Lucette Van den Berg

Lucette van den Berg | Bio

Lucette van den Berg, who had a successful operatic career, took an unexpected path in her musical journey when the language of her heritage pulled her in a more fulfilling direction. A composer, recording artist, teacher and renowned classical singer whose rich soprano illuminates the works of Mozart and Puccini, she now sings exclusively in Yiddish, the language of her grandparents—and, she adds, of her heart. The transition was not instantaneous. When asked by a stranger to sing in Yiddish while she was visiting Israel, she demurred, saying “My father is Jewish -- I’m not.” The man gave her a book of Yiddish songs, suggesting she pursue the art form because he sensed that it would help me find her soul. Looking back, she calls the stranger “an angel” whose gift caused her to reexamine herself and her roots and signaled a new direction for her work. She says she was not looking for this change, it just happened: “When I peeked into the Yiddish world, it found me, and I realized new opportunities awaited!” Not raised in the Jewish tradition, Lucette’s father was always fearful of openly acknowledging his roots. A victim of WWII, he was four years old when the war erupted and tore his family apart. His Jewish identity was kept secret because he was taken in by Christians. This fear has stayed with him throughout his life and, because of this, Lucette knew little about her own Jewish heritage except for fond memories of her grandmother blending Yiddish words into Dutch vocabulary. Once she began to sing Yiddish music, Lucette discovered an important element in her personal and artistic identity that she now realizes, tells the whole story of her life. As part of a different generation, it has become Lucette’s calling to celebrate and share the passion she feels for her Jewish legacy and the Yiddish language. With a contagious spirit, Lucette founded the Jiddisch (Yiddish) Festival Leeuwarden in Holland. Part of her motivation came as a result of the events of 9/11, which, to Lucette, shook the entire world, not just the United States. She remembers being pregnant with her son at the time and she became determined to use her music to bridge cultures and build mutual understanding. The opportunity to create this festival came after meeting the director of the Friesland Library where they have a large collection of Yiddish and Jewish book. Serving as the artistic director, Lucette and the library director along with a large consortium of arts and education organizations, created this annual springtime festival that includes musical performances and workshops designed to remember the Jewish culture in a positive way, and to build awareness about acceptance and inclusion. The singer is especially interested in offering the gift of her music to young people, and she has infused her own son’s life with music -- singing to him before he was born and teaching him to sing in Yiddish at a very early age. Now at age eleven, Lucette’s son loves to sing Yiddish and has developed a passion for opera. He looks forward to his upcoming bar mitzvah where their guests will be delighted with his knowledge and the musical talent he shares with his mother. A highly acclaimed singer, Lucette has performed her compelling style of Yiddish music throughout Europe and in the US. In 2005, she released her first album of Yiddish songs, Zing shtil / Yiddish Songs. In addition to her performing and recording career, she is also a vocal coach who is passionate about vocal expression. “I help people find who they are,” she says of her role as an educator. She is also an art history teacher and vocal coach at ROC van Twente, a music and arts college. Lucette’s most recent CD (Benkshaft) was released in December, 2012. On the new album the singer felt herself “coming more into my own space, letting go of old things.” Lucette composed six of the 15 melodies, and the lyrics are by notable Yiddish writers or taken from traditional Yiddish poems. The album showcases a compelling blend of folk songs and art songs that resonate with Lucette’s expressive, personal interpretation. “I sing the colors that the music gives me,” notes Lucette, who draws on and imparts a sensory experience in her performance. As she sings, Lucette never loses sight of the power of the music to pull people together, and to “connect out” to listeners around the world.