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The Zemel Choir: Celebrate With Song

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Zemel Choir’s Jewish Choral Music Forum

 

Entries by Zemel Choir (8)

11:04PM

Yehezkiel Braun (1922-2014)

The Zemel Choir acknowledges the passing of Yehezkiel Braun in Israel in August 2014, at the age of 92.   Over the years, the Choir has performed and recorded a lot of Braun’s music (including the world premiere of his Leyl No’amon for soprano, chorus and orchestra at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1985).  This recording of Uri Tzafon, one of his many miniatures for a cappella choir, is our small tribute to a good friend and a giant of Israeli and Jewish music.

6:14PM

Time: 75 years - Place: Berlin- by Helen Stone

It took them two years to build – a vast, monumental edifice in the eastern part of Berlin, ostensibly to the glory of God but with a far more important additional, political role.  Between 1933 and 1935, whilst the Martin Luther Church was being constructed, its towering dome rose to dominate the surrounding buildings, just as the Nazi party was rising and growing to dominate the political landscape of Germany. By the time of its consecration in 1935, the Protestant church had come under the influence of the movement known as “Stormtroopers of Jesus”, which the Nazis referred to as “Positive Christianity”.

An integral part of the church’s original decoration were the swastikas on the church bells and altar.  Embedded in the stonework and wooden friezes of the interior were many Nazi symbols and icons, including a muscular, Aryan Jesus with a Nazi soldier, statues of Nazi stormtroopers and a bust of Hitler.  A vast cross adorned the wall facing the congregational pews but the building had a function above and beyond that of a local place of worship.

Its yawning interior space and impressive height made it the perfect venue for key Nazi party meetings and rallies. During the 1930s Nazi party members made up two thirds of the church attendance and it was here that they baptised their children. Not only was there plenty of space downstairs, but up in the gallery there had been installed a huge and ornate organ with massive pipes.  Imagine the sound produced by this organ, perhaps in 1936, just after its installation. It must surely have stirred many a party member to proclaim undying loyalty to the Fuhrer.  So impressive was the music it produced that the complete apparatus was transported to Nuremburg for use in the rallies there and later brought back to its original home.

Now let us fast forward 75 years to December 2011.  Time has moved on but the place remains the same – and yet not quite.  The building still stands there in all its glory but no longer do the bells and altar carry the swastika symbol. These have been removed but if you look very carefully at the stonework it is possible to see where swastikas once were.  All the other reminders of the mixing of Christianity and Nazism are still there.  There had been voices which advocated the complete destruction of this memorial to Nazi oppression but the building was preserved because of its unique architectural value. Today it stands in a residential area of what was East Berlin and serves as a local community church. 

In December 2011 the Zemel Choir was invited to take part in an international Jewish choral festival in Berlin, together with choirs from Boston, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, Toronto, Strasbourg and Berlin itself - eight choirs from four continents.  On Saturday night, after Shabbat, each choir was allocated a venue in a different part of the city at which to perform.  At first the Zemel choir were disappointed not to be singing at the Jewish Museum, which had been offered to the Boston choir, but when we heard something of the history of our venue, the Martin Luther Church, we were intrigued by its past and felt a compulsion to see it.  It is, after all, the only church left in Germany that still carries the distinctive markings of the so-called “Positive Christianity.”

As we trooped in to rehearse before our concert we could hear the sound of Christmas carols being sung. Looking up to the ceiling of the entrance hall we saw a chandelier in the shape of an iron cross. As we entered the church itself the deep and resonating sound of the organ overwhelmed us, thundering out from high above in the gallery, filling the entire space.  The wooden pews were crowded with families enjoying a carol service in the days before Christmas.  As they filed out we examined the plaque on the wall in the entrance lobby, which explained the facts of the building’s chequered history.

It was a strange feeling to sing traditional, liturgical Jewish music to a completely non- Jewish, German audience in a place that had once held such sinister gatherings. Our accompanist, an extremely accomplished organist, drew from that instrument the beautiful chords written by nineteenth century synagogue composers Lewandowski and Sulzer and our voices filled the church. We thrilled to the sound of the organ as we stood beside it in the upper gallery. Below, in front of the huge cross stood the lone figure of Robert Brody, our soloist, his lovely baritone voice holding the audience spellbound with the haunting melodies of the prayers we have sung for generations.

There was an incongruity in the whole situation and yet at the same time a sense of rightness. We, a Jewish choir, some of whom were descendants of German Jews, were singing our music, defiantly, surrounded by the iconography of a power that sought to make of us an extinct people.  We felt that we had contributed in some way to the healing of a deep, historical wound.  Our very presence in that church was proof of Hitler’s failure.

5:59PM

The Power of Singing

This article was featured in the BBC Magazine- Thanks to Merrill Dresner for sharing it with the website!

There is evidence that regular participation in group choral activity can significantly improve physical and mental health, according to Grenville Hancox professor of music at Canterbury Christ Church University, and co-director of the university’s Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health.

Research carried out with choristers in the UK, Australia and Germany identified a number of benefits. Improved breathing, posture and stature, were some of the positives.

And there was evidence singing could counter feelings of “being down in the dumps or depression”, says Hancox.

“We carried out a study under strict experimental conditions over a 12-week period with people who had never sung in a choral situation before. There was a marked improvement in people’s mental health. In the following 12 weeks, this improvement wasn’t maintained, it declined.”

The De Haan centre would like to see group singing prescribed on the NHS. “If we medically intervened in this way, it’s possible that the health of the nation’s population would be better.”

Hancox uses the metaphor of Welsh miners, who are famed for their singing. “After they had been underground in the darkness for, say, 12 hours at a time - what did miners want to do when they came out? They wanted to sing - twice a week.”

If someone is going though a difficult time, singing can be like the miners’ light at the end of the tunnel, he says.

“When you sing [in a choral situation] your brain is flooded, it is totally occupied, everything else is sent away. And when people come together to sing, there is a strong collective effort. Someone who has felt isolated feels part of something.”

11:59AM

Celebrate With Song 2010-"Its Showtime" Why not join us for Workshops and a Concert?

Celebrate With Song 2010- Its Showtime ! Why not join us for Workshops and a Concert on 23rd May and 6th June?

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2:40PM

Kol Isha- Should mixed voice Jewish choirs be able to give concerts to United Synagogue audiences?

10:17AM

Why a Jewish Choral Music Forum?

Let’s talk more about this. Share ideas and experiences. Debate the merits and (yes, indeed) the demerits of Jewish music and song. But no name-calling, please: just fair comment. Many visitors to this site and this forum are trying to make a living out of their interest in and love for the music they sing, write, score, arrange, perform or conduct.-Daniel Tunkel

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10:09PM

Singing the Name of God

Singing the Name of God As a Jewish choir, performing to Jewish audiences and frequently singing music from the Prayerbook or from biblical sources, this question arises routinely. Other Jewish choruses around the world will have encountered the same issue, and will have their own approaches to dealing with this. I thought that a note here on the subject might be useful, and I have no doubt that if this section of the web site is as frequented as our home page is, then this should stir up quite a bit of discussion.

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11:44PM

Celebrate With Song 2009

In May 2009, the Zemel Choir – the UK’s leading mixed-voice Jewish choir will host Celebrate With Song, now in its third year, bringing mixed-voice Jewish choral music to a wide range of amateur singers and music-lovers. Do you enjoy singing? Do you want to experience music that you may not have sung (or even heard) before? You could join Zemel for workshops and a concert at St John’s, Smith Square on June 14th 2009.

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