This week saw the culmination of a musical project which has been occupying my evenings this past summer. It all began in July, when Ziva, one of the members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, to which I also belong, asked if any of us would be willing to come and sing for her mother on her birthday, at the retirement home where her mother lives. Eight of us responded and since the Choir was on vacation during the summer months, we were able to use those weekday evenings which throughout the rest of the year are devoted to choir practice, to putting together a variegated and lighthearted repertoire, designed to bring joy to people who, because of their advanced years, poor health and COVID restrictions, would find it difficult to get to the concert-hall.
In the end, travel plans of this or that member of our (as yet unnamed) ensemble caused the concert to be deferred to the beginning of this month, but every cloud has a silver lining and, of course, this gave us more time to rehearse.
It wasn’t until ten days before the concert was due to take place that we came up with a name for our little group. Someone suggested Alma Mater. The idea of a Nurturing Mother for our all-female group was appealing – but others found the name cumbersome. Someone else suggested Octava with its musical connotations and because there were eight of us. But a quick Google search revealed the existence of a children’s musical ensemble of the same name, here in Israel – and so Octavia was offered instead. After that, the suggestions came fast and furious. One of us suggested Octopus, to which Yours Truly (who couldn’t resist) made a slight amendment and proposed (only half tongue-in-cheek) Octopussy 😉 .
Someone else came up with Camera (meaning a Chamber, as we are all members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir), to which I counter-proposed Karma (in Hebrew, all the change requires is the trans-positioning of one letter).
In the end, we took a vote on it and Alma (without the Mater) came out a clear winner. In Hebrew, the word means “a young woman” and it is the same word which appears in Isaiah 7:14 and is so often mistranslated as “a virgin”. When the final letter heh (ה) is replaced by the letter aleph (א), we get the Aramaic word Alma, meaning “The World”. We thought this was a nice word-play, as we are a group of women (young in spirit, if not in body), with a repertoire encompassing the World.
And so, this past Monday afternoon (October 4th), weeks of preparation came to fruition and the residents of the Neve Shalem Retirement Home in Jerusalem were treated to a musical journey around the world, including songs from ten countries, and in almost as many languages. Songs from Israel were followed by folk songs from Georgia, Hungary and North Macedonia:
An arrangement of Scarborough Fair by our own Elia followed madrigals from Italy and England:
Jehan Tabourot’s famous Pavane, sung in French and Hebrew, was followed by a motet in Latin by his compatriot, Maurice Duruflé. The South African gospel hymn Noyana gave way to a Native American chant and then to a Japanese children’s song, before we returned to Israel.
The whole world in song:
Hopefully, this concert will prove to be the first of many more.
Till next time.