Uncategorized, Vocal music

Raisins and