“Music and song are central to my life.” The writer is in the front row, third singer from the right. Courtesy of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir
When the school year begins I am filled with excitement — no, not for the homework that awaits me, but for the start of the 24th season of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir. The beginnning of the new season means another year of great friendships, amazing memories, and, of course, an incredible, professional music experience and Jewish education. During the summer I miss music and HaZamir and cannot wait to be reunited with the faces and voices that have made the choir feel like my home since eighth grade.
Music and song are central to my life. Since I was a toddler, attending mommy-and-me music classes, I have loved to sing. I always have a song playing in my head. I have studied voice, learned many different styles of music from opera to Broadway to jazz, and feel so blessed to have a medium through which I can express myself.
I love singing in a choir even more than singing as a soloist; there is no feeling in the world like choral singing. Being surrounded by so many voices all singing a different part to combine into one masterpiece of harmonies is an indescribably powerful experience. Choral music has changed my life and who I am. My music has brought me to an amazing Jewish community, where I am blessed to be surrounded by more than 400 other teenagers who love music and Judaism as much as I do. (Photo: Annie Cannon, a proud member of HaZamir. Courtesy of Beth Cannon)
In Psalm 96 it says, “Sing to God a new song, sing to God the whole earth. Sing to God, blessing his name, announcing from day to day his saving.” What does it mean to sing a new song to God? This prayer is a call to us. We are being given a mission: to constantly compose a new song to God. What exactly is a “song to God?” Is it a prayer? Is it a religious piece of music?
I think that perhaps the song that Psalm 96 is referring to is not a literal song, but rather a metaphor for Jewish history. Like any musical composition, Jewish history has crescendos, decrescendos, sudden rests, and crescendos of revival. Like a musical piece, Judaism has had many ups and downs; it has survived many attempts to be muted and has always come back at full volume. If this song is Jewish history — the story of our people — then singing a new song allows us to continue composing Jewish history. This Psalm is a call for us to join our Jewish communities, care about the welfare of all Jews, and continue to make Judaism a vibrant religion.
Another special note about HaZamir is the strong connections I form with my peers in Israel. Every spring before our annual gala in Carnegie Hall, hundreds of HaZamirniks come together in upstate New York for a weekend filled with intense rehearsals. This weekend is the only time that all of the HaZamir chapters from across the United States and Israel are together. One of the highlights for the American singers is meeting the Israeli ones. While they live thousands of miles away from us, our shared love of music and our shared experiences in HaZamir unite us.
Through HaZamir I have strengthened my connection to IDF soldiers who protect Israel. One of the most emotional moments is when we sing our closing song, the prayer for peace in the State of Israel. The song is near and dear to every HaZamirnik’s heart, and one that brings tears to my eyes every time I sing it. During our weekend rehearsals, our maestro brings all of the 12th graders from Israel to the front of the room and reminds us that we are not singing to distant figures, but to our friends, who will be enlisting in the IDF in the coming year to ensure that we have the peaceful Israel that we pray for in our song.
HaZamir keeps my Judaism vibrant by giving me opportunities to sing world premieres of Jewish music. While the texts are often ancient and taken from Jewish liturgy, the music is brand new. By allowing us to “Sing a new song to God” we are literally fulfilling the call of Psalm 96, by adding a new verse to the resounding song of Jewish history.
In our spring gala we sang the world premiere of a composition of Psalm 96. Not only was this extremely symbolic because it was literally a “new song to God,” but also because it was composed by one of my peers, Samuel Dylan Rosner, a recent high school graduate from Westchester. Now it’s my generation’s turn to add verses to the new song, and to not just sing verses that have already been written for us. I cannot think of a better way to bring to life the values of Psalm 96.
I am lucky that music found me. Music has strengthened my Jewish identity and has given me a passion in life. I know that wherever my future takes me, I will always carry my tunes and my love of music.