“La ba bwe kulio ku lungi bwe kusan yusa. Aba Luganda okutula…” we sang as we entered the stage of the largest concert venue in which Mak’hela, the Jewish Chorus of Western Massachusetts has ever sung.
The lyric: the translation of “Hine ma tov u-manayim, shevet amim gam yachad” into Luganda, the language of the Abayudaya Jewish Community of Uganda. The venue: The World Assembly of Choirs in Jerusalem in August.
The gathering, better known as Zimriya, was designed after WWII to foster good will and communication through music. Zimriya, gathers choirs and individual singers from around the world every three years and actively combines groups from diverse nations into larger choirs. They perform both as their “home” choir and as part of a larger choir, composed of several international choirs and individual singers, each choir with a world-class director and a specific theme.
“Part of our reason for attending Zimriya was to learn Jewish music from around the world, and contemporary Israeli and Jewish music to bring home to our audiences,” said Mak’hela President Marc Cohen.
The ‘Israeli and Jewish Music’ choir was directed by internationally known Israeli composer/conductor Aharon Harlap.
Mak’hela, and every choir in attendance, sang a shorter ‘choir-to -choir’ program, and a full-length concert at a venue in the community.
“I was proud of Mak’hela,” said Mak’hela Music Director, Kayla Werlin. “Our choir-to-choir performance was, by far, the biggest audience for which Mak’hela has ever performed, and we weren’t intimidated! We sang from the heart.”
Our full-length concert, at a community venue, a large senior citizens residence, held logistical and sound-quality challenges, but was well-appreciated, judging by the tapping feet and hands, and folks singing along.
The groups performing the choir-to-choir concerts were sometimes studies in extremes: youth “JCC” choirs to semi-professional groups incorporating dance in their repertoires, and a wonderful African-American Gospel choir.
Mak’hela is a young choir, only seven years old, yet Werlin said, “I felt Mak’hela had established herself organizationally and musically enough to consider such an endeavor” as the Zimriyah.
Asked if being in Israel made a difference in any part of our performance, in the ‘feel’ of any of the music, Werlin said, “Most definitely. It’s hard to put into words, but singing our Israeli pieces, and the liturgical pieces that mention Jerusalem, had a very special feeling.”
For many in Mak’hela, it was a first visit to Eretz Israel. Some arrived before Zimriya, some stayed after, and Zimriya’s schedule included some touring. “It was exciting to be there as a musician and to connect with Israelis and others through our music. Oh, and the falafel!” said Kayla.
When we returned, at the first rehearsal of the new season, our greetings seemed warmer, the hugs a little stronger, for we had indeed shared something very special. Hine Ma Tov.
Susan Williams is a member of Mak’hela.
Mak’hela: The Jewish Chorus of Western Massachusetts will perform on Jan. 28 at Friday night services at Congregation B’nai Israel, 253 Prospect Street, Northampton, at 6 p.m.