Nobody has to tell Vivian Lazar how iconic Carnegie Hall is. After all, no one tells a joke that asks, “How do you get to [fill in your favorite concert venue here]?”
But for Lazar, the director of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, her group’s March 30 debut at Carnegie marks two special milestones, beyond the sheer thrill of making it to one of the world’s most famous concert spaces.
“It means we have succeeded in educating our conductors well enough to understand how they have to teach in the 24 HaZamir chapters [in America and Israel], not just in terms of musical notes but also educational notes as well,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “We want the singers to understand the texts they are singing, and we’ve succeeded at that.”
Second, she said, “We’ve reached a level over the past three years or so where our teens are secure enough singing good Jewish music that we know we can compete with any secular choir out there.”
HaZamir, which is a project of the Zamir Choral Foundation, is now 21 years old, and the chorale’s Sunday, March 30 recital at 3 p.m. at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and Seventh Avenue), is an impressive way to announce their “majority.”
“We’ll have 300 teens on stage who love singing good music,” Lazar said. “It’s American classical music like Leonard Bernstein, Israeli classical like Yehezkel Braun and music based in real folk idioms, too. We choose the music specifically to give them a range of repertoire. Not very singer in HaZamir is brilliant — that’s why they’re choral singers — but there are singers here who are in Juilliard, in the Manhattan School of Music and in summer programs in Tanglewood, real individual talents who have chosen to sing in this mega-choir.”
The mission of HaZamir, since its inception, has been to use Jewish choral music as a way to link younger Jews to their heritage while also boosting the quality of the music available for such groups to perform. But in recent years, with the defunding of arts programs in the public schools rampant across the United States, Lazar acknowledges that the organization’s scope inevitably has expanded.
“I’m also a teacher, a dance teacher for 15 years and an English teacher,” she explained. “The dedication and hard work that I exacted in my dance classes was exactly the same in my English classes. Students become curious and they extrapolate from one discipline to the next.”
Which means that getting to Carnegie Hall isn’t only a matter of “practice, practice, practice,” but also of instilling the self-discipline to do so. And that self-discipline, Lazar suggested, becomes the foundation for achievement beyond a famous street corner in Midtown Manhattan.