By Alanna Maya
The Jewish Men’s Choir has been a San Diego institution for more than 10 years. Recently, the group was part of the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Fest, where they performed as part of Klezmer master (and San Diego native) Yale Strom’s ticket. The enthusiastic crowd for the evening was treated to Yiddish and Ladino music as guest director Larry Kornit (of B’nai Tikvah) directed. But what makes Jewish choral music different from any other? We asked Ruth Weber, music director and conductor for JMC.
“I guess [what sets Jewish choral music apart] is the composers themselves,” she says. “A lot of the things that we are trying to preserve are melodies that cantors from the classical and romantic time periods wrote and performed in their synagogues at that time that we don’t hear that much any more.”
But JMC is not only about performing liturgical music; some of it is very similar to the non-cantorial music of the time. There is Klezmer choral music and ladino choral music and so on; all of which JMC strives to bring to the community in San Diego and beyond. The group’s first album, “Heritage,” has found a home in Jewish libraries all over the world in the quest to preserve this timeless tradition.
The group, also known as KolHakavod (literally meaning “all the respect,” or the Israeli equivalent of “good job!”), has between 28-40 members at any one time attending weekly rehearsals. Group members range in age from high school students to men in their 70s and is looking to expand in the coming months.
“We are working on promoting Jewish music to non Jewish groups,” Weber says. “To that end, we will be a part of the San Diego Public Library concert series this year, as part of an evening of Judaica, and are also pairing with the SD Interfaith chorus as a featured group. Later in the year, we are going up to Los Angeles to do a program with a synagogue there, so we are trying to expand our area of outreach now.”
The importance of a group like JMC in the community is profound; so the span of reach is very important to the group’s mission. Weber says music and art are a reflection of the culture they were created in. By preserving Jewish choral music, she says the group is truly preserving the culture of our ancestors.
“If we study the history of Western music we will learn about the early music going on in the Catholic Church,” she says. “There were Jewish composers writing music which is very similar in nature during this time period, however it was music of the Jewish liturgy and not the Catholic liturgy. Gregorian chants actually developed [and were modeled] after Judaic chants. The Catholic Church was looking for a way to help the congregation remember the text of the mass and so they saw the singing of the text as a way to do this.
“Now we celebrate the works of Rossi and Lewandowski as we perform some of the beautiful Jewish choral music that is primarily known only in Jewish music circles; but the SDJMC performs choral arrangements of all types of Jewish music, not only liturgical music. By performing choral arrangements of Yiddish songs, not only are we helping to preserve the Yiddish language, but we are also remembering the culture and traditions of the Jewish people. This is why it is so important to preserve all Jewish music, and not only Jewish Choral music.”
To learn more or to inquire about having SDJMC perform at your next event, visit kolhakavod.com.