“Yeah. You get hit hard.”
With a chuckle, Joshua Snitzer (C’21) eagerly dives into the making of Re/Fraction—his debut EP released about a month ago on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
Pulling from the various musical traditions that he has been trained in, Josh himself isn’t even sure what to call this experimental love child. It’s something new. Just seconds into the 'Intro' track, classical, jazz, electronic, and traditional Jewish instrumentals groove together to set the record’s tone. The idea came to him spontaneously. “It combined into this stew of musical meaning — I didn’t even realize what it meant until I got it done.”
Re/Fraction blends the sounds of his entire life, somehow covering years of performing and improvising in just 5 tracks. Think of it like a prism, refracting light into a rainbow of different wavelengths.
“Each song is a different color, a different side of myself…I’m giving each its own space to explore,” explains Josh.
A Philly native born and raised, Josh’s identity as a musician owes a lot to this city. It’s where he became a pianist and a composer. As he puts it, “Music is the blood of this city — it really does run the city.” Take a walk around Philly, and you’ll see people playing music in a park, a restaurant, in a concert hall, he urges. And, yes, he’s done all those things himself.
“There’s a—a rhythm to the city that really inspires me,” he says before a pause, searching in vain for the right words to do it justice. “There’s this vibe, a call to jump on a musical experience and go for it to the one-hundredth. Really just show who you are. That’s very Philly and very myself.”
The summer he began the EP, Josh was living away from Philly—and with no piano— for the first time. “I thought about what sounds I missed and wanted to capture,” and he started to do just that.
Back at school that fall, Josh enlisted the help of a few friends to record the EP. He had already performed at Spring Fling with a band freshman year, he’s active in the Music department’s ensembles, and he serves as the current president of Penn Jazz. So it wasn’t too hard for him to find some 'killer musicians' to join him. Though they were soon scattered by the pandemic, Josh embraced the project as a global endeavor and turned his room into a semi-professional studio where he could edit together everyone’s recordings—a feasible undertaking for the music and computer science double major.
Taking the lead on his own album is a “new power” that he’s enjoyed. While he admires the push and pull, the balance inherent in formal jazz and classical settings, he appreciates the autonomy to infuse his songs with greater meaning than ever before.
“I told everyone to bring themselves to the fullest—to play who they are.”
Re/Fraction’s fourth track is a remix of “Shalom Aleichem.” Josh reflects that on Friday nights growing up, his family would sing these words, meaning “peace be upon you,” in celebration of the arrival of Shabbat. With a dissociative sound that somehow gets the body moving, Josh has set out to 'reinvent' that tradition.
“It really captures the feeling of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. We have centuries of tradition, but we also have to keep moving forward and keep making the world a better place. That comes with a lot of anxiety and imperfection.”
As for why he chose “Shalom Aleichem,” he says the the song carries a lot more meaning than just its lyrics. “It’s really all about the community and the family…I combined my memory of that song with a very Philly, roots-esque, neo-soul, wonky groove.” He acknowledges that such an unusual mix can sound a bit 'out there' at times. And yet his remix has brought people together much like the original—friends he hasn’t spoken to in years and total strangers (like myself) have reached out in response.
Josh says it feels like people just get it. But get what exactly? “It’s weird...," he attempts, words failing once more. “Well, heads start nodding.”
“I wish I could play a show already,” Josh says, longing for the day when live entertainment will be safe again. But he knows that there’s still plenty of work we can do to build our future in the meantime.
That's why ending his album on the word shalom, “peace,” just didn’t feel right.