The sounds of music
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The sounds of music

High school choirs come together to sing and socialize

When voices meld in beautiful harmony, the listener can expect a wonderful concert. But when the concert, and the music itself, also serve as "hooks" to building Jewish identity, we can expect much more than that.

On Sunday, May ‘1 — when the HaZamir International Jewish High School Choir presents its 13th anniversary concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York — it will gather together ’50 students from the U.S., Canada, and Israel and help them "build community and connect culturally," said Matthew Lazar, who founded HaZamir in 1993.


The Choir

"HaZamir transcends members’ social, cultural, and political backgrounds," said Lazar. "It includes students from all across the spectrum — from people who don’t know Hatikvah to those who study Gemara."

HaZamir has more than 350 active members, said Lazar, who noted that the music group is also a vehicle for reaching isolated Jews. "Students who live in an area with no HaZamir chapter can audition by tape," he said, adding that the concert is the younger sibling of the North American Jewish Choral Festival.


Teaneck resident Stephanie Feigenbaum has been singing with HaZamir for two years.

Fourteen-year-old Teaneck resident Stephanie Feigenbaum, a student at the Bergen County Academy in Hackensack, joined HaZamir two years ago, when she was in eighth grade. She is a member of the New Jersey chapter, created nine years ago by Cantor Joel Kaplan, chazzan of Agudath Israel in Caldwell. The group meets every Sunday in Livingston and includes some 60 high school students from all over New Jersey.

Said Stephanie, "I have been singing all my life. I belonged to the HaZamir group at the JCC in Tenafly until it was discontinued, and when I heard about the [Livingston] chapter, I knew it was an awesome opportunity."

"It’s fun and we learn a lot of pieces," said Feigenbaum. "Some of the music is pretty moving. In the middle of ‘Misheberach’ [by Debbie Friedman], we recite the names of people we’re saying a misheberach for."

Stephanie and the three other Teaneck members of the chapter — Adva Hanan, Joey Resnick, and Arielle Yeshua — will not be able to attend the upcoming concert because of a scheduling conflict, but the singer said she benefits enormously from membership in the choir.

"I’ve definitely made friends," she said. Also, "I’ve had a lot of opportunities to perform and learn a lot of music." She observed that the chapter performs several times a month, mostly in the Livingston area. Members have sung at the Wayne Y and appear frequently at Agudath Israel.

According to Stephanie, a March concert at Cong. Beth Sholom in Teaneck — which featured the music of Debbie Friedman and included not only two other local choirs but Debbie Friedman herself — was "amazing."

Stephanie enjoys the music selected for the chapter by Kaplan, much of which he arranges himself.

"The piece ‘Emek’ has an amazing sound when we sing it all together," she said, "and everybody loves to sing ‘Hayam,’ an upbeat and happy song."

Kaplan said he tries to make students’ participation in the choir "both a Jewish and a musical experience," pointing out that "they love singing Jewish music together." While students don’t have to audition, they tend to "self-select. The group has some wonderful voices," he added.

According to Kaplan, who volunteers his time with the group, the New Jersey HaZamir chapter "has done a lot of cool things." Half the choir visited and performed with a sister group in Los Angeles, and members of the New Jersey chapter traveled to London and Madrid to help start choirs in those cities. In addition, the local chapter will host 44 students from visiting choirs performing in the New York concert.

Discussing the upcoming concert, Lazar noted that "the music was chosen to give [students] an overall education in Jewish history and culture," with pieces ranging from Israeli pioneering music, to popular American ballads, to songs dealing with contemporary Israeli history, including one about Israeli soldier/MIA Ron Arad.

Some pieces will be sung by the entire chorus, said Lazar; others will be performed by a chamber group. In addition, the concert will include two world premieres written specifically for this event. One — which the HaZamir founder called "the combination of an unusual text with an unusual style — features a poem by Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook set to a South African style of music known as "mbube."

For more information about the concert, call (‘1′) 36’-3335 or visit www.zamirfdn.org.

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