By Cindy Mindell ~
HAMDEN – To paraphrase the oft-repeated adage attributed to Helen Keller, when one singing opportunity closes, another one opens.
That is the creation story behind the Connecticut Z’mirah Chorale. The only statewide Jewish chorus was founded in 2006 by Dr. Kevin Mack and fellow members of the Connecticut Hebrew Chorale, which was active from 1979 to 1994. Mack had served the original group not only as a singer, but also as accompanist and assistant director.
“It literally began as a ‘cottage industry,’” says Mack, who lives in Hamden. “We first met in my little house in North Haven.”
A professional conductor, Mack has worked in the musical community throughout Connecticut and in New York City as a conductor, singer, and player of historical keyboard and woodwind instruments. The San Francisco native holds degrees in conducting and vocal performance, and earned his doctorate from the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. Among his many current positions, Mack is musical director at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden.
The Connecticut Z’mirah Chorale (CZC) now comprises 15 members who converge from New Haven, Fairfield and Hartford counties at Mishkan Israel for weekly rehearsals. Many CZC members also sing with their respective synagogue choirs. “Z’mirah,” a Hebrew word for “song,” is a nod both to the esteemed 50-year-old Zamir Chorale, and to the Shabbat-themed portion of the group’s repertoire, says Mack. The chorale sings regularly at synagogues, Jewish communal events, and retirement residences.
Linda Soha is president of the chorale and an original member. “My many years of choral experience mean that I’ve sung my share of classic choral works, Masses, oratorios, as well as wonderful modern works,” says the Wallingford resident. “As someone brought up in Reform Judaism, it is just a joy and an honor to be able to learn and share Jewish choral music – so many beautiful, inspiring, deeply meaningful pieces have been written over hundreds of years. One benefit of being in the Chorale is the pleasure of getting together with compatible musical people who are all ‘Jewishly involved’ in many ways in their synagogues and communities.”
Fairfield resident Naomi Schaffer has sung with the Congregation B’nai Israel choir in Bridgeport for 14 years. It was a gateway to CZC; Schaffer joined the chorale last year at the urging of a fellow CBI choir member.
“The B’nai Israel group sings only on the High Holidays and the annual Shabbat Shirah, so the music is always the same,” says Schaffer. “The chorale does a range of new, challenging, beautiful music that I’m not used to singing.”
CZC’s repertoire ranges across languages and styles, “anything of interest to a Jewish audience,” Mack says, from Jewish liturgical music arranged by Jewish and non-Jewish composers, to “mildly secular pieces.” Mack hopes to do more musical theater pieces written by Jewish composers.
CZC rehearses on Sunday evenings at the Whitney Center, 200 Leeder Hill Drive in Hamden. New members are welcome; there are no formal auditions. Members do not need to know how to read music, only to accurately recite texts in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and other languages used in the musical repertoire. “Working with singers who are not professionals being paid, but who are there for the joy of it is quite stimulating,” Mack says.
-Wednesday, Apr. 18, 7 p.m.: Annual Community-wide Yom HaShoah Commemoration, JCC of Greater New Haven, 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge
-Thursday, Apr. 19, 7 p.m.: Yom HaShoah Service, Temple Beth David, 3 Main St., Cheshire
-Friday, Apr. 20, 6 p.m.: Offenbach Music Service with Cantor Arthur Giglio and Congregation Mishkan Israel adult choir, Congregation Mishkan Israel, 785 Ridge Road, Hamden
-Thursday, May 3, 7:45 p.m.: CZC Concert, Whitney Center, 200 Leeder Hill Drive, Hamden
For more information on CZC call (203) 230-1051/ zmirahchorale.padd.com
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