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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

  1. I offer a list of things we have tried (most not very productive) in our attempt to recruit new choir members: Open Houses, personal invitations when a good voice is over heard at services, Cantor invites (very successful), choir performances (with a hidden recruiting message), rewards for long service to the choir, articles in all Temple publications, creating a choir social calendar in parallel to the singing one.


  2. We have an annual event (usually Chanukah, but we have done Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Jewish Music Month, and other holidays) in which the choir is augmented by the "chorale" -- a group of people who enjoy singing but probably wouldn't commit to weekly rehearsals and performances all year. The chorale rehearses intensively for several weeks, then joins with the choir for the last few rehearsals. You might try that as a way to bring out candidates, some of whom the cantor could then invite to join the choir.

    1800 Units

  3. Our temple does not require choir members to be members of the temple. But to attend and sing for the high holidays, they must either be members or purchase tickets. There was a feeling that it wasn't fair to charge other unaffiliated people to attend high holidays and not people that sing with the choir. Non-members can practice all year and sing with the choir during Shabbat services (about once a month).

    We have never addressed non-Jews in the choir, but after our Jewish choir director left the temple a few years back, we hired a choir director who is not Jewish. We tried a couple of less musically qualified Jewish candidates, but ended up with a non-Jewish PhD voice student who is incredibly knowledgeable about music and voice performance. She works with our cantorial soloist to select the music and selects the music.


  4. You might try sitting down with the choir to talk about the purpose and role of the choir. There may be texts that the rabbi (or others) could help you identify that would ground the discussion in Judaism.

    The choir can serve many functions. If they are "performing" for the congregation, then it is hard to argue for a policy that excludes any talented singer who can enhance the musical quality of the performance. If they are sh?liach tzibur, then you can argue that all members should be Jews. If they are a temple auxiliary, then all choristers should be temple members.

    If the ritual committee and the choir can define the role...or if the board can define the role they want the choir to play...then it may limit the discussion.

    Out of curiosity, does your congregation limit worship participation of non-Jews on the bimah and during the Torah service? If so, do similar restrictions apply for choir members? If a non-Jew cannot pass the Torah or offer a Torah blessing...or bless the candles (who has commanded us...), why should a chorister be allowed that privilege?


  5. Our choir is composed of four professionals (expanded to eight for HHD) plus about 24 volunteers, all volunteers being temple members. I'm not certain, but I believe there is no formal rule governing who may join the choir; it has just worked out that all our volunteers are members. Some of our professionals are Gentiles, so the question of Jewish/temple members has never been raised. Our temple organist and choir director is a gentile who has the utmost respect, admiration and affection from the choir and entire temple membership.

    David 1300 units

  6. Todah rabah to everyone who responded to my question about choir membership. The policies/non-policies ranged from completely-open-including-unaffiliated-Gentiles to all-Jews-but-nonmembers-okay to volunteer-temple-members-plus-paid-ringers to all-volunteer-all-temple-members and were fascinating to read.

    Ellen J

  7. Re choir membership: All are temple members today (about 25 active voices) with four professionals hired only for HHD. Cantor is the leader supported by the organist. The issue of membership has come up more than once during our twenty years of existence, and has been resolved when the non-member singer has changed their status to member. I believe the membership issue is linked to the question of who serves whom. If the Temple provides facilities so that choir members can sing, then the members-only strategy has meaning. If the choir serves the Temple by enhancing the service, then a non-member strategy makes sense (along with a potential membership recruiting process). Difficult choices.


  8. [Some of my] colleagues at the American Conference of Cantors [raise these] salient points:
    1. The synagogue financially supports the choir and its leadership, it should be limited to synagogue members. A "community choir" has its place outside of the synagogue.
    2. Most often, when a non-affiliated choir member is approached about membership, or becomes part of the social fabric of the choir, they will choose to join.
    3. If we pay non-Jewish choir members to sing in our choirs, why should we restrict membership only to Jews? Even more so if they are members of our Temples.
    4. If the volunteer choir is, by extension, functioning as a sh'liach tzibbur/Representative of the Community, then its members should be of our faith.
    5. When a restrictive policy is in place, there is always room for the exception to the rule. Such notable examples included college students and military personnel. Cantors were given the discretion to determine which exceptions were appropriate.

    Cantor Alane S. Katzew, Director of Music Programming Union for Reform Judaism


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