About ten years ago I immersed myself in a project that is flourishing as we speak: the creation of Kolot HaLev, a Jewish community choir.
Three main goals captured my attention:
A choir where everyone willing to sing is allowed to participate. Members are not required to audition. All of us have heard of the deep, sometimes permanent, damage inflicted to those individuals that love to sing but are told decisively that they are not good at it and they shouldn’t try. Our premise is that with enough love, dedication and guidance everyone in regular physical conditions can overcome musical difficulties and be able to enjoy singing. Although Kolot HaLev is a community-based, volunteer organization, we adhere to high musical standards and ask that people who join share our commitment to upholding those standards. Formal voice or musical training are expected in order to sing though developing vocal skills in private study is encouraged.
Choir members rehearse every Thursday for two hours when they learn the repertoire and are given half an hour of vocal technique. A recording of each rehearsal is posted in a dropbox site for the benefit of those that couldn’t attend. In addition, they participate of one sectional rehearsal monthly when we tackle specific problems the group needs to overcome including questions not covered at the main rehearsal. Choir members are also offered mp3s files with their part to reinforce the learning of the musical material.
2) MUSICAL TREASURES
Kolot HaLev performs Jewish musical treasures from Jewish communities across the world. Generally speaking, the Jewish musical scene today covers a limited repertoire. In addition, very few quality musical arrangements are available for compositions originating in regions of the world other than North America. Kolot HaLev is actively filling the gap. The choir performs music ranging from liturgical works to folk songs and gospel music sung in Hebrew, English, Yiddish, Ladino, Italian, Russian and Spanish (to date!). In the past few years alone Kolot HaLev concerts have focused on Russian, Israeli and Italian music both liturgical and secular. The 2017 Annual concert was devoted to Kol Isha—Jewish Women across the Times, when Schubert’s Miriam's song of Triumph was premiered in the Washington DC area, including a brand new libretto.
3) BUILDING BRIDGES
Very few synagogues around the world include choral music as part of the liturgy.
The most common argument supporting the lack of choral music is that choirs impede congregants freely participate at services. While this argument holds some truth it is possible to design a religious service that offers opportunities for choral and community singing without conflict. As the choir-in-residence for Shirat Ha Nefesh Congregation (Kensington, MD), Kolot HaLev is able to build bridges between religious denominations and communities as well as promoting congregational singing. Kolot HaLev members participate at services seating side by side with members of the community at large, interacting with them and encouraging a deeper spiritual experience through choral music that describes the liturgical text.