As cantor of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Ramon Tasat wears many hats. He's responsible for the music of the liturgy and sings much of it himself (he's a fine tenor). He's a musical cheerleader, urging the congregation to join in, and entertainer, accompanying them on the guitar (he plays very well). He's a genial and welcoming host. And above all, he has an enormous amount of energy.
All of this was on display at the synagogue Saturday night for the opening concert of the two-day inaugural festival sponsored by Shalshelet: The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music (Tasat is the foundation's founder and president). New pieces had been solicited from liturgical composers worldwide and, of 169 works submitted, the 15 chosen for this concert represented contributions from as far away as Uganda and Argentina and as close as Rockville and Alexandria. Some of the composers have impressive discographies; others have spent their careers writing music for children and for their congregations. The variety was remarkable.
The performers also were from all over. Tasat and the small choir from Temple Shalom were joined by soprano Rochelle Helzner, mezzo-soprano and pianist Natasha Hirschhorn, flutist Eugenia Shiuk, baritone Laurence Rush and percussionist Steve Bloom. Jeannie Arnson-Serotta, one of the children of the congregation, did a fine job of representing the hearts of the world's children in a vocal duet with Rush. Six of the composers were on hand to perform their own pieces.
It was clear that the pieces were chosen for their audience appeal. Styles ranged from folk to jazz to pop to Hasidic, and if most sounded somewhat familiar (think "Fiddler on the Roof"), they were all well crafted and useful additions to the Jewish liturgical repertoire, which is, after all, what Shalshelet is aiming for.
-- Joan Reinthaler