Dr. Cynthia Silber, a busy physician who currently serves as associate dean for Graduate Medical Education at Jefferson, was reflecting with a few like-minded friends back in 2002 on the fact that Philadelphia had no official Jewish chorale.
"By that time, I was singing with the Adath Jeshurun choir, but participating with other synagogue choirs in Philadelphia's 'Israel 50' event in 1998 was a kind of wake-up call," said Silber. "Why wasn't there a real Jewish chorale in the city, like New York and Boston had?"
Like most inspired ideas, this one still had to germinate and be processed. Silber took over the reins of getting something off the ground, and by the spring of 2003, an official board of directors was in place, although a choir was not.
"We knew we wanted a real organization, not a 'garage band,' so we took our time to make sure that Philadelphia would have a high-quality group that would reflect our people's wonderful musical heritage," she explained.
Good things come to those who wait. A small demonstration choir evolved, pursued their labor of love, and after several months of rehearsal, a demo tape was made. Nashirah, the Jewish Chorale of Greater Philadelphia, was on its way.
And Silber, whose training is in gynecology and obstetrics, was herself the proud "mother," though she insists that others deserve great credit for getting the group launched.
Good News … Good News
By the summer of 2004, Nashirah, which has as its mission to " … bring the joy of Jewish choral music to the community with the highest standards of musical performance," was invited to participate in the North American Jewish Choral Festival. It was the group's first major gig, and it was a triumph.
Silber, now officially president of Nashirah's board of directors, has more good news to report. The chorale also has a distinguished artistic director, Harold Evans, whose background includes serving as artistic director/conductor of the Sylvan Opera Festival, as well as conductorships with the Virginia Opera and the Des Moines Metro Opera.
Cantors David F. Tilman of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park and Eliot Vogel of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley also serve on Nashirah's board; its vice president is Martin Cohen, director of the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative.
The chorale now has a permanent home at the Gershman Y as choir-in-residence.
The Center City location was also the site of its first major concert last year, an event that brought 300 music lovers to the Gershman Y's auditorium, which will also be the site of this year's concert, to be held on Sunday, June 11.
The new concert's umbrella theme: "Songs of David and Solomon."
The concert will include works by Charles Davidson, formerly longtime cantor at Adath Jeshurun, and by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Prokofiev and even a piece called "Der Rebbe," in traditional Yiddish.
At present, the chorale consists of 23 members – and growing. Acceptance is by audition; the goal is to have about 40 members, according to Silber.
Nashirah also has deliberately broadened the traditional definition of Jewish choral music by extending beyond just sacred or secular music by Jewish composers to encompass music by non-Jewish composers whose work draws from Tanach texts or other Jewish sources.
The chorale also has opened its doors to non-Jewish singers who desire the Jewish chorale experience.
Said Silber: "You don't have to be Jewish to love and respect this music."
To learn more, call 1-888-901-6274 (www.nashirah.org).