In each issue of E-Notes, Artistic Director Joshua Jacobson offers his unique insights and experiences as a world-renowned scholar, composer, conductor, and influential teacher of Jewish music.
Have you seen our mission statement? It begins, “The Zamir Chorale of Boston’s mission is to awaken audiences to the breadth and beauty of Jewish culture.” Yes. That’s what we do. But in the year 2021, is that enough? Can we remain exclusively insular? Through our new website and other initiatives, we are helping more and more conductors become aware of the riches of Jewish music. But are we in Zamir content to remain within the walls of our own silo?
Since our inception in 1969, we have included in our programming music from other traditions. We have joined forces with African-American and Arab choirs and composers. (Pictured: Voices of Freedom concert 2019.)
We have performed joint concerts with many of Boston’s fine community choirs and orchestras. We explore dramatic oratorios and cantatas based on the Hebrew Bible by non-Jewish composers: Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and Israel in Egypt, Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom, Pinkham’s In the Beginning, and more. Our programming often includes juxtapositions of Jewish settings of biblical texts with their Christian counterparts. When we tour abroad, we learn and perform music of the host countries. But, of course, there remains much more to be done.
We believe that the arts have the power to open cultural windows, enabling us to see the world through the eyes of other people in other times and in other places. Musicians have a responsibility. American composer William Parker wrote, “It is the role of the artist to … awaken us from our sleep and never let us forget our obligations as human beings to light the fire of compassion.”
Another American composer, Meredith Monk, wrote, “[There is] art that states the problems of society and wakes people up to make changes in their lives or in their communities.” And from Zimbabwean composer Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa (pictured): “Voices coming together is … a metaphor for humanity. I feel that my role as a composer and a creator is to create space for a deeper exploration of humanity.”
Insularity can breed complacency and even xenophobia. We will continue to awaken audiences to the breadth and beauty of Jewish culture. But we will also continue to create space for a deeper exploration of humanity. What the world needs now is empathy, sweet empathy.
Zamir is delighted to offer free "Zoominars" on various musical topics taught by members of the musical staff and guests. Sessions are held once a month on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 pm.Tickets are free, but we welcome contributions of any amount to help defray our expenses ($18 suggested).
On March 2, Josh Jacobson, filmmaker Rob Cooper, andtour manager Heather Zacker discussed scenes from the film “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” a PBS documentary about our 1999 trip to Eastern Europe. The presenters took us deep inside the emotional and uplifting experience of bringing Jewish choral music back to its roots in Lodz, Poland, where the original Zamir Chorale (“Hazomir”) performed; as well as our visits to Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Auschwitz, Terezin, and Vienna. Several hundred attendees learned about never-before-heard anecdotes and stories about the making of the film. If you missed it in March, you can watch it here. Purchase the DVD here.
On February 2,alumnus Cantor Jeff Klepper (pictured) offered “The Jews Behind the Sixties Folk Revival.” Cantor Klepper spoke about the profound legacy of Greenwich Village and its folk music boom of the early 1960s. He discussed the fact that Jews were prominent among the architects and leaders of the Sixties Folk Revival. Without that revival, today’s music would not be the same. And without its Jewish component, the Folk Revival may not have been as powerful or long-lasting as it was. Watch here.
On Tuesday, April 6, 7:30 pm EDT, alumna Cantor Debbie Katcho-Gray presents a workshop on the songs of Prof. Elie Wiesel z”l (pictured). At a special event in his office in celebration of his 70th birthday, Wiesel had shared Vizhnitzer melodies from his childhood. Cantor Katcho-Gray was present at that event and had helped lead the sing-along. In this Zoominar, she will share a precious recording of that event. We will listen to Wiesel’s voice and sing and examine the songs and their meaning. And, hopefully, we will bring their spirit into our own lives. Register here.
