One of Shearith Israel’s most beloved treasures is our magnificent choir. Early in the congregational history a choir was organized only for special occasions. The choir only became a part of our regular shabbat services about 1860. For about 30 years the congregation then experimented with a variety of policies regarding the choir: Would the choir be professional or lay led? Where would they sing from in the sanctuary? When would they sing? Would they sing composed “art” music or merely lead the congregational chanting of traditional melodies? These and other questions rose time and again in the first decades of our choir’s history. By the 1880’s most of these questions had been answered. Since that time, the choir has become a major component of the beauty and dignity of our services.
The choir sings every shabbat and holiday from just before Rosh Hashanah until shortly after Shabu’ot. It also performs at special occasions and weddings. Our choir is composed of professional male singers, led by a professional choirmaster and sings both composed synagogue art music as well as tradtional liturgical melodies and plainchant all of which have been arranged for four part (TTBB) harmony.
Our choir had been led by Mr. Leon Hyman since 1955 until his recent retirement after the High Holidays in the Fall of 2021. His son, Adam Hyman is our Associate Choirmaster. In recent years, as a legacy to the congregation, Mr. Leon Hyman has composed several pieces for our synagogue. These new pieces, join those written by our previous choirmasters and hazzanim, such as Leon Kramer, Rev. H. Pereira Mendes, Rev. Jacques J. Lyons, and his son, Julius J. Lyons. Some of these pieces are virtually unknown outside of our own congregation, making our choir’s repetoire incredibly unique! Of course many of the art pieces sung by our choir were written by famous composers such as Jacques Fromenthal Halevy, Julius Mombach, Samuel Naumbourg, Salomone Rossi, and Solomon Sulzer, among others. Aside from these composed “art” pieces, the majority of our repetoire consists of traditional liturgical music and plainchant stemming from the Spanish & Portuguese tradition with modern arrangements made by our choirmasters over time.
Many of the composed art pieces of our choir’s repetoire were recorded in 2003 for our CD “Choral Music of Shearith Israel.” You can purchase the CD through our office; or download it from a variety of streaming music sites. Here is a sampling:
In 2019, our choir reintroduced a second setting of Veshameru (“#2”) by Samuel Naumbourg into our regular repertoire after an absence of many decades.