TEANECK Reb Nachman of Bratslav believed that music is a means to drawing closer to the divine, and that the right melody provides healing.
Recently, a six-member women’s chorus proved both points when it performed prayerful songs for a group of female residents at the new kosher CareOne senior facility here.
"I believe HaShem gives us an ability and we’re meant to share it with the world and it’s meant to bring us closer to Him," said the ? capella group’s leader, Batya Harris. "It’s not just in a vacuum for ego-building; we take pleasure in it but it’s also very spiritual."
From left, Cathy Schuss, Laurie Bauman, Diane Fogel, and Rita Lewy-Neuman perform for residents of CareOne, under the direction of Batya Harris, with guitar.
Harris, who grew up here, conducted choirs at women’s seminaries while she was living in Jerusalem for a few years. "I would choose a song and create harmonies and do an arrangement for solos and duets, and I’d accompany the choir on guitar," said Harris. "After a few years, I started to participate in a choir myself, where I learned how to do voice warm-ups and proper breathing."
Back in this township four years ago, she recruited about a dozen women from her parents’ synagogue, Cong. Beth Aaron, to sing as a group. When she moved to Queens six months later, the participants missed it, and finally regrouped about a year ago with a new director who recently went back to school and was unable to continue. So Harris agreed to take over again.
Charging $30 per month to cover her commuting costs, Harris meets with the singers in one of their homes each Monday night. She takes them through voice warm-ups and breathing exercises before introducing the music.
"I choose songs that might make their davening more meaningful if they can associate a melody with it," said Harris, a service coordinator for the developmentally challenged at Yedei Chesed in Monsey. She added that mystics believe music has the power to remind people of their ultimate source.
"I usually have a general idea of what the words mean when I daven," said group member Cathy Schuss, "but Batya really has us thinking about the meaning of what we’re saying."
Laurie Bauman, another member of the chorus, said her personal enjoyment of the songs was greatly enhanced when the group performed on June ‘6 at CareOne. "The residents said they wanted us to come back," she said. "Seeing how they enjoyed it made me enjoy it even more."
Harris said the performance, billed as "an evening of songs that lift your spirit," made the singing much more meaningful.
The group, which is made up of Orthodox women, sings only for other women, in keeping with the talmudic prohibition against men listening to women’s singing voices.
For those participants who abide by the proscription, the chorus provides a much-welcomed outlet for using their voices.
"I don’t think any of us has professional training, but we all like to sing and Batya teaches us how to sing better, how to hold notes better," said Bauman. "It’s the next step up from singing with friends."
"It brightens our week," said Diane Fogel. "You can see from the looks on our faces when we harmonize that it’s inspirational and moving."
After taking a break during the Three Weeks, the period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, the chorus will begin practicing again July 30.
Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org