Choral Infusion: North American Jewish Choral Festival

Summer is camp season – not only for kids but also for adults. And if singing is your passion, there’s nothing like the North American Jewish Choral Festival, a project of the Zamir Choral Foundation (Matthew Lazar, founder and director). Last month, I attended full festival for the first time and felt the power of joining close to 300 others in song – an experience that was more moving as we sang Jewish texts. As a first-timer, I wanted to take advantage of everything the conference had to offer. That included:

  • Community sings: Every morning, we learned three or four new pieces, each with a different conductor, and then recorded them – in just 15 minutes. Pretty remarkable! For someone like me, a member of a small choir that learns much of our repertoire by ear, this was good exercise in sight-reading and instant performance. The material was varied, from the peppy Sephardic tune “Yom Gila” (arranged by Simon J. Sargon), which celebrates Simchat Torah to the poignant Yiddish piece, “Dem Zeydns Nign,” (Grandfather’s Tune), which tells about the best songs that are hidden in grandfather’s wine.
  • Instant choirs: Each day we had two rehearsals with our smaller, selected group to learn music more in depth toward an onstage performance on the last day of the festival. Working with conductor Nick Page, I had the opportunity to sing Kurt Weill’s bluesy “Kiddush,” commissioned by Cantor David Putterman of New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue in 1943, as well as two other lively pieces.
  • Workshops: With nearly 15 workshops available each afternoon on topics ranging from Yemenite song to tango, it was hard to know which to choose. At one session, I got some insight into the history of Yiddish song with famed musicologist Velvel Pasternak, a walking encyclopedia on the subject. At other workshops, I learned a new way to approach rhythm and how to pace myself during this marathon singing event.
  • Evening concerts: As if the days’ activities were not enough – especially for this “camper” who is used to hitting the pillow by 10pm – each night offered group sings and concerts featuring renown performers like Cantors Alberto Mizrahi and Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson, and the Israeli crooner, Yehoram Gaon.
  • Uncharted: At every meal, I sat down with singers from places across the United States, Canada, and the U.K. to learn about music and other customs in their communities. I met clergy and lay people who follow Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and other spiritual traditions who took the time to come and sing together as a whole. Many people attend year after year, and some bring their non-singing family members – including their mothers.

These thoughts merely scratch the surface of what the festival offers. What’s most meaningful to me is the chance to study and retain new music that once learned, can be called up at any time – a in the subway, on a walk crosstown, upon seeing natural wonders, or in worship. Next year, the North American Jewish Choral Festival celebrates a milestone –its 25th year – and I hope to see you there.

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Audrey Merwin

About Audrey Merwin

Audrey Merwin is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism’s communications team. She edits Reform Voices of Torah, the Monday edition of Ten Minutes of Torah, and sings in the United Synagogue of Hoboken choir.

2 Responses to “Choral Infusion: North American Jewish Choral Festival”

  1. avatar

    For those interested, here is a link to URJ Books and Music/Transcontinental Music Spring/Summer 2013 Choral Releases

    …and here is the Fall/Winter 2012 Release with a terrific Video Interview with Rachel Wetstein, Music Librarian/Editorial Assistant,Transcontinental Music Publications

  2. avatar

    For those who are interested in obtaining the sheet music for the Sargon Yom Gila and the Lewandowski Hall’luyah, here, are the links:

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