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Choral foundation sings leader’s praises
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Choral foundation sings leader’s praises

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Marsha Edelman conducting a community sing at the 2014 North American Jewish Choral Festival in July. 
Marsha Edelman conducting a community sing at the 2014 North American Jewish Choral Festival in July. 

Marsha Bryan Edelman’s professional life has long been interwoven with Zamir, the international foundation that promotes Jewish choral music and ensembles. 

Director of Lashir, Princeton’s Jewish community choir, she has been a part of Zamir’s annual North American Choral Festival since its inception in 1990. She has served as assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Zamir Chorale since 1980 and director of Philadelphia’s teen choir HaZamir since 1995. 

A member of the Zamir Choral Foundation’s steering committee since 1990, she has served as an administrator since 2004.

At the festival in July, Zamir recognized her for all she’s done for Jewish music, honoring her with the foundation’s Hallel v’Zimrah Award, a recognition she shares with Elie Wiesel, Theodore Bikel, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. 

“It was gratifying to be acknowledged for the contribution I have made to the festival over the years — and by extension, to the field of Jewish choral music,” Edelman told NJJN. “The greater reward, though, is the knowledge that I’ve helped to build an institution that brings together so many people of diverse backgrounds to share and celebrate their common love for the music of our people.”

In a film created in honor of her receiving the award, Edelman said she fell in love with Jewish choral music while attending Camp Ramah. The festival, and meeting Zamir founder and director Matthew Lazar, known as Mati, in 1972 changed the trajectory of her life.

The five-day festivals bring together singers, conductors, composers and other music professionals for concerts, workshops, and informal gatherings of people who share a love of Jewish song. 

“I would not be the same person I am if not for him,” said Edelman, professor emerita at Gratz College in Boston. “If I’m any kind of conductor, it’s because I’ve had the privilege of singing with him for 40 years. I’ve given more of my life to Jewish choral music than I ever expected I would, but I’ve never regretted any of it. Working with Mati has been the key that has opened up so many doors for me.” 

Recalling the first festival, Edelman said, “There was an electricity in the air. We sort of felt like we were creating something new, something that didn’t exist anywhere else before.”

The film quotes Rabbi Daniel Freelander, senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who also received the Hallel v’Zimrah award at the festival. “Marsha and Mati work harder than any two people should ever work. But they do it because they so deeply believe in what we’re doing. For them it is life,” he says. “We are trying to create a little taste of olam haba,” the world to come, at the festival each year, he adds.

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