voice-production teacher at the College retired and Bryll stood in. He was not exactly qualified to teach this highly specialised subject and, in fact, became totally frustrated with those of us who could not pronounce the German vowel to his satisfaction, He was the only singing teacher that Ihave ever had who employed this vowel sound and, since it appears neither in Hebrew nor English, most of us, were, and still are, mystified as to why he found its execution so important! Nevertheless, we endlessly pressed on trying to form this unfamiliar, seemingly useless sound until he gave up and passed the task on to a specialist. Even Bryll’s apparently limitless patience could be tried!

He had great respect for men of learning and treasured the musical qualifications that he had gained. I can remember him being most upset when they were omitted from the poster of a concert at which he was to play.

Although he tended to be rather haphazard in his progamme of teaching – we might complete a Shabbat composition today and start on a Rosh Hashana one tomorrow – his method was excellent. In those days he would not even consider allowing us to use a tape-recorder (although I believe he did latterly), and yet, by constant repetition of phrases and sections he thoroughly taught a comprehensive repertoire. For myself, Ibelieve that I learned most from Bryll about interpretation.

It was only in later years that I could appreciate his then seemingly interminable in·depth analysis of the musical structure of a composition since, like most youngsters, l felt that I was already a great expert on Chazanut! There is no doubt, though, that he was an absolute master of the art of interpretation and, although in performance, he, himself would tend to go rather ‘over the top’ – those of his students who were able to maintain a sense of proportion, derived an enormous amount from his deep and genuine insight into our Tephillot.

Virtually every Chazan of note who came to these shores for a visit found his way to ]ews’ College to see Bryll. He was asked to accompany most of them in concert performance, though some were not entirely happy as rehearsals progressed; This was due to two factors; firstly, Bryll, by virtue of his position, felt that he was entitled to offer advice and criticise whoever he liked – and most world- class Chazanim like to feel that they are beyond criticism, however valid and well·meaning. And secondly, since Bryll tended to over-emphasise the role of the piano, the singer often felt that he was accompanying the pianist!

As an extempore accompanist though, he was just outstanding. You could sing anything for Bryll in any key, and indeed, improvise on the spot (as I once heard the late, great Ephraim Rosenberg zl do at the College) and he would accompany you brilliantly, He had an uncanny knack of being able to anticipate your next phrase and it was always a great delight to indulge in these exercises. In a large class, he would accompany each pupil singing the very same composition, and each would be treated to a different extempore accompaniment.

Unfortunately, he was a difficult man to get close to and yet, to this very day, most of his past pupils would have gone out of their way to ensure that he received the honour due from student to teacher – irrespective of the age of the pupil. He well-earned the title of doyen of the Chazanim of Britain and he proudly bore this mantle with dignity for more than thirty years.

There is no doubt that Anglo-Jewry will be the poorer for his passing. He was truly a ‘personality’ on the communal scene; a ‘character’ – though not quite an eccentric – who, over many years, both as Chazan and teacher of Chazanim, made a significant contribution to the spiritual life of ]ewry.

Wherever his hundreds of pupils have gone – and they are now to be found all over the world – a little of the spirit of Leo Bryll is to be found. And that cannot be a bad legacy to leave behind.

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