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The Shaar Men’s Choir 

BY HANNAH SROUR-ZACKON

 

 

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is one of the few remaining synagogues in the world to maintain, on a weekly basis, the traditions of the great Choral Synagogues of Europe. The services are focused on the chanting of the Cantor, who is accompanied by an all-male choir dating back to 1887. Both the Cantor and choir sing at all Shabbat and festival services. The music is a seamless blend of traditional prayer modes (nuscha’ot), compositions for choir and cantor (traditional and contemporary), music for choir alone, and congregational melodies. 

 

The Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir is a highly regarded all-Jewish, all-male ensemble. The Choir sings on Shabbat, festival, and High Holy Day Services throughout the year. The method of arrangement and broad harmonic palette, combined with the style of singing, produces a very distinctive sound that has been widely praised. Much attention is paid to blend and balance, creating an especially elegant choral sound. While the choir sometimes sings compositions on its own, much of the time it provides a sophisticated a cappella harmonic accompaniment to the Cantor’s vocal line. 

 

As we mark our annual Shabbat Shirah service, the Shaar Hashomayim’s Musem and Archives has launched a new display celebrating the synagogue’s choir over the years.  

 

 

The Shabbat Shirah service became a fixture during the 1950s. In Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Montreal, Rabbi Shuchat writes the following:  

The appointment of Isidore Ballon as chairman reinvigorated the Choir Committee...An important development was the transformation of Shabbat Shirah (the Sabbath of Song), which commemorates the Song of Moses, into a Sabbath liturgical concert. The thought behind it was explained by Cantor Nathan Mendelson in a column he published in the Bulletin of 8 February 1952: “It is not our intention to completely change the elements of our music for this Sabbath. Regular worshippers will find the service basically the same, with the addition of several especially prepared selections, some of which will be heard for the first time. Yet it is apparent to the regular shul-goer that the Annual Shabbos Shiroh innovations have also influenced our weekly service, for the additional repertoire thus made available is employed from time to time to add a refreshing note to our Sabbath prayers.” (184-5) 

Over the course of the Shaar’s history, the synagogue’s choir and music have been led by several talented music directors, each of whom have left their musical mark on the synagogue until this day. These include the synagogue’s two longest serving music directors: Professor Jacob Rosemarin (music director from 1942-1972) and Stephen Glass (1990-2014), whose many beautiful signature musical and choral arrangements have brought our synagogue’s services to new heights and can be heard throughout the Jewish liturgical world.  

 

Click here for some of our Shaar favourites as performed by our Shaar Hashomayim Choir. 

 

Thursday, March 30, 2023 8 Nisan 5783