Metrotainment: Gathering the troupes

The country’s many English choirs welcome anyone who can carry a tune

Koleynu choir 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Koleynu choir 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Jewish choral singing goes back to the time of King David, who instructed the Levites to accompany religious services with song and musical instruments. King Solomon, carrying on his father’s custom, established a music academy in the Temple, where Levites studied for five years before formally joining the choir. A choir of young boys sang with the men, adding ethereal trebles to “sweeten” the impact of deeper adult voices.
In modern Israel, popular singalong groups called havurot zemer and choirs of all descriptions abound.
“There’s something about singing that brings joy and helps you forget your troubles,” says Patrick Kelly, conductor of Koleynu, a mixed a-cappella choir in Ra’anana. Kelly has over 30 years’ experience as a choir conductor and choral coach in the US, Europe and now Israel.
Kelly adds, “You can have a really rotten day, then go to rehearsal. By the end of the evening, you’re on a high! It must be the endorphins.”
And to prove it, there are an estimated 800 amateur and professional choirs in this small country. They range from informal groups to choirs dedicated to the classics. There are women-only groups, and groups where all the singers are men. Some choirs focus on religiously oriented music, and others have a contemporary secular style.
A-cappella groups, either single sex or mixed, sing without instrumental accompaniment. Others may have a piano or more instruments backing them up. Some groups meet at the same venue every week; others meet in members’ houses. The majority of Israeli choirs naturally sing in Hebrew.
Israel also hosts the Zimriya, an annual international choir festival.
This six-day-long event includes workshops led by internationally known conductors, as well as public concerts and “choir to choir” performances (where choirs sing for each other).
There are also open-stage performances of choirs, singing groups and ensembles. The Zimriya this year promises to be fabulous, located in historical Acre’s Crusaders Knights’ Halls and open areas in town.
( Local singing groups may find sponsorship through their municipalities and the larger community centers. A group may be given a venue for rehearsals, or even support for visits abroad to international festivals.
Where there’s room on the agenda for a musical performance, such as on Independence Day, a municipality might fund a pianist and conductor for a choir, providing clothes in a signature style and transportation to the event as well.
Israel’s singers and conductors can choose among several organizations dedicated to professional development. Mila, the Israeli Center for Choirs and Havurot Zemer, and Hallel, the Israel Choral Association, are non-profit organizations run by volunteers.
They hold seminars and workshops for professionals of all musical genres. Both have websites; Mila entirely in Hebrew ( and Hallel, with pages in English ( Both websites have a page with a list of member choirs and where they are located.
Sing Israel, a business dedicated to coaching choirs, provides professional support on a paid basis. It was founded by Alex Eshed, who has conducted choirs in Israel since the mid-1980s and who sang in choirs under the direction of musical greats like Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. With co-founder Kelly, Sing Israel has coached 250 choirs all over Israel.
( WHAT’S ON offer for people who prefer to sing in English? The good news is that there are a number of English choirs in Israel. An online list gives their names, locations, and whether there are openings for new members. ( Eshed tells Metro that most of today’s established English singing groups evolved out of quartets. For many years, the members of the Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble were the only ones singing in English. Originally a quartet, the group now has seven members.
According to its website, “Its members depend upon on their harmony, humor, and outside employment for survival.”
And so it is for all English choral singing. It’s an evening or weekend activity, even with those who cherish a passion for it.
Groups that grew out of the Anglo liking for barbershop music include a women’s choir called Barberina, singing contemporary music, and the Twelve Tones Singers, an all-male group located in Ramat Hasharon. Both sing under Eshed’s direction.
The goal of the weekly rehearsals is, of course, performances.
“We perform wherever we’re invited,” says Eshed. “We’ve been at the Ein Hod and Abu Ghosh festivals, choral gatherings where choirs sing for each other, cultural events of all kinds.”
“Our eventual goal,” he adds, “is to win gold medals at international competitions.
In the meantime, we aim for the highest professional level under the existing circumstances.”
Pure barbershop continues alive and well, and celebrated with Chutzpah!, an a-cappella male quartet who sing jazz, barbershop and popular songs, some of their own composition. As other small musical groups do, Chutzpah! performs not only onstage, but at people’s homes on gala occasions.
Families sometimes share the singing bug. Martin Rogovik, longtime member of the Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble and the Chutzpah! quartet, takes his little ones to rehearsals. “Then I hear them singing barbershop in their baths,” he says with a chuckle. And the Yakinton Octet, singing smooth, tight jazz and swing harmonies, has a father and daughter in the group. (You can find the Yakinton Octet on Facebook.) WHAT CAN ordinary people expect when they join a choir? There’s the satisfaction of singing, primarily. Rehearsals require a commitment of time and can feel like work, but pleasurably so. People also join to meet other people and make friends.
There’s little time between the initial warm-up vocal exercises and plunging into the week’s musical material, but friendships do form. Singers, like winemakers, tend to be gregarious and social. (Singers also tend to like wine.) Members can feel like extended family after a while.
The Koleynu choir in Ra’anana has a unique social activity, the “fifth-night” parties, where members gather in a café or public place to sing and socialize every month that has five Thursdays.
“My goal is to give a fun singing experience for English singers,” says Kelly. “There hasn’t been that kind of outlet in the Sharon area.”
Koleynu sings a mix of contemporary, folk, jazz and oldies-but-goodies.
You can find it on Facebook.
When asked why people want to sing, Eshed paused for a moment.
“It’s an inborn drive,” he said. “It’s rather basic. Primitive cultures have always had song and dance. As societies and civilization developed, these expressions became stylized, creating outstanding talents.”
And must a person wishing to join a choir read music? Not necessarily, but it helps. It depends on how fast the singer wants to progress. Some choirs are happy amateurs performing in small local venues, and with those, music-reading ability is less crucial, or not at all so. Their conductor might provide recordings of each section’s music, available online for members to practice at their leisure. Other choirs demand sight-reading.
“Reading music does give the singer some insight into how the other components blend in with what he or she is doing,” says Eshed. “And that’s another source of delight.”
But most of the English choirs welcome anyone who can carry a tune.
There’s always room for more singers, and men are especially in demand. The choices are open for Anglos eager to sing in Israel.