It’s not every day that a talented musician from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (OSM) visits your school and delivers an exclusive performance of Pachelbel’s Canon on her exquisite, 80-pound harp. But then, it’s not every day that your school celebrates Jewish Music Week.

Harpist Olga Gross – who has performed in The Phantom of the Opera and Cirque de Soleil and has accompanied such renowned singers as Placido Domingo and Ginette Reno – visited Hebrew Academy on Wednesday as part of the school’s first-ever weeklong celebration of Jewish music, in recognition of the upcoming Shabbat Shira.

Conceived by Hebrew Academy’s Music Director Amiel Bender and sponsored by the Hebrew Academy Parent Association, the event featured everything from kumzitzes and arts and crafts activities,  to visits from renowned performers including Gross and award-winning composer, producer, musician and vocalist Jason Rosenblatt, a Hebrew Academy alumnus (’90) and parent known as “one of the world’s foremost harmonica innovators.”

“I had this idea in the beginning of the year,” said Bender. “I wanted to come up with something musically-special for the students as we approach Shabbat Shira. While the students joyfully participate in countless Chagigot and other musical avenues which involve singing and dancing, I wanted them to start appreciating what Jewish song is really all about – that Jewish song is a part of them, it is in their hearts; that the students have the potential to come together with each other and with us as a nation in song through a unique Jewish musical identity and affiliation, as they sing and pray in harmony with their friends and the musical world around them.”

Beginning on Monday morning, students were greeted upon arrival by Bender who played spirited music on his guitar. Bender also led various activities with multiple grades, including soulful kumzitzes with Grades 5 and 6 based on the stories and songs of Reb Shlomo Carlebach.  Grades 1 to 3 participated in musical art workshops in which they designed guitars and xylophones and even recreated Canadian artist Greg Curnoe’s The Camouflaged Piano or French Roundels painting. In addition to learning about musical instruments in Biblical times, students enjoyed festive dancing and a choir presentation, and will be treated to cupcakes decorated in musical themes.

“Throughout Jewish History, music and song have played a critical role in bringing a people together in times of triumph as well as tragedy, and have given expression to our daily Tefilot, hopes, dreams and aspirations,” said Hebrew Academy Rabbi Educator Rabbi Eddie Shostak.

“Jewish music plays a strong part in our students’ curriculum and education,” added Bender. “It is part of who and what we are. Jewish music lends itself to uplifting Ruach in connection with Hashem as well as to students’ ever-developing Jewish identity.”

Gross’ and Rosenblatt’s presentations were definitely among the highlights of the week. The students were enamoured by the musicians’ performances and were even permitted to test out the instruments.

“Our Music curriculum goes hand-in-hand with and adds tremendous value to our Judaic Studies curriculum,” said Director of Judaic Studies Jordana Levy. “In addition to our students’ participation in the Annual Zimria , Amiel has created the Chaverot Shir girls’ choir that enhances Judaic assemblies, and leads our Bat Mitzvah Girls’ Program choir as well. Our holidays, Shabbat parties and celebrations like our Chagigat Siddur are perpetually enhanced by Amiel’s beautiful music,” said Levy. “Hashem split the sea, Amiel brought Shirat Hayam to life and HAPA [Hebrew Academy Parent Association] made miracles with this incredible event!”

For Executive Director Linda Lehrer, the weeklong celebration serves as a wonderful example of the innovative ways in which Hebrew Academy educators make learning come to life for students.  “After learning about the role of the harp in Biblical times, students were both delighted and amazed to see a real harp up close and to hear it be played by a professional musician,” said Lehrer. “The Week of Jewish Music has raised our spirits and taken our learning to new heights.  I look forward to this being an annual celebration at Hebrew Academy.”

The festivities continue tomorrow.

Please click here to view the photo album.


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