SAVE THE DATE! On May 4, 7:30 pm EDT, Josh Jacobson will present “Leonard Bernstein: The Jewish Side.” As many people know,Bernstein (pictured) took the musical world by storm with his spectacular last-minute, a-star-is-born conducting turn at New York Philharmonic in 1943, filling in for the ailing Bruno Walter. Until his passing in 1990, he was astonishingly active as a conductor, composer (in both classical and popular idioms), pianist, and teacher. And Bernstein was a devoted Jew throughout his life. We will explore Bernstein’s Judaism and how it was manifest in his musical output. Watch your email for registration details.
Help Zamir continue to bring the joy of Jewish music to homes around the world
Protect yourself and your community while helping Zamir raise funds by purchasing a face mask! Zamir masks sell for $12 a piece or $50 for a package of five. You can arrange to pick up your mask(s) in Newton, MA, or have it/them shipped to you (free shipping for one; $6 for five). Purchase here.
As always, let us know what you're up to--we love hearing from our friends near and far. Chag Sameach, stay safe, and be well.
Springtime greetings and Chag Pesach Sameach to you! With the return of warmer weather, flowering gardens, and the slow but steady progress toward opening up our communities, we at Zamir are filled with hope about the prospect of being together in person once again, whenever it’s safe.
In the meantime, we continue to offer a myriad of virtual presentations, including weekly Musical Messages, monthly Zoominars, and other “edutaining” events, summarized in this issue. In addition, Josh Jacobson offers his quarterly “Musing” on the issue of exclusion and inclusion.
SAVE THE DATE!
Tuesday, May 25,
7:30 pm EDT
Part II of
Jewish Music by Women
A Virtual Concert and Conversation
“Kolot Nashim,” is a year-long program celebrating the many roles of women in Jewish music. Part I was held in November (watch here); our May program features interviews with composers Benjie Ellen Schiller, with a performance of her “Harninu” (Psalm 81); Elena Kats Chernin (Sydney, Australia), with a performance of her Psalm 23; Kristen and Ken Lampl (Canberra, Australia), with a performance of their “Dirshu.”
Also: a discussion about Naomi Shemer and performance of her “Shirat Hasavim,” and an interview with Achinoam Nini (aka Noa, pictured), with a performance of her “There Must Be Another Way.”
This series is dedicated to the memory of Linda Plaut Newton’s longtime Director of Cultural Affairs and founder of the Newton Festival of the Arts. We are grateful to our organizational and individual sponsors, listed here.
Registration will be available in April. Watch your email for details!
Bringing the Joy of Jewish Music to Your Home
Weekly Musical Messages
For devoted Zamir fans, there is nothing better than waking up on Monday morning to find a new musical treat in your inbox! Each weekly Musical Message includes a video from a past Zamir performance along with commentary from Josh Jacobson and, sometimes, an interview with the composer. This winter, we featured songs such as Robert Starer’s “Break Forth into Joy,” Jef Labes’s “Shir Ahavah,” Jeremiah Klarman’s “Hallel Shir V’Or,” and Robert Snyder’s “Happy Is the Man” from Psalm 1.
Also featured this winter was a wide-ranging overview of Jewish women’s music as well as interviews with composer Judith Shatin and conductors Judy Campbell, Noreen Green, and Julia Zavadsky. All of these programs can be seen and heard on zamir.org and JewishChoralMusic.com.
Musical Tribute for Lewandowski's 200th Birthday
On March 14, in a presentation attended by over 300 people from around the globe, Zamir celebrated the music of the great German composer Louis Lewandowski, born on that date (the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan) in 1821. The event was co-hosted by Josh Jacobson and alumna Susan Rubin (with a special visit from a Teddy bear!).
Lewandowski is arguably considered the greatest synagogue composer of the 19th century. His choral works live on today not only in synagogues but also on concert stages around the world. And his popular liturgical melodies are still sung, even though few realize that he wrote them.
The program (watch here), which has now been seen by more than 1,000 fans (view comments here), includes video performances of some of Lewandowski’s most beloved choral classics. There are also interviews with cantors and conductors in the United States and Lewandowski’s Berlin, as well as the “voice of Lewandowski” (Zamir alumnus Andrew Mattfeld) speaking about his music.
Want to bring Lewandowski's songs into your home or give as long-lasting gifts to synagogue-music lovers? Purchase these CDs on zamir.org: