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Festival to provide window into future of Jewish music
May 29th, 2008
When you were a child, did you ever come home from Hebrew school or a Jewish day school and sing for your parents prayers that you were taught, only to have them say, “That’s not the melody I learned”?
Come to the Third International Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music, June 13-16, and you may be hearing new tunes for those prayers that your children or grandchildren will someday bring home to you — or that will resound in your shul in the future.
This festival has been held every two years since 2004. Both of the previous incarnations took place in the Washington, D.C., area.
The 2008 festival will not only be its first presentation in Milwaukee, but its first ever outside the D.C. region, according to officials of the organizations involved — Shalshelet: The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music and the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning.
The highlight of all these festivals is a concert of new music for Jewish prayers. In Milwaukee, this will take place on Sunday, June 15, 7:30 p.m., at Cardinal Stritch University.
Joyce Altman will be directing a 24-voice choir comprised of Milwaukee choristers from such groups as the Bel Canto Chorus, the Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
Performers will also include Milwaukeeans flutist Rick Aaron and pianist Geri Stone; Cantor Natasha Hirschhorn of New York, one of the two Shalshelet vice presidents; and Shalshelet president, Hazzan Ramon Tasat (see additional story).
In a telephone interview, Altman expressed enthusiasm for the works scheduled, which themselves are a handful of the 30 compositions chosen from more than 300 submitted to Shalshelet for the festival.
The programmed works will include a “beautiful” new melody for “Shalom Rav” by Irene Steiner, a setting of Psalm 29 by Lance Rhodes, a “cute” “Yismachu” by Mary Feinsinger, and a new melody for the candle blessing for Sabbath or Yom Tov by Cantor Marcel Gindlin “that everybody is going to walk out humming,” Altman said.
Sabbath and workshops
But the concert will be only one of the special events presented to the community by this festival.
For the first time, the festival will include Sabbath activities, to take place Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 13 Wisconsin synagogues.
WSJL executive director Kathleen R. Jendusa said that synagogues will host some of the musicians participating in the festival, including some of the composers whose works Shalshelet chose.
These musicians will play different roles at those synagogues, depending on the musician’s expertise and the desires of the synagogues’ administrations, she said.
“Some will serve as guest cantors, some will have a piece performed at the services, some will be scholars-in-residence,” she said in a telephone interview.
The participating synagogues are: Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha and Congregation Beth Israel Sinai in Racine; Milwaukee shuls Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah, Congregations Beth Israel, Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, Shalom, and Sinai, Lake Park Synagogue, and Temple Menorah; Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue and Congregation Shir Hadash in Mequon; Congregation Emanu-El of Waukesha; and Anshe Poale Zedek Synagogue in Manitowoc.
After the Sabbath concludes Saturday night, the festival will hold a reception at the Radisson Milwaukee Northshore Hotel, 7065 N. Port Washington Rd., at 10 p.m.
Finally, during the daytime on Sunday and Monday, the festival will be offering workshops at Cardinal Stritch University.
Andrew Muchin of the WSJL staff and director of the Wisconsin Small Jewish Communities History Project said in a telephone interview that the workshop topics will include sessions with some of the composers and discussions of Jewish sacred texts, singing techniques, music sight reading and other subjects.
Admission to the concert and workshops is $25 in advance, $35 at the door. Tickets for the June 15 concert alone are $20 in advance, $25 at the door; and admission to the Sunday and Monday workshops alone is $10 at the door.
The festival is being organized by Shalshelet leaders, WSJL staff members, and local volunteers Joyce Altman, David Blumberg, Sherry Blumberg, Enid Bootzin, Marge Eiseman, Barbara and Don Goldberg, Joshua Richman and WSJL President Gwen Rivkin.
The festival is being supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin; and a grant from the Helen Bader Foundation, Inc. For more information, call WSJL at 414-963-4135 or visit www.wsjl.org