Commentary Magazine


Israel's Choir Festival

To the Editor:

As Executive Director of the Zimriah I am deeply disturbed by the misinformation contained in Mr. Chemjo Vinaver’s article, “Israelis Singing in Chorus” (February 1952), and the lack of objectivity which permeates it.

The purpose of the first assembly of Jewish choirs was primarily national and not musical. The singing served as a means of emphasizing the unity among all the Jews within and outside of Israel. . . . There was no “selection” of choirs, as Mr. Vinaver implies, and there was no competition or contest among the choirs. The World Executive Committee of the Hazamir invited, through the press, letters, and individual contact, all Jewish choirs everywhere that were ready to participate and able to pay their own fares. . . .

Of the reaction of the public Mr. Vinaver has this to say: “The much heralded festival became the butt of the jokesters, and for its duration an aroused vox populi made itself heard in Tel Aviv cafes and buses.” Comments supposedly overheard in cafes and buses may be one way of gauging public reaction to a music festival, but a critic with integrity would be more inclined to seek such insight in the concert hall itself. . . .

The facts speak for themselves. A total of 140,000 people attended the performances of the choirs in the following places: Jerusalem, Ramat-Gan, Rishon Lezion, Zichron-Yaakov, Haifa, Galilee, and Emek. There was not a single performance which did not attract an overflow audience, who literally cheered in appreciation. None of the planners of the festival envisioned that nearly forty thousand people would attend the Stadium concert or that two auditoriums in Jerusalem and three in Haifa having concerts on the same evening would all get overflow audiences. . . . In addition there were concerts in military camps, hospitals, factories, and kibbutzim. . . .

Not always does a choir, or a conductor, meet with such a reception, even in Israel where audiences are warm and responsive. Mr. Vinaver and I know of one conductor whose very well-publicized concert in Tel Aviv had to be cancelled on the night of the performance because 20 came to a concert hall seating 1200. . . .

Perhaps the repertoire of some of the groups and the quality of some of the singing did not measure up to the highest standards. All of the choirs were amateur groups, made up of people who, especially in a city like New York, travel long distances once a week at the end of the day’s work, in all kinds of weather, because they crave the musical outlet and the feeling of group unity which comes from singing together. With attendance purely on a voluntary basis and without remuneration, the balance of voices must needs be left partly to chance. . . . What they lacked in artistry was more than offset by the joy and devotion they brought to their singing. This is what Israel hoped for from such a festival. . . .

Through meetings, tours of the land, public and private receptions, and a special concert given for the visiting choirs by Israeli professional musicians, Israelis and guests were brought closer together in spirit and understanding and drew mutual inspiration therefrom.

These values are not musical in nature— perhaps not entirely, but these are the values, as Mr. Vinaver knows, which the Zimriah sought in inviting all Jewish choirs the world over. These are the values which matter most to Israel now. Were it otherwise we should have sought professional choirs—not amateur ones.

A. Propes
Executive Director of Hazamir
New York City

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