Charging My Musical Batteries

Although scheduling conflicts made it impossible for me to stay as long as I would have wished to, I managed to spend one very wonderful day this week at the annual North American Jewish Choral Festival, sponsored by the Zamir Choral Foundation. The highlight of my brief stay was a moving film presentation about Hazamir, the National Jewish High School Choir and its constituent local choirs, and a live performance by the Zamir Chorale, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this coming year.

The Zamir Choral Foundation is, to my mind (I am, I must admit, a little biased, since I am an officer of the Foundation!), a vitally important component part of the Jewish community of North America. I would imagine that many of you are wondering how I can make a statement like that, what with UJA, ADL, and all the other better known instruments of Jewish communal activism. How does an organization that promotes high quality Jewish choral singing among teens and adults merit being referred to as “important” in today’s Jewish world?

The answer is simple, I think. We Jews excel at screaming, usually in a most discordant way. Whether here or in Israel, on matters that we are passionate about, we rarely ‘vocalize” in carefully modulated voices, in a manner that would make one want to listen to what we have to say. Just a few brief weeks ago, in the pages of this paper, I lamented the sad state of what passed for public discourse at the recent Zionist Congress, where shouting was as common as talking. And of course, here in America, we are hardly exempt from the same tendency to assume that the loudest voice is necessarily the one to be listened to.

The Zamir Choral Foundation has the perfect prescription for what ails us Jews… harmony. It sounds so simple to suggest that by blending our voices in a careful and controlled way, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly, we might actually make sounds that reach people and resonate with them on the most basic of levels. And yet it’s anything but simple. The practice of choral singing regularly blends three, four or more voices in just such a practiced way, and the sounds that come out are so strikingly beautiful that they can move a person to tears. Think of what happens when you have Jewish teenagers or adults making sounds as beautiful as that, set to words that speak of love of Israel, and of other Jews…

And then, if you’re already working on that image, make it even richer by imagining that the people blending their voices so sweetly are Jews of different religious denominations and political beliefs, all using music as a common language with which to produce harmony. It doesn’t matter who you vote for or how you daven… the music transcends all that, and reaches places that words simply can’t. It’s about harnessing the power of music to make us more sensitive and refined people. What a concept.
I wish I could have stayed longer at the choral festival, but one evening like that is in and of itself so restorative. I’m already looking forward to next year’s program…

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.