Developing Musically, Spiritually, and Jewishly All at One Time: Jewish Choral Activity as Adult Jewish Education

Published: 
Sep. 27, 2011

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 77, Issue 3, pages 168–195

 

Research about Jewish choral singers provides insight to a previously unstudied population of adult Jewish learners. Drawing on over 2,000 responses to the First-Ever Survey of Jewish Choral Activity, this article describes how Jewish choral experiences enable adults to deepen their involvement in Jewish life and learning. Survey results suggest that participants in Jewish choral groups resemble secular singers in terms of social, identity, and skill development, but derive additional benefits in terms of Jewish Peoplehood, Jewish Competence, Spirituality, and Jewish Community. Jewish choral activities particularly benefit singers under 45 by providing them opportunities to integrate their Jewish and musical lives.

 Research about Jewish choral singers and their conductors provides insight to a dynamic yet previously unstudied population of adult Jewish learners: participants in synagogue choirs, community choruses, local and national choral festivals, and other musical ensembles that attract diverse members of the Jewish community. Historical analyses of Jewish music typically have profiled the composers of Jewish choral music and the repertoires they have created over the past 500 years (Edelman, 2003; Gradenwitz, 1996; Idelsohn, 1929; Rubin & Baron, 2006), but scant attention has been paid to the singers who, generation after generation, persistently join Jewish vocal music groups, attend rehearsals, prepare for performances, collaborate in service to their communities, and create a legacy and collective memory through the Jewish choral experience. To date, Jewish choral programs have not been widely studied as a venue for Jewish adult education or analyzed in terms of their benefits to the individuals who join them.

To address the lacunae in the literature, this article probes ways in which Jewish choral activity engages Jewish adults and enables them to deepen their involvement in Jewish life and learning. Informed by a general literature about choirs as organizational structures that enculturate members through teaching them “the accepted norms and values of the practice of choral singing in order that the individual may fulfill their roles competently within the group” (Garnett, 2009, p. 58), the present discussion builds on Joseph Reimer's (2007) thesis that transformative Jewish educational practices not only help the learner to acquire “the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that enable one to be an active member of the Jewish community,” but also stimulate the learner to “go deeper” and, optimally, to discover new meaning in or connection to Judaism and Jewish life (pp. 18–19).

Updated: Sep. 27, 2011
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There is much evidence to support the connection of choral singing with Jewish identity and community involvement. Chorus America recently undertook a significant study of choral singers and determined, among other things, that choral singers are more likely to volunteer, more likley to be charitable, more likley to be team players and social. Overlay upon this the Jewish content and clearly there are the makings of cornerstones for Jewish community and continuity. It is for these reasons that the Union for Reform Judaism is mounting NFTY Shir Chadash, a summer teen tour of Europe and Israel where the teens will perform in vocal ensemble as they travel in the footsteps of their ancestors. We are confident that this formative experience will strengthen their Jewish identity and commitment. Cantor Alane S. Katzew

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