“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Dana Sandler honors young Holocaust poets


Dana Sandler is a jazz performer-turned-physician’s assistant-turned jazz performer. In her life so far, Sandler has managed to attend to two of her greatest callings: one to practice medicine, and the other to perform jazz. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is a song cycle that honors three young poets, only one of whom is known to have survived to adulthood, who were imprisoned in the Terezin Concentration Camp in what is now the Czech Republic. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is scheduled for release April 21, 2020 on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” and Dana Sandler

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” was a book published in 1959 before it was the title of Sandler’s debut recording. The book is comprised of poetry by children in the camp who participated in secret classes held by an Austrian artist and educator named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Dicker-Brandeis collected more than 4,500 poems and drawings by children and hid them in suitcases. Eventually Dicker-Brandeis was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. More than 15,000 children were imprisoned at Terezin. Fewer than 100 survived. Sandler dedicates her album to Dicker-Brandeis.

A bit about Dana Sandler

Sandler began playing music at the age of four. She began composing at age nine. A classically trained pianist, Sandler focused her collegiate vocal studies on musical theater and jazz. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Vocal Performance from the University of Miami School of Music, and a master’s degree in Jazz Vocal Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. During this time she extended her repertoire. Eventually she performed six nights a week with the Royal Caribbean jazz club, which she led. Members of the ensemble during Sandler’s tenure included her husband, Austin McMahon and pianist Carmen Staaf.

Post-graduation, Sandler continued to seek opportunities. She played in a Klezmer group called Khevre. The group was led by Michael Winograd. Sandler also played on Staaf’s debut album.

Sandler spent some years as a performer before her love of medicine began to call to her. As a result, she became a physician’s assistant. This led Sandler to work in the rheumatology department of Boston Children’s Hospital. While the medical work was rewarding, Sandler was compelled to perform jazz again.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Dana Sandler

Sandler revisited the works found in “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Melodies came to her, and she focused on the works of three children. Her dedications to them come in the form of instrumentals at the beginning of each song cycle. Then, Sandler interprets the poetry as song lyrics. Her voice is light, but not whimsical. The lyrics are difficult to get through if a listener dwells too long on the idea of what inspired the writing and who wrote them. But Sandler’s voice is inviting and beautiful. Her approach to the poems and their writers is respectful and gentle. Here, with a cadre of world-class performers, Sandler offers audiences the thoughts and feelings of children facing the bleakest days of their lives. The parallels between then and now are striking, and with every note, Sandler builds understanding for those in circumstances different from those of the writers.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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