Three years ago, I auditioned and was welcomed to sing alongside the incredibly talented Jewish Pittsburgh women who make up the acappella group Kol Shira (the voice of all song). The group has been around for over a decade and our members represent Reform, Lubavitch, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and secular Judaism.
We do our best to obey laws of tznius (modesty) when performing and do not schedule gigs on Shabbat. Our performances are open to women and girls only to honor the Orthodox members of our group who uphold the halakhic prohibition of kol isha, where Jewish men are not permitted to hear women sing.
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Once a week, we sit together around a table, with children running around and babies bouncing between us, to make music. We arrange our own songs by working collaboratively listening and adding always working to embrace each others’ talents and vocal range. Progress can be slow when seven strongly opinionated Jewish women are involved, but the results are very satisfying and it is magical when it all comes together.
Working on music for a recording is a very different process than for a concert or performance. Every detail—each harmony, breath, and articulation matters, and it raises the level of our musicality and blend. Our strengths and weaknesses both individually and as a group were definitely exposed as we worked through this process and we didn’t stop until we got it right.
As for choosing to make a Hanukkah EP, we have always loved our collection of Hanukkah music; it is varied and interesting. Our very first concert was at Hanukkah time and the music has evolved since then. The local community has been very supportive, and had often asked for a CD, so we made it our project this past year to give the people what they want. The result is a combination of unique melodies and new takes on more popular songs. Although it is not specifically a “children’s CD” we hope that families will be able to enjoy it together.
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First and foremost, we chose music we like and that speaks to us as Jewish women. As a group, we consider our diversity to be one of our greatest assets, and the songs on this album are definitely representative of that. In only six songs we sing in four different languages: Hebrew, English, Yiddish, and Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish). It was really exciting to work on a group of songs that we feel shows off our versatility and also represents the diversity of the Jewish experience. We took traditional songs like “Maoz Tzur” and put our own unique spin on the harmonies, and then switched gears to something more non-traditional, “O, Ir Kleine Lichtelech.” This piece is unusual for us in that the third verse is sung from an existing written arrangement. In general, we like to create our own arrangements, but this one was so lovely we couldn’t see improving on it.
The Eight Lights Medley might be the piece we are the most proud of. It took us almost the full year to build and was inspired by all of the trendy seasonal holiday mash-ups done by other a capella groups. The creative process was somewhat different from one where the basic structure of the song is established already, and we play with it and let inspiration come. We had to give each moving part of this medley a different, very deliberate, and methodical treatment. what emerged, although it is constituted of the most familiar holiday songs, is completely original and new. We hope our audiences enjoy what we came up with and are humming it in their heads for years to come.
So how do we feel now that the album is complete? Excited. Proud. Nervous. And ready to get back to work on our next project.
A Kveller exclusive digital download can be found here: kolshira.bandcamp.com.
We are also giving away disc copies to two lucky Kveller readers! Simply fill out the form below and we’ll choose a winner next Thursday, December 10th.
Kol Shira members are Gila Moritz, Jeanne McHale, Lynn Berman, Chantal Belman, Leah Herman, Jessica Neiss, Amy Schwartz and Tamara Reese. Eight Lights also features Miriam Shaw and Beth Jacobs. Find out more about appearances at https://www.facebook.com/KolShira.