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How the KADYA Choir came to be

by Alan Bern

The seeds of the Kadya Choir project were first planted in 2015 and 2016 during the Children’s Song Workshop at Yiddish Summer Weimar (YSW), an annual summer institute and festival in Weimar, Germany dedicated to the creative revitalization of Yiddish language and culture. Diana Matut, an internationally renowned scholar of Yiddish and a visionary educator, proposed that I create a song cycle based on Kadya Molodovksy’s children’s poems to be staged theatrically in the workshop.

Shortly thereafter, Andreas Schmitges, Curator of YSW, suggested enlarging the song cycle to make it the centerpiece of an international youth choir project. We learned that several of Molodovsky’s children’s poems were already popular as songs in Hebrew among Israelis who had learned them in school. Few Israelis, however, realized that the poems had originally been written in Yiddish. This became the starting point for a learning adventure in Yiddish language, culture and history that would bring together three very different girls choirs: Weimar’s schola cantorum, Tel Aviv/Yaffa’s Voices of Peace Choir, and the YSW Children’s Songs workshop participants.

As seen in the film, The Young Kadyas, Diana Matut placed the girls from both choirs into small groups to think together about the cultural background of the poems: What is the Yiddish language? Where did it come from? How old is it?  Who spoke it? Is it still spoken today? Who was Kadya Molodovksy and why did she write these poems? When it came to understanding the poems themselves, cooperation between the Israeli and German girls was essential. In its origins, Yiddish is largely a Germanic language written with the Hebrew alphabet. So, although the Israeli girls could largely read written Yiddish texts, they could not understand them. Meanwhile, the German girls could understand much spoken Yiddish, but could not read it. To decipher Molodovsky’s Yiddish poems, each group needed the other one’s knowledge.

Apart from both being teenage girls choirs, The Voices of Peace Choir, led by Yair Dalal and Shireen Daniel, and the schola cantorum, led by Cordula Fischer, could hardly have been more different. The schola cantorum draws on the great German tradition of youth choirs; disciplined, polyphonic (singing in several voices), and focused on phrasing, vocal quality, ensemble and interpretation. The Voices of Peace Choir has always been an intercultural project, bringing together girls from Israel’s diverse populations: Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and more. As its name suggests, its mission is to unite its young singers in a spirit of joy and peace through singing together, and to show the world that such a thing is possible. The girls sing in Hebrew, Arabic and other languages, rehearse in a relaxed and social atmosphere, and their repertoire reflects both the melodies of the Middle East and the sound of contemporary popular music. The Kadya Choir set out to blend these two very different choirs into a unique, new choir, strenghthened rather than undermined by the many differences in its makeup.

The Young Kadya film documents the joys and travails of this endeavor. As the composer of the songs, I tried to create music that would capture the hearts and minds of the girls from both choirs. I wanted it to be easy enough to be learned mostly by ear, but challenging enough to merit rehearsal and interpretation. Just as Kadya Molodovsky’s childrens’ poems never “talk down” to her audience, I tried to compose music that was simple but never simplistic, music that would touch listeners regardless of their age. I felt that if I succeeded, the songs would provide a vital, inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration for a project that was challenging in so many ways.  

Five years after the Kadya Choir came into being and performed concerts in Israel and Thuringia, what remains? The girls have all become young women and have moved on with their lives, scattered all over the globe. Many of the international friendships formed in the Kadya Choir are still going strong today. During an online watch party of The Young Kadyas film in 2021, quite a few of the young women spoke of the project as a life-changing event, one which they have come to appreciate more and more with the passing of time and, tragically, with increasing conflicts throughout the world. It is my hope that the songs I composed for them when they were girls will help them carry the memories of their experiences for the rest of their lives. May others also find joy and inspiration in the Kadya Choir and in this music.


Alan Bern

Berlin, August 22, 2022

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