Coping with crisisThe Triangle Jewish Chorale, has been contributing to the cultural life of central North Carolina for over 25 years now. The group focuses on an intriguing corner of the musical world: works by Jewish composers, and Jewish-inspired pieces. Jewish music in the European tradition goes back centuries, and very fine creative musicians have contributed their talents. Yet the tradition is much older still. Music has been an important part of Jewish life since biblical times, from when there are extensive mentions in the Bible of music taking place in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Chorale, a volunteer, non-professional group, currently of 25-30 singers, gave its spring 2021 concert with five pieces, one of them recorded from a previous performance. The program was titled: Chai, Chai, Chai, Singing for Life. Chai is the Hebrew word for life; it was also the title of the last song on the program.

In their concerts, in which they share Jewish music with the public in various secular settings, the Chorale sings from the vast quantity of music over the centuries with Jewish origin. They sing in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and other languages, reflecting the range of cultures and traditions in which Jews have lived and created. It is worth mentioning that not all members are Jewish; anyone who enjoys the music and loves to sing is welcome to join.

The dedicated conductor of the group is Lorena Guillén. Born in Buenos Aires, the great center of tango in Argentina, she is a scholar of that art form, and as a singer, performs the music as well. She teaches at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

This virtual concert was dedicated to life also in the sense of resilience: the Chorale lost its founder during the past year, as well as its long-time pianist.

The first piece on the concert was by Naomi Shemer (1930-2004). Shemer (pronounced with a short e, as in shell) is the composer of “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) which has been an iconic Israeli song ever since it was written in 1967.

On this concert the Chorale performed a song by Shemer with words based on a Yiddish novel of 1878. Those words were “Siman she’od lo higanu” (A sign that we have not yet arrived). The words point to things we pass by in the world, but they all indicate that we have not yet reached where we mean to go. The accompanying music, an instrumental arrangement by Alejandro Rutty, amplified the feeling of that which is not yet attained. The video images were lovely, reflecting the surroundings – places or perhaps worlds – evoked by the words. The chorus brought a full sound to the reflective melody of the song, particularly in the refrain when all the voices came together.

The second song, words and music also by Naomi Shemer, was “Al kol eleh” (To all of those; eleh is pronounced ELLeh). The words reflect that in this world, we have both the honey and the sting of the bee, the sweet and the hurtful. It asks God to preserve for us all of those, everything. Here, Mora Rutty, the daughter of Alejandro Rutty, contributed an appealing violin obbligato. Again, the chorus had a full sound in the harmony of all the voices together. In the second verse the chorus wound nicely around the solo line; the final chorus, together with the violin, rose to an affecting peak.

The following song was composed by the Chorale itself; they called it the “TJC Tanghora”. The conductor provided musical elements and the members wrote words and melody. It started with a mournful bass line played by Xui Rutty, which suggested the all-too-common reality of Jewish suffering. But only briefly, as a prelude to the main thought: The World’s a Chorus, which was an abrupt shift to a catchy, upbeat rhythmic tune. Simply, it was about the people in the Chorale itself. There was a pleasing lift in the vocal phrases of the quieter middle section, especially – and perhaps not by coincidence – on the words “phrase after phrase”, which mentioned the individuals working hard on their parts before being able to come together in harmony.

The following song, “Od’cha” by Stephen Glass, was taken from a recording of the group’s fall 2019 concert, its 25th anniversary performance. On the recent concert it was offered in honor of director Gayla Halbrecht and pianist Samuel Hammond, the members lost in the past year who took part in that last public concert the Chorale has given until now.

Sung with verve, “Od’cha” was a popular-style setting by Stephen Glass of the original Hebrew of words from Psalm 118. Verse 21 formed the refrain, and verses 22-24, the two verses of the song. The words of the upbeat refrain were (in the King James translation): I will give thanks unto thee. (Remarkably, even for the usually compact manner of expression in Hebrew, this line is rendered in the original by a single word of four letters.) Here the Chorale was accompanied by both strings and keyboard. One might have wished for a bigger high point on the climatic words of verse 24, which are: celebrate and be joyous. In these sacred words also, which have come down through the ages, one might have valued a bit more idiomatic pronunciation of some of the Hebrew. Nonetheless, the energy of the performers was infectious.

The last song was “Chai”, by Avi Toledano (b.1948). Toledano is of Moroccan Jewish origin, and in Israel, where he moved when he was 16, he is known for his song albums and for appearances in a number of films. The song was in English, with new lyrics created by the Chorale members. Mr. Rutty updated the arrangement on piano and electric bass. It was centered around the title word of the song, and the theme of the concert: Life. Even so, its ending was wistful, coming to rest on an unresolved chord.

Along with the work of all the musicians, one must single out the video producer, Lihuen Sirvent. The performance was accompanied visually with a dynamic montage of images which much enhanced the atmosphere of the music. One memorable moment was the fade at the very end, on that ambiguous unresolved chord. The video work was a strong point of the event.

It is to be hoped that the Triangle Jewish Chorale will have many more successful years bringing music to the North Carolina public.

Note: This concert will be online indefinitely at this link.