Matthew “Mati” Lazar’s passion for Jewish music will be showcased June 1-2 when he visits Teaneck’s Congregaton Beth Sholom as scholar-in-residence.
Adina Avery-Grossman, a member of the congregation who sits on the board of the Zamir Choral Foundation, knows Lazar well.
“My high school-age daughter sang for three years with HaZamir,” she explained, talking about the teenager’s participation in the international Jewish high school choir founded by Lazar.
The Bergen County chapter meets at Beth Sholom.
|Matthew “Mati” Lazar|
“It was a spectacular experience for my daughter, choral music of the highest standards.”
In addition, she said, the Jewish musical youth movement brings teenagers together from all over the country and Israel. “They bond through music,” she said.
Lazar will give three talks at the Teaneck synagogue, and Grossman said she is particularly impressed by the “unique way he combines encyclopedic musical knowledge with tremendous Jewish knowledge and facility with text.”
On Friday, following Shabbat dinner, the conductor will speak about “Jewish Music from Moses to Matisyahu,” discussing the history and influence of Jewish music and musicians.
“We’ll look at the history of Jewish music, but also explore the history of Jews in western society,” said Lazar, indicating that he’ll “connect the dots,” tracking the changing position of Jewish musicians. For example, he pointed out, “Mendelssohn had to convert, but George Gershwin didn’t.”
At the end of Shabbat services on Saturday morning, Lazar’s topic will be “Sermon and Song – Music as Prayer.” In this presentation, said Grossman, the speaker will give attendees an opportunity to experience the feeling of community that comes with singing together in a chorus.
Lazar said that in this segment, the congregation will become like an “instant choir,” joining together to make music. He likened the experience to a word painting, “with music expressing the meaning of words.”
For example, he said, “If the words say ‘We will ascend,’ the music will ascend. It’s a much more sophisticated version of that.”
After Shabbat lunch, Lazar will talk about the “Power of Breath,” exploring ways in which Jewish tradition teaches about paying attention to breath.
“We’ll pay attention to the ‘hay’ character,” said Lazar, noting that the Hebrew letter – which he called the “breath character” – has a singular place in Jewish text. For example, he noted, the letter was added when God changed Avram’s name to Avraham, and Sarai’s to Sarah.
Grossman said Lazar’s strength is understanding that there are numerous entry points to spirituality, one being through music, “to bring people to higher levels of understanding and connection.”
“We’re looking forward to his coming,” she said, describing herself as “a board member of his foundation, alumni parent, and Mati super-fan.”
Noting the range of groups he has created – besides the Zamir Foundation, he established the North American Jewish Choral Festival, HaZamir, the National Jewish Chorale, the Mantua Singers, and Shirah – she said “his message is that everyone belongs to this music and is connected, whether teenagers, professional musicians, composers, or fans. There are multiple ways he has brought his vision of choral music to Judaism and to the community.”
The Bergen County chapter of HaZamir currently has some 30 children and is one of the largest high school chapters in the country, said Grossman. The group rehearses every week from September to May, presenting a large concert at the end of March. It also meets several times a year with other regional groups, and joins together with them annually for a national concert.
For additional information about the weekend, call the synagogue office, (201) 833-2620.