Members of the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir pay out of pocket to save their life’s work

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33 years ago, conductor Michael fulfilled two dreams. After studying at the State College of Music Educators in Tel Aviv and Brigham Young University in the United States, and working as conductor and musical director of the Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir and the New Israeli Opera Choir, he established his life’s work: the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir. From 1987, the year it was founded, to this day, this choir has not stopped singing, even for a week. For the past three decades, there has not been a festival in Israel or in the world where choir members have not performed. They also won many radio broadcasts, released CDs and maintained a full schedule to the brim. But then came the corona, which threatens to destroy the enterprise of their lives.

“We haven’t been making a sound in five months,” says Shani. “For the coming summer, we canceled 20 concerts that were planned for us, whether it was the Abu Ghosh Festival, a performance alongside the largest orchestras in the country or concerts in cultural halls. Beyond the interrupted income, which is very significant to the existence of the choir, we were also greatly harmed on the artistic side by the cessation of regular activities. Any preparation for such a concert takes months. In fact, all the work we did before went down the drain. If today they open everything at once, it will take us time to get organized and learn and take care of new concerts that we did not take care of at the time of the cancellations. ”

35 singers are members of the choir, and unlike other choirs in which the singers make a living from the music, the situation in the chamber choir is different. “The members of the choir are people with liberal professions, and all of them, of course, have a musical education,” says Shani. “They are not paid for the performances except for the conductor, the pianist and the choir director.”

60% of the choir’s budget comes from income from performances, and the rest from support from the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Culture. “The director of culture transfers his support money, but we do not receive compensation for the loss of income, and the implications everyone understands,” says Shani. “The existence of the choir is almost in danger.”

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What are the long-term consequences if the situation continues in the current format?
“I do not want to sound pessimistic, but when the corona is over we will have to decide whether to reinvent the wheel. There is a great danger here not only for the culture industry but especially for the supported culture industry. It will be severely or irreversibly damaged, both in terms of operations and audience “It does not go down to the depths of our meaning. The nature of our work is that we are not people who make chairs and tables.”

Shani currently earns his living mainly from delivering lectures at Zoom at the IDC in Herzliya. Apart from the cessation of the choir’s operation, a large project in the city of Sderot that he managed was also stopped, as was a women’s choir in the Hefer Valley that is currently closed.

What about zoom rehearsals?
“It is impossible. And it is still forbidden to hold rehearsals in the current outline, certainly not in Yad LaBanim, but our house, to which all the corona restrictions apply. The sad thing is that this art will end up extinct if nothing happens soon. We are constantly trying to find ways to survive and survive. “Singing for five months is like an athlete not training for five months. It’s a damage that is not understood for its meaning.”

Michael Shani (Photo: Pnina Even Tal)

From different worlds

The fundraising by the choir is currently being done to enable its continued activity in the future – payment to the salary recipients, renting rehearsal spaces and more. Those who are now coming to the rescue are the 35 singers of the choir, who come from all walks of life and donate as much of their money as possible for the continuation of the activity. “Nietzsche said that without music, life is a mistake,” says Oren Herman, bass singer and professor of evolution in everyday life.

“We perform in churches and moshavim, and everywhere the audience is a little different and the style a little different, so the choir’s repertoire is very wide. We sing Israeli heritage songs, more Jewish heritage songs, and also classical singing. We have music teachers, a young actor, an economist and an expert. To game theory, a writer, a farmer and even a conservative rabbi.The friends come from completely different worlds.This is lovely because in nature usually no crocodile, rabbit, lion and hedgehog meet to make music together.

“I’ve been in the choir for seven years, relatively young, in terms of seniority, and it’s become an integral part of my life. I think I’m a happier person because I sing. None of us do it for the money. Every time I go out for a singing session, I feel like I’m down. All the trouble and I’m floating in the air. I used to walk and not feel the way back home. It’s the feeling I get from the audiences we meet at shows. So we do not get money, but there is a commitment of people to the choir, and we would not give it up for all the capital in the world. “Right now we are donating some of our money just to keep reviving this thing, but it is still not enough.”

Your story is a bit in the gray area, because the big shout is mostly from artists who are hungry for bread.
“Keep in mind that there are operations people, conductor and pianist who make a living from it, and are currently disabled from work. I am a Jerusalemite and live 300 meters from Balfour. I do not like what I see in my country now. We are starting to wake up now, and I hope it is not too late. “In the bank for our continued activity. It’s like breathable air for us, it’s the blood flowing in our arteries, and we can not do without it. We try to stay with our heads above water.”

Oren Herman (Photo: Carmela Brosh)Oren Herman (Photo: Carmela Brosh)

Sing through a screen

Avital Elboim, a mathematics teacher and doctor of mathematics education at the Weizmann Institute, joined the choir 12 years ago. “At the age of 40, I studied at the choir singing school, which was also founded by Michael Shani, and after two years of study, he offered me to join the choir. That’s where I actually saw the light, “she says.

According to her, to keep in touch with the choir members they occasionally hold zoom sessions and lectures, “but singing zoom and listening to music through a computer screen is not the same thing. Singing on stage is a different physical experience, and there is nothing to compare. We try to mobilize to give us back “That makes us happy. True, I do not make a living from it, but there are people who do.”

Was there a crisis point?
“Not sitting in my place on stage, with Ricky on my left and Esti on the right, the alto singers – it’s sad. They took from me the thing that makes me happy, and it’s not something any of us can come to terms with.”

Among the choir’s singers is also Maariv’s economic commentator, Yehuda Sharoni, who has a classical musical education, and has been singing in the choir for 20 years. “I get a lot of energy from the choir,” says Sharoni. “We perform all over the country, and many times people are surprised to see me standing on stage and singing. Right now there is a lot of sadness. It’s not only the economic aspect, but also the fact that we can not have organized rehearsals that are important to preserve musical qualities. For his performance capabilities. ”

Shani insists on being optimistic and believing that the situation will improve soon. “I believe that on the day they open the halls, we will be able to return to work in a quick and careful manner,” he says. “No one will give us back the lost time and canceled concerts, but right now the most important thing for us is to preserve the choir’s existence.”

What is the place of music when there is such a severe economic and health crisis?
“There is a very great hunger in the country for culture, for concerts, and there is an audience. There is an audience and there are no concerts. Music is like breathable air, and it is not a cliché. We have a large and diverse audience from all shades of society. “Supported culture is a non-commercial culture. It is an art that needs support to survive and exist. If it is not spread seriously, it will be very difficult to recover later, and I do not want to even begin to imagine what our world would look like without this all-important piece of culture.”

Special bank account for donations: International Bank, Branch 37, account number 259276. All donations are recognized in tax. Each donor will receive a CD as a gift. Phone for the gift: 054-4345664

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