Dr. Elayne Robinson Grossman, artistic director of Sharim v’Sharot, knows that performing to audiences is more than just fun.
It is “an honor and duty to perform the music of the Jewish people,” said the Lawrenceville resident, a music teacher for more than 30 years. “We are a window into Jewish culture. Every part of being Jewish…is expressed through our music because it is about a holiday or Israel or the experience of being Jewish in America.”
The popular New Jersey-based choral group will celebrate its first decade with A Sephardic Celebration, its 10th anniversary event, on Sunday, May 16, at 3 p.m. in the Bart Luedeke Student Center on Rider University’s Lawrenceville campus.
Grossman — director of the instrumental music program at the Abrams Hebrew Academy, Yardley, Pa. — said Sharim v’Sharot performs a “wide range of Jewish music: concert, music, folk music, liturgical music, Holocaust commemorations. We can cover the whole gamut of music and have a very full year of presenting music of our people to Jews and gentiles alike.
“You name the topic, and we explore it,” she said.
In 2006, the group received a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, in conjunction with the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which was used to present a program at Princeton University on how American democracy inspires Jewish music and poetry. “We can cast a very wide net and explore the experience of being Jewish in America, the experience of being a Zionist, of any part of Jewish history.”
Grossman is proud of that educational component. “We sing to adults in our community, but we also go into synagogues and work with their youngsters in their Hebrew schools,” she said. To engage that younger generation, Sharim v’Sharot sponsors an annual Young People’s Jewish Song-Writing Contest (see sidebar).
Grossman linked the group’s 10-year mark with the centennial celebration of La Amerika, a Sephardic publication written in Ladino. It gives the singers and audience a chance “to talk about this culture and sing these wonderful songs which I have known for a long, long time.” Grossman is especially enamored of that genre. She served as editor and transcriber of The Flory Jagoda Songbook, a collection of Sephardic songs from Yugoslavia, and is working on a follow-up edition with Jagoda.
Grossman is married to Rabbi Daniel Grossman, religious leader of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, who works with the Jewish deaf community. Together, they have performed Siman Tov, a presentation in Jewish music, culture, prayer, mime, and sign language for hearing and hearing-impaired audiences.
The veteran musician appreciates being able to work with such a talented group of singers.
“The best part of working with an auditioned choir is the ability to sculpt an arrangement into the highest quality possible,” she said. “By refining tone, pitch, rhythm, phrasing, and diction, we are able to present our music in a highly effective manner.
“I am blessed to have music teachers and professionals in the choir as well as singers who have majored or minored in music or have taken lessons during their college days or working careers. This is very rewarding for us and we often say ‘thank you’ to one another after a rehearsal or a performance.”