Past Performances

The Zemel Choir Celebrates Dudley Cohen's 90th Birthday

Thu, 19 May 2022

Faithful Voices: Gala Concert

Sun, 27 Mar 2022

Faithful Voices: Thursday Concert

Thu, 24 Mar 2022

Faithful Voices: Workshops

Sun, 20 Mar 2022


Workshop 1 - Introduction to Vedic Chanting in the Hindu faith

Workshop Leader – Divyanand Caird

The Sanskrit word Nada in the Hindu faith or tradition translates ¬as “sound”, “tone”, or “vibration”. The Vedas, meaning “wisdom” or “knowledge” are the oldest texts of Hinduism. They began as an oral tradition that was passed down through generations before finally being written in Vedic Sanskrit between 1500 and 500 BCE. Nada-Veda-Yoga is deeply rooted in Indian Culture. Mantras, which are a sub-division in the Vedas, are chanted during daily worship, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Vedic chants as sound principles bring amazing results, both in terms of the text and tones handed down through millennia. The three-note practice with Vedic texts as mediation to anchor the tones in the body is energising and powerful. The workshop will focus on using the voice to produce the sound of the principal word ‘Aum’ (Om) in the Vedas followed by the three tonal positions to chant the Mantras. The Mantra covered in this workshop will be a Shanti Mantra. Shanti Mantras are Hindu prayers for peace which are recited at the beginning or end of religious rituals and discourses. 
Divyanand Caird is a London-based Indian Classical Musician of the Carnatic Music genre specialising in performance and teaching of the Saraswati Vina (South Indian Lute). He has been part of Brhaddhvani (‘Big Sound’ or ‘Universe of Sound’), a premier world music and research institute based in Chennai, South India. Divyanand has extensively toured with his teacher, Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramanian, to North America and Europe for performances and workshops. In 2017, he founded Brhaddhvani Global Centre for Music, a registered UK charity which promotes the Karaikudi Vina Tradition and Dr. Subramanian’s pioneering teaching methodology COMET.  He is also a resident artist at PRSSV Institute of Performing Arts and Heritage, one of the UK’s premier institutions propagating World Music and Dance. 

Workshop 2 – London International Gospel Choir Workshop (Gospel Spirituals)

Workshop Leader – Matt Bain

Spirituals are at the very heart of Gospel music. Created by African American slaves, they are songs expressing a deep faith in God and describing the relentless hardship of slavery. They were originally an oral tradition performed by either one or several slaves whilst at work, establishing the familiar call and response tradition as a cornerstone of all gospel music. In this workshop we’ll be learning two of the most important and influential spirituals ever composed, Wade in the Water and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. In the process we’ll explore the original version of each song and the art of call and response, as well as more modern harmonised choral arrangements.
Matt Bain graduated from Oxford University with a first-class degree in music and a Master’s in musicology. As a violinist he performs worldwide, including with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside classical and contemporary artists. He also leads a small jazz/soul group, IMC (Independent Musicians Collective). He is Head Musical Director of the London International Gospel Choir.

Workshop 3 – Niggunim (Songs without Words)

Workshop Leader – Polina Shepherd

Niggunim are the age-old Jewish “songs without words”. Usually, the term refers to religious songs and tunes that are sung by groups or sometimes soloists. It is a form of singing tunes often without any lyrics or words, although sounds like “bim-bim-bam” or “Ay-ay-yay!” are often used. Niggunim form a part of Jewish worship that enables the singer (either solo or in groups) to bring about a change in consciousness. This change in consciousness is known as “Dveykes”, or “union with (cleaving to) God”. This state of ecstasy is attained by singing the melody for anything up to one hour, when a state of trance and bliss is reached. A revival of interest in Jewish music was sparked as part of Hasidism. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism (Ukraine, 1700-), spoke of dvevkes niggunim as “songs that transcend syllables and sound.” Using niggunim, the participants will be invited to tap into deeply enlightening and powerful sources of energy present within themselves. Using improvisational techniques within the niggunim, each individual will find a way to express themselves through their own musical language. 
Polina Shepherd was born in Siberia and grew up in a home where songs were regularly sung at the family table. Now an internationally renowned singer, she brings the songs of the Steppes and the Shtetl up to date with passion and haunting soul. Her singing, though based on traditional forms, cuts a sound deeply rooted in east European Jewish and Russian folk. Growing up in Tatarstan also placed her close to Islamic ornamentation and timbre, which can be heard in her unique vocal style and four-octave range. Whilst living in Kazan (capital of Tatarstan, Central Russia) and studying at the State Academy, Polina joined Russia′s first klezmer band after Perestroika. She soon became the principal Yiddish choir leader of the former Soviet Union. She moved to the UK in 2003. Her latest and most ambitious project is 150 voices, a recorded collaboration between Polina, the lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics, Lorin Sklamberg, and choirs in the UK and the USA. Her choir work is united under the umbrella of The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience and covers many aspects of vocal music from large scale choirs to smaller chamber groups. She has been choir leader of the Award Winning Russian choir of Brighton and Hove since 2007, the London Yiddish Choir and London Russian Choir since 2013, and the Brighton & Hove Yiddish choir since 2015. Polina also works as an educator, leading workshops internationally.

Workshop 4 – Kirtan

Workshop Leader – Ananda Monet

Kirtan is a call-and-response prayer and meditation, combining ancient Sanskrit mantras with soulful musical instruments, invigorating drum beats, and the voices of the community. This workshop will include a presentation on what kirtan is, its origins and context, the meaning and purpose of the mantras and the instruments used in kirtan. And, of course, we will see it in practice and sing together. 
Ananda Monet is a singer and manager of Kirtan London, a not-for-profit project dedicated to making this practice of mantra meditation accessible to everyone.

A Service Of Solemn Remembrance And Hope On The 80th Anniversary Of Kristallnacht

Thu, 8 Nov 2018

 In November 2018 The Zemel Choir marked the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, (‘Night of the broken glass’) where on the 9th and 10th November 1938,  the Nazis carried out a massacre of the Jews in Germany and Austria.  To commemorate this horrific event, Westminster Abbey is holding a service of solemn remembrance and hope. How poignant is it that the world has just witnessed another massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh?

This is the third time that the choirs of Belsize Square and West London Synagogues, along with the Zemel Choir, have performed for a service of this kind. Under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Wolf,  these services have sought to provide music that is appropriate for the purpose of Holocaust commemoration, while also remaining true to elements of both Jewish and Christian liturgical practice. During the service they will perform a selection of music that spans many hundreds of years, including compositions by three living composers.

Four Rabbis will be officiating in the service including Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE, alongside the Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall. There will also be personal testimonies of survivors. 

The service begins with organ music by Walter Arlen (born Aptowitzer). Arlen was born in Vienna in 1920 (he is now ninety-eight years old) and fled that city in 1939. He has spent most of his adult life in the USA, where he worked for many years as music critic for the Los Angeles Times. His compositions have been discovered and performed relatively recently (the first CD of his music came out only six years ago), and many of them are inspired by his direct memories of Kristallnacht, as well as the memory of his father’s removal to Buchenwald, and of his mother’s subsequent suicide. The organ music at the end of the service is by Ernest Bloch – an earlier (and more famous) Jewish √©migr√© composer who also spent most of his life in the USA, and his known for music that combines both classical and Jewish musical traditions.

The service is introduced by one of the earliest pieces of Jewish choral music. Composed by Salamone Rossi—a Jewish musician who worked for the Gonzaga court in Mantua in the sixteenth century—this is one of a collection of compositions through which Rossi brought the world of contemporary polyphony into the synagogue. The famous text of Psalm 137 is also appropriate, recalling a previous era when Jews went into exile as a result of violence. The service continues with a traditional High Holyday melody (Shema Koleinu) that is sung throughout the Anglo-Jewish communities, and with music by Louis Lewandowski, Director of Music at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin, and the most famous composer of nineteenth-century Jewish choral music. His music formed part of the liturgy that was familiar to German Jews of the 1940s, is regularly performed at Belsize Square Synagogue, and is an important part of the Anglo- Jewish repertoire. The Enosh Ke’Chatzir is probably his most famous memorial piece. The short excerpt from his Deutsche Schul-Lieder, however, has probably not been performed since the nineteenth century. This collection of songs was created for the children that he taught at a Jewish school in Berlin. It was evidently popular in its time, as it ran to five editions, but these songs for children have not achieved the same ongoing popularity as his liturgical music. The short song that will be performed seems particularly evocative as it speaks of children seeking shelter.

Aside from Arlen, living composers are represented in Malcolm Singer’s Meditation and Cecilia McDowall’s Through a Glass Darkly. Singer’s piece was composed in memory of Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a Holocaust survivor and former Rabbi of West London Synagogue who was very involved in inter-faith dialogue. This evocative piece concludes with an arrangement of Nurit Hirsch’s famous setting of the Oseh Shalom (may he who makes peace in the highest bring peace to all of us). McDowall’s composition was commissioned by the Zemel Choir and the Jewish Music Institute for Westminster Abbey’s Kristallnacht Commemoration in 2013, and will be performed again for this event.

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Zemel Goes Stateside

Tue, 21 May 2013

In 2013 the Zemel Choir went stateside. Last seen by US audiences in 1987, the UK’s leading mixed-voice Jewish choir went on a whistlestop tour of the East Coast and Canada, with concerts in Boston, Rhode Island, Long Island, New Rochelle and Montreal. You remember the Spice Girls, you’ve heard Adele, you’ve listened to Mumford and Sons. Now, armed with two cantors and a tour bus, the Zemel Choir brings you its very own British invasion (but without the spangly Union Jack dresses).

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