Jewish Choral Festival Music Lovers Paradise: 25th Annual National

 by Arlene Stolnitz

It’s the time of year when I eagerly await word from NAJCF with details about the choral festival that takes place every summer in the mountains of upstate New York. This year’s event will take place from July 16-20 at the Hudson Valley Resort in Kerhonkson, N.Y.

I have gone for many years, never to be disappointed at the realm of Jewish musical knowledge presented each year by professional musicians.

What is NAJCF, you ask?  It’s the National Jewish Choral Festival, held each summer since 1990, bringing together singers and choirs from this country and abroad in a week of classes, concerts and workshops led by a talented teaching staff of composers, conductors and music professionals.

The atmosphere is one not only of learning but of fun and camaraderie. With a “camp-like” feeling, daily community sings as well as late night gatherings of community sing-a-longs round out the intensive daily music workshops and classes offered.

So what is unique about singers who participate in Jewish choral activity?

Several years ago back in May of 2010, Zamir, which is the umbrella music organization headed by  Matthew Lazar of New York City, conducted a survey asking that very question.

The answers were quite interesting and are worth looking at again years later.

The goals of the survey included the following: Why do singers participate in Jewish choral activity, what is the Jewish identity of the singers and where are they from, what kinds of choral activities take place in synagogues and communities, what are the names and where are existing Jewish choral groups located?

The results of nearly 2000 respondents were quite interesting!

Turns out that 39% of the singers live in the Northeast with only 10% coming from the South and Texas. The remaining singers come from central Midwest, western and mid-Atlantic states.  For all age groups there were more women than men participating. They are a highly educated group with 89% having at least a BA and many more having extensive additional educational backgrounds.

As a group, Jewish choral singers are in the mainstream of American Jewish activity. They tend to be community-focused, affiliated and connected, spiritual, service oriented, synagogue-based, and educated professionally. 

The most interesting aspect is to look at the reasons why singers like to participate in Jewish choral groups.  The answers, varied as they are, give us great insight into the power of music and especially the impact it has on Jewish singers.

Here are some of the answers given:

It helps me learn about the rich and varied Jewish musical tradition
It helps me increase my Jewish knowledge
It helps me find personal meaning in the Jewish text being sung
It helps me understand how the words and music relate to each other
It enables me to understand Israel in new ways
It makes me feel connected to k’al Israel
It enables me to help transmit Jewish music from generation to generation
It makes me feel closer to the memory of the Jewish people
It provides me with a community of Jews who share my love of music
It is something I contribute to my Jewish community
It helps me connect emotionally with my Judaism
It gives me a spiritual experience in a Jewish context
It makes me feel more centered or complete

Most importantly, analysis of the survey data showed one statement that stood out from all others, reported by all singers but especially by those singers under age 45.

“It enables me to integrate my Jewish life with my musical life.”

These reasons give credibility to the joy that Jewish choral singers experience. But many years have passed. Is it time now for a new survey?  It would be interesting to observe any changes that may have occurred in the years since the  last survey.

 Meantime, I hope those who attend the Choral Festival this year have a wonderful time and return with lots of new music and ideas for their groups.

Anyone interested in attending, contact NAJCF@ZamirChoralFoundation.org or write to me at arlenestolnitz@gmail.com.