A highlight of Beit Emanuel is the choir, which enriches Friday night and festival services with beautiful four-part harmony. The choir is led by Israel-trained composer and music teacher Avi Kanar, who arranges the music, conducts the choir and accompanies them on piano.Avi was brought to Beit Emanuel two years ago, during a major overhaul of the synagogue’s services. He rebuilt the choir, hired talented new voices, experimented with new tunes and introduced piano accompaniment. The choir consists of five women (three sopranos and two altos) and three men (one tenor and two bass).The choir opens the Friday night service with a beautiful Ma Tovu composed by Louis Lewandowski, and closes most service with a variety of different versions of Adon Olam and Ein Keloheinu. Other moving prayers include songs by Naomi Shemer. The choir also sing key prayers throughout the service such as Shema Yisrael, the Amidah and Aleinu.
Avi’s piano accompaniment has added depth to the sound, especially the more upbeat tunes. The more traditional prayers are sung a capella (without accompaniment). The choir’s rendition of Adon Olam is sometimes so stirring that the congregation cannot help but applaud.
The choir members rehearse twice a month and set themselves a target of learning at least one new song per month. As the High Holy days approach, rehearsals are stepped up to weekly.
The two veteran soloists in the choir, Jessica Sherman (alto) and Naomi Jaff (soprano), have been singing at Beit Emanuel for decades. Naomi has been in the choir for more than 30 years. Jessica, the daughter of a rabbi, started singing in her father’s choir as a little girl.
Most of the choristers sing in other well-known choirs, some professionally. Jessica Sherman and Don Boroughs (tenor) sing together in the Chanticleer Singers (Don sings in many other choirs and also in operettas); Leigh Nudelman (soprano) and Marion Block (alto) sing in the Lewandowski Chorale, a male and female choir that sings traditional Jewish liturgy. Leigh and Jeff Davis (bass) taught singing to homeless people at sister congregation Temple Israel, as part of an outreach project in Hillbrow. Several choristers play musical instruments; Leigh and David Fine (bass) play the saxophone, and Jessica the guitar. Bronwen Hirshowitz (soprano), the newest member, is a producer on the Jewish radio station ChaiFM.
The Beit Emanuel choir can be hired to sing at special simchas such as bar/batmitzvahs or weddings. They have also conducted fund-raising concerts on behalf of Beit Emanuel, at which they have sung both Jewish and secular music from jazz to the Beatles. If you would like to hire the choir for a private function, contact Avi Kanar at 084-022-3820.