The joys of music

Choir to celebrate 10 years with concert

By Keith Loria, Special Writer
   Jewish people from all walks of life will stand together side by side on June 23 and sing music that spans the spectrum of the Jewish experience.
   Makhelat Hamercaz, Central Jersey’s Jewish soul singers, will celebrate 10 years together and Israel’s 65th birthday on June 23, with “Israel @ 65: Spirit in Song,” a concert featuring music from Broadway, Opera, and Israel at the Marasco PAC, 1629 Perrineville Road, Monroe Township.
   The choir is led by co-directors Cantor Anna West Ott and Hazzan Sheldon Levin, and they have programmed a showcase of new and beloved pieces by American and Israeli composers, including a special arrangement of Shemer’s “Shirat Ha’asavim” by Highland Park-native Josh Ehrlich.
   ”We’ve assembled an exciting program that will help our audience connect with Israeli culture and celebrate its musical diversity,” Mr. Levin says. “Perhaps even more important than the great music are the wonderful people in the group and how well we work and sing together.”
   Two dozen residents from Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, and Somerset counties will take part in the concert.
   ”In Mercaz, I have found not just one, but a group of kindred spirits,” says soprano and biology professor Margo Wolfson from Manalapan. “I love our directors who understand and help bring out the heart and soul of the songs. I love the repertoire we get to sing and learn.”
   Husband and wife guest soloists Cantors David Perper and Faith Steinsnyder will sing with the choir. He has performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and Israel as tenor in productions of “Turandot,” “Don Giovanni” and “Die Fledermaus;” she is on the prestigious faculty of Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
   When Ms. West Ott and Mr. Levin formed Makhelat Hamercaz in 2003, their goals were to create a venue to help bring together the entire Jewish community to develop a large, high-quality choir that could perform a wide variety of Jewish music and to bring interesting programs to many audiences by entertaining and educating the choir members and community.
   ”Making music, particularly Jewish music, has always been important to me,” says Cindy Lichtbroun, Mercaz’s first board president, who still sings alto in the choir. “In the diverse society we live in, it is important to remember our own roots with pride.”
   Dave Schlossberg is an original member of the choir and is excited about the 10th anniversary celebration and the chance to see the music bring happiness to others.
   ”This choir is special because it understands the importance of making Jewish music accessible to a wide audience,” he says. “The choir is constantly looking for opportunities to share the joy of Jewish choral music. More than any other choir I have accompanied, this group embodies the kindness and generosity of spirit that makes me proud to be Jewish.”
   Jerry Langer has been with the choir for eight years, despite never having sung in a group before.
   ”I saw a flyer for Makhelat Hamercaz and noticed that Cantor Anna West Ott was one of the directors,” he says. “Since we had been friends in our early teen years, this gave me some confidence to try something new in my mid-50s.”
   The choir has two directors with very distinct personalities, styles of conducting and tastes, and the two form a wonderful complementary leadership for the group.
   ”They have brought together a stable, community, non-audition choir, with a range of talent and experience, but a common commitment to sing and perform Jewish music in its varied forms for all kinds of audiences,” Mr. Langer says. “Our members are from diverse parts of the Jewish religious spectrum, but we share a love of our continuing and rich Jewish musical heritage.”
   Retired Rutgers administrator and past choir president Beverly Kaplan from Highland Park, says being a part of the choir since its inception has been a rewarding experience.
   ”I have thoroughly enjoyed this lovely group of people, from a wide spectrum of Judaism, who share the same interest in learning and performing a diversity of Jewish music,” she says.
   For the upcoming concert, Mr. Langer says he is looking forward to the privilege of singing with guest artists, and also bringing wonderful music to the audience.
   ”Music which is inspiring and spiritual; music which is fun; music which draws deeply from the traditions, hopes and prayers of our people,” he says. “This will simply be a marvelous, enjoyable and enriching concert. I also hope others will be encouraged to join us next year.”
   In 2011, the choir commissioned its first original work “L’Chu N’ran’nah” by the American composer Steve Cohen. Over the years, the group has been invited to sing at many of the area’s churches, synagogues, libraries, museums, senior communities, hospitals, festivals, and performance spaces.
Makhelat Hamercaz Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey will perform “Israel @ 65: Spirit in Song,” at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 23 at the Richard P. Marasco Performing Arts Center, 1629 Perrineville Road, in Monroe Township. Tickets cost $25 and may be purchased in advance or at the door. For more: 732-322-1252 or visit www.MercazChoir.org