« KlezMORE festival, Vienna, Austria, Jun 25-Jul 8, 2007 | Main | KlezMORE festival, Vienna, Austria, Jun 25-Jul 8, 2007 »

Kol Isha led by women cantors, London, UK, July 1

Sunday 1 July 2007
Kol Isha – the voices of women
sing praises to the Almighty

The beautiful voices of women, singing Jewish psalms and prayers will be heard in a ground breaking concert on Sunday 1st July. Britain's first and newly ordained cantor, Jaclyn Chernett of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue, Edgware is joined by Josée Wolff*, the first woman from the European continent to be ordained Cantor at the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College, New York (where she now teaches). Two sopranos, Vivienne Bellos, Director of Music, North Western Reform Synagogue, Golders Green and Cathy Heller-Jones, Director of Music, Liberal Jewish Synagogue St John's Wood, who have been leading prayers in their synagogues through music for decades, feature in this concert, which also introduces Zoë Jacobs, a young British woman studying in America to become a cantor.

The concert at 8.00pm on Sunday 1 July takes place in the beautiful sanctuary of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood. There will be a pre-concert talk at 7.00pm on the subject of the role of women's voices in religious Judaism throughout history, given by another woman playing an important role in Jewish music, Dr Abigail Wood, who is now the Joe Loss Lecturer in Jewish Music, SOAS, University of London.

*Cantor Josee Wolff will be running a 4 day JMI intensive workshop for synagogue musicians at Leo Baeck College from 2 -5 July. To attend Tel 020 8909 2445 or register online at Website www.jmi.org.uk

This event celebrates the woman's voice in Jewish prayer. In Orthodox Judaism, women do not lead services or sing alone in synagogue and in strictly observant communities their voices are not heard in mixed settings at all. This prohibition is based on a statement in the Babylonian Talmud: and has become known as kol b'isha erva – a woman's voice is licentious. It refers to a verse in Song of Solomon, about a woman's voice being pleasant, which, if read without allegory, seems like a celebration of sexual love. Therefore, it has been argued that listening to a woman singing could seriously distract a man from his prayers and spiritual obligations – hence the ban. These views are not recognised in the American Conservative movement, nor in British Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism.

For Jaclyn Chernett, who grew up in an Orthodox synagogue, the call to spiritual leadership was impossible to ignore. There was no chance for her to develop this in the Orthodox sector and Reform did not satisfy her hunger for tradition, so she herself spearheaded the emergence of the Masorti Movement which uses Jewish traditional practice but in a spirit of enquiry that also allows for more equal roles for men and women within the synagogue. Her path to becoming a fully fledged cantor started by private study in London and was followed years commuting to New York to study at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Jaclyn says: 'The experience has been a blessed, enriching privilege and at last I am qualified to really fulfil my vocation'.

Cathy Heller-Jones, one of the participants, who is Director of Music at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, and who has coordinated the programme, says 'A concert celebrating female voices is long overdue in this country. Women have been soloists, choristers and music directors in the Progressive movement in the UK for decades now and this event should help raise their profile. The concert will feature both solo and ensemble works including some music composed specifically for women's voices for use in worship'. Dr Alexander Knapp, will accompany them on piano and organ. Having worked with cantors from all over the world, he says: 'This event is a landmark in proclaiming to all sections of the Jewish community and beyond that Kol Isha is spiritual communication through music'.

Patrons for this concert include Michael Grade CBE, Chairman of ITV, (Tbc) the Composer Robert Saxton (Tbc) The Woman Rabbis' Group and Dr Norman Solomon of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)