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  • Josh Jacobson

Jewish Music and “Real” Music

Jewish choral music is a hybrid. Zamir’s repertoire is a product of acculturation, in the best sense of the word. Composers have taken Jewish texts—and in some cases Jewish melodies—and dressed them up in the musical language of “the West,” and then Zamir presents them in a performative concert format that is also a product of Western culture.


The Zamir Chorale of Boston has been acknowledged as “America’s foremost Jewish choral ensemble” by the American Record Guide. But is that enough? Is that like saying, “well, for a Jewish choir, they’re very good”?


And what about our repertoire? Do connoisseurs draw a distinction between Jewish music and “real” music?


A crucial element of the Zamir Chorale of Boston’s mission is to mainstream Jewish choral music, to present to the general public music than can stand on its own two feet, that happens to have Jewish roots. Another one of our goals is to present performances that are of a quality that is on a par with that of the best community choruses.


There are precedents. The 19thcentury Viennese cantor, Salomon Sulzer created a choir in his synagogue that was known to be “the only place where a stranger could find, artistically speaking, a source of enjoyment that was as solid as it was dignified.” And the very first Zamir Chorale, “Hazomir” of Lodz, Poland, one hundred years ago was known as one of the very best musical ensembles in the city. In addition to their Yiddish folksongs, Zionist anthems and synagogue motets, they performed the great works with the Lodz Symphony, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, and Verdi’s opera La Traviata.


Hopefully we are making an impact beyond our own ethnic bubble, presenting the best of Jewish culture, in its often surprising breadth and depth, to the community at large, debunking stereotypes and contributing our own brilliant colors to the rainbow.

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