Since 1990, NAJCF has offered a unique and joyful opportunity to connect to the power of Jewish choral music and form lasting friendships with fellow music lovers during a five-day Festival. This year’s participants came from 12 states and ranged in age from 15 to 87, featuring a variety of musical experiences from amateur singers to professionals, cantors and conductors.
Many of the attendees are also members or alumni of Zamir Choral Foundation’s musical programs including HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir; Zamir Noded for young adults 18-30; and the acclaimed Zamir Chorale, all under the direction of Matthew Lazar, a leading force in Jewish choral music. Singers at NAJCF have myriad opportunities to engage in their love of music. They are divided into different choirs based on their sight-reading abilities, where they are led by accomplished conductors and sing in “instant ensembles” and also join in daily “community sings” with the entire group. The Festival culminates with performances by the ensembles. According to Dana Stein of North Brunswick, New Jersey, who has been participating in the Festival since its inception, “The Festival presents a wonderful opportunity to learn extraordinary music and work with accomplished conductors from all over the world, all while having fun, meeting new people, and forming a community.”
NAJCF attendees are also treated to evening concerts by outstanding guest performers. This year’s roster featured Nashirah: The Jewish Chorale of Greater Philadelphia, PA conducted by Julia Zavadsky; Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus of NYC conducted by Binyumen Schechter; Makhelat Hamercaz: Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey conducted by Sheldon Levin and Anna West Ott; Shireinu Choir of Long Island conducted by Deborah Tartell; Hallel B’Shir, conducted by Edward Pleasant; Shirah: The Community Choir of the Kaplen JCC, conducted by Marsha Bryan Edelman; the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble, conducted by Sheldon Levin; and Zamir Chorale, Zamir Noded and the HaZamir 30th Anniversary Ensemble, all conducted by Matthew Lazar.
There are workshops and seminars throughout the five days on topics ranging from sight-singing and vocal technique to spirituality through music. Workshops at the 2023 NAJCF included The Songs of Leonard Cohen; Learn to Blow Shofar; The Evolution of the American Cantorate; Body Language and Facial Expression; The Jewishness of Leonard Bernstein; Lessons Learned From Debbie Friedman; and many more. NAJCF also provides Fellowships to select young conductors, many of whom are alumni of HaZamir: The International Teen Choir. At the Choral Festival the Fellows have an opportunity to work intensively with Maestro Lazar, building on sessions with him that they attend throughout the year. Several of the Conducting Fellows at NAJCF direct their own HaZamir chapters in different cities across the U.S. and Israel, and this year for the first time, three young conductors from the Zamir Choral Foundation’s Conducting Fellows program conducted a community sing for the full NAJCF community. “It is incredibly rewarding to see our past HaZamir teens grow to become conductors and take a leadership role at NAJCF,” says Lazar. “I am heartened to see the love of Jewish music carried on to the next generation through our programs and these extremely talented young adults.”
The Zamir Choral Foundation, created by Matthew Lazar, promotes choral music as a vehicle to inspire Jewish life, literacy, community, and connection to Israel. Matthew Lazar, Founder and Director of Zamir Choral Foundation, is considered the leading force of the Jewish choral movement in the US. He has worked with Maestros Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Daniel Barenboim and others.The Zamir Choral Foundation is guided by an expansive vision of vibrant Jewish identity across the generational, denominational and political continuums through the study and performance of Jewish music at the highest level of excellence.
For more information about Zamir Choral Foundation and its programs, visit www.zamirchoralfoundation.org.
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