Three years ago, Lashir, the Jewish Community Choir of Princeton, was lucky enough to land veteran Jewish music educator and choir conductor Marsha Bryan Edelman as its director and conductor.
Bryan Edelman holds a doctorate in music education and a master’s degree in sacred music, and for years has taught the history of Jewish music at Gratz College.
She is well known and highly regarded in her field, which includes her work with the prominent Jewish teen choir HaZamir.
Above all, she loves to work with nonprofessional singers, whether teens or adults. That’s because they “are amateurs, in the pure sense of the word,” she said. “Both groups love what they are doing — even the kids in HaZamir are eager to learn and perform at a high level. They are highly motivated.”
Lashir, at 31 the oldest independent Jewish community choir in New Jersey, will perform its annual spring concert Sunday afternoon, June 9, at the Jewish Center of Princeton.
This year’s concert will feature Shabbat and Passover music, as well as familiar melodies in new choral arrangements. It will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and include a tribute to Israeli music on the occasion of the country’s 65th birthday.
For the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising anniversary, Bryan Edelman has decided to eschew memorial “dirges and breast beating” in favor of music that celebrates “the vitality of the community by singing settings of traditional pieces and some new pieces written since the Holocaust.” In this way, she said, she hopes “to show that Yiddish music did not die but lives, and to encourage people to continue to write new Yiddish music.”
Holocaust survivors who take part in Cafe Europa — a social and support program for survivors sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County — have been invited to attend the concert.
“Choir music creates community,” said Bryan Edelman in a phone interview. “You can have any individual singing a song. But to have a choir requires a group of people who are different from one another. It’s a collaborative effort. Everyone makes a different contribution to the whole, and the end result is far greater than the contribution of any one member.”
She would like to see Lashir grow its numbers. Currently the ensemble has 22 members. “It’s a nice size, it’s comfortable,” she said, “but there is some repertoire we can’t do with just 22.”
She’s pleased that she’s been able to stretch the group — already “very good” when she took over — musically.
Lashir — which performs in Yiddish, Ladino, and Hebrew, but never English — “are singing at a higher, more nuanced musical level, singing longer musical lines and blending in a way they were not already doing,” said Bryan Edelman. “I like to think I have a level of sophistication in my approach to singing that pushes people.”
Asked to name her favorite pieces of Jewish choral music, she demurred. “That’s like asking me to choose one of my children!” But she did say, “I like the variety of material that is available to us now in the 21st century: art music from Israel and contemporary American composers. There’s richness in the music.”
Lashir performs at a variety of venues throughout the year and never charges for its concerts.