Chai-light Chorus, the newly renamed group of senior vocalists, will perform concerts at Beth El Synagogue and Knollwood Place on June 27 and 28
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
In 2001, the Sabes JCC’s then-Executive Director Jeff Schachtman approached musician Mark Bloom to produce a senior musical program showcasing talent from the local community. The result, the Sabes JCC Musical Minyan, delighted audiences for 11 years and performed a variety of programs featuring music by Jewish composers.
“We wanted to keep the content something that Jewish audiences would appreciate,” Bloom told the AJW. “As time went on, it evolved into a situation where we ended up doing a lot of the major works of some of the American-Jewish Tin Pan Alley composers. And that’s what we’ve been doing now.”
The group of senior vocalists has now rebranded itself as the Chai-light Chorus, an independent ensemble. The chorus will perform “The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” a concert featuring the music of Harold Arlen, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 at Beth El Synagogue. The concert will also be performed on June 28 at Knollwood Place. (Editor’s note: The matinee performance was incorrectly listed as 12:30 p.m. in the June 8 print edition.)
“He was the son of a cantor,” Bloom said of Arlen. “And he was pretty prolific… When people think of what’s the first name in the great American musical theater, they think of Rodgers and Hammerstein, they think of Stephen Sondheim, they think of Irving Berlin, and they don’t think so much of Harold Arlen.”
Charlotte Berke and Mark Bloom rehearse a number for “The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” an upcoming concert by the Chai-light Chorus that will feature the music of Harold Arlen. (Photo: Courtesy of Mark Bloom)
The Chai-light Chorus features 34 members who range in age from 60s to 90s: Marge Agranoff, Al Apple, Charlotte Berke, Arline Bloom, Deedee Bolter, Harvey Blumenberg, Myra Chazin, Roberta Chargo, Lil Fallek, Stuart Fogel, Zelia Goldberg, Leonard Goldman, Phyllis Harris, Jack Held, Earl Hill, Jeri Hill, Mercer Hill, Susan Kaufman, Marvin Kass, Shiley Mae Lane, Barb Lebowitz, Peter Marcus, Sheldon Masnek, Stan Maisel, Ardene Meshbesher, Sara Sudit-Press, Audrey Resig, Arnie Ribnick, Judie Shaich, Zelmar Shrell, Maraline Slovut, Helen Swatez, Linda Kaner Ward and Millie Weinberg.
Some members have musical backgrounds, some have always wanted to sing and others are only now finding out that they have musical abilities. No auditions are required and Bloom arranges the music around each member’s strengths.
“I truly value this, and the important thing to me is that everyone in the group have the best chance of success,” Bloom said. “I am the mentor to these people, I am not their judge or executioner… Their performance is what’s important and how they feel about it. I think it’s the core of what makes a performer feel good about themselves is to challenge themselves in a certain way, and you have to revise what those challenges are for this group of people.”
The group meets once a week on Wednesday mornings at Knollwood Place, and as the concerts get closer, Bloom meets more often with soloists and small groups. In addition to rehearsing, Bloom also offers information about the music and composers, and encourages discussion.
Most members enjoy the social aspect that the group provides.
“I look forward to it, it’s really one of the highlights of my week,” said Berke, who has been a member for more than seven years. “When we rehearse in front of each other when it gets close to the show, people are so supportive of each other. Whether you’re doing a good job or a bad job, you feel like you’ve done a fabulous job because they’re all there for you.”
Kaufman was very interested in joining the group after attending a performance and thought it looked like a “great deal of fun.” Her sister-in-law encouraged her to give it a try, but, she said, “I don’t sing.”
“I ended up singing with them and doing solos,” Kaufman said. “Performing with them is a kick because not only do we rise to the occasion, but the audiences find it just the most heartwarming thing. Everyone afterwards comments on just how delightful it was.”
Fallek, who recently turned 80, has a background in choral singing and once sang onstage with Guy Lombardo at the Taft Hotel in New York City. She said she was ready for a more “loosely constructed” group and, after watching the movie Young at Heart, she decided to join Bloom’s chorus.
“Music has been a very large part of my life and it brings me a great deal of joy and I’m very happy to be able to partake at my age. The fact that I can still carry a tune feels very rewarding,” she said. “I’ve always felt that music is a healer, it’s good for the soul… It’s almost like music therapy to me, because some of the music is from the past and tunes that I became familiar with when I was a teenager, when I first began to sing seriously.”
Agranoff sees her participation in the Chai-light Chorus as doing something special for herself.
“It’s a good place to spread your wings and fly again,” she said. “You have to grab that time because nobody gives it to you… I think it’s just a fabulous group, it’s the nicest thing I’ve done for myself in many, many years.”
And Agranoff said she can always tell when the audience is enjoying itself.
“I always watch people’s feet and I watch people smiling, and that’s when I know they’re having a good time,” she said. “This [upcoming concert] is very happy and the music is happy. I don’t care how you go into anything with music, but I defy you to come out without a smile on your face.”
The Chai-light Chorus will perform “The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” a concert featuring the music of Harold Arlen, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 at Beth El Synagogue, 5224 W. 26th St., St. Louis Park. The concert will also be performed 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28 at Knollwood Place, 3630 Phillips Pkwy., St. Louis Park. Admission is $5.
For information, contact Mark Bloom at 612-270-1705 or 763-553-2679, or: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(American Jewish World, 6.8.12)