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Voices of Hope

It is sometimes hard for me to get started on my articles or, for that matter to write any kind of piece.  It has to kind of rumble around in my head, like a song—until it comes out in some kind of form that is ready to be shared. People who know me, know that I really don’t like to talk much, and I will often say before I begin to speak I public the following-- “I would much rather be singing.”  But then there are times when something hits you so hard, makes such an impact that there is no question that a stream of thought will quite quickly become a river of ideas and form itself into a piece of work.  That happened to me during one of my Sunday rehearsals with Kolot Tikvah, Voices of Hope choir.  I am always touched by the experience of working with this group of young people—no, more correctly, I am inspired.  I am definitely emotionally attached to the work of singing with young people with what I term “extraordinary abilities.” One of the reasons is that my mother Florence Stein z’’l taught me the value of music as a tool to reach people. She was kindergarten teacher in NYC, who played piano in the classroom and every summer she would volunteer during most of her summer off to work for the newly created “Headstart” program in a rural school where we spent our summers. She insisted that I bring my guitar and play and sing for the children. No questions asked, this was my duty.  We lived near an institution in Queens, Creedmore Hospital (where my hero, Woody Guthrie was hospitalized), and my mother insisted that I go with my high school music buddies to the hospital and play for the patients. 


So on Sunday afternoons, when we rehearse, I am so tired as it is the end of a what is typically a long weekend of Shabbat services and teaching on Sunday mornings—our students are tired as well, but music is the cure all for that ailment.  We start with a Hello song –

(Group) Hello _____  shalom shalom tell me how are you ha’yom?

(____) I’m fine thanks, todah rabbah 

(Group) we welcome you Baruch Habbah. 

Then we move on to vocal exercises, making sure that we use our hands as well as our voices to show the progression up or down of the musical notes—music theory 101. “Mamma made me mash my M&M’s” is a popular lyric for that exercise.  Then on to the real work – we will do a song that we know as a good warm up and then on to music that we need to learn for our next performance, whether an outright show, or a worship service in the synagogue. Oh yes and the drums—drums are a very effective tool in helping the brain connect to music.  Sometimes hitting a drum for every syllable helps the non-verbal person actually say the words.  I don’t know the science but I know the almost miraculous effect.  Speaking of miracles, we were rehearsing for Hanukka and doing a Debbie Friedman song, “Miracles Aren’t Just Magic.” The words continue  “…..they need people to help them along.”  We talked about the miracles of Hannukah, not just the oil but the defeat of Israel’s enemies. I stated that we couldn’t just stand there and expect God to help us win the battle, and one of the students said “We have to be partners with God and do our part!” We later sung another beautiful song by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, “Olam Chesed Yibane,”  “ We shall build this world with kindness.”  We made up our own words as we continued “I shall build this world with SONG…PEACE.” The words of the song represent a progression—“I shall….you shall…if we…THEN GOD will build this world with peace.”  I asked how this was like the miracle song, and one of our members said “it is the same thing—if we don’t work to make it happen and be partners with God then it doesn’t work…we have to do our share!”

I enter our Kolot Tikvah rehearsal tired every Sunday afternoon, but leave refreshed, inspired and filled with awe and love.  Working with this choir and my other childrens choirs remains the most fulfilling work that I do.  This last rehearsal I was a little bit in tears—I realized that m’dor l’dor, from generation to generation, the values that my mother taught me continue well in to the later years of my life.  I have worked to instill those values in my children, and yes my grandchildren as well.  

The Kolot Tikvah choir, as well as Shir Aliyah and other choirs will be participating in a service on January 16th called “Voices of Freedom—Dr. King, the Legacy Lives On!” The focus of the service is Interfaith worship with representatives and choirs of different faith groups in our community coming together to make Dr. King’s reality of all peoples living together in freedom.