Common Chords Between Shul And Composer
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Common Chords Between Shul And Composer

Choral work’s performance highlights unique bond at Westchester Reform Temple.

Merri Rosenberg is the Westchester correspondent for The Jewish Week.

When Westchester Reform Temple’s Adult Choir performs “The Hallel Psalms” by the late Bonia Shur at a concert on Sunday, Oct. 30 as part of an all-Shur program, it will represent more than another cultural offering for temple members and other local Jews.

“This is an effort of mine to mount a large musical work and share it with the larger community,” said cantor Jill Abramson of Westchester Reform Temple, who has been working on this project for the past year.

The project is also a distinctive labor of love, reflecting the strong personal connection between temple leaders of and Shur. He had been the director of liturgical arts at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, and was also a well-known composer of musical pieces in the Reform movement’s repertoire. The congregation’s late cantor, Stephen H. Merkel, who had been a colleague of Shur, had commissioned him to produce works specifically for the temple. And Senior Rabbi Jonathan E. Blake, a baritone soloist with the Adult Choir, had sung with the Hebrew Union choir under Shur’s direction.

The congregation will also welcome Shur’s widow, Fanchon Shur, to attend the concert. As his collaborator, she had choreographed the piece and also performed a prelude.

“This is emblematic of our relationship with Bonia and Fanchon,” said Abramson. Fanchon Shur “will spend time conveying his vision to the choir. It makes it very alive and collaborative.”

The ambitious piece is rarely performed. “The Hallel Psalms” sets Psalms 113-118 for vocal soloists and chorus, as well as a variety of musical instruments including guitar, strings and marimba. The piece also features spoken narration and congregational davening.

“Bonia paid attention to the Hebrew in how he set the text to music,” said Abramson. “There’s careful rehearsal of the text.”

The 20-person congregational choir will be conducted by Jonathan Faiman and will feature solos by Rabbi Blake and Harriet Rachlin, who is a professional soprano.

The performance of the piece at this time of year is also meaningful, said Abramson.

“We say texts of rejoicing, which is appropriate for the end of Sukkot,” she said.

The Oct. 30 concert takes place at 4 p.m. at 55 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale. A contribution of $15 per person is suggested. For more information, contact the temple at office@wrtemple.org or (914) 723-7727. The program is supported by the Cantor Stephen H. Merkel Fund for Jewish Music and Yiddish Culture.

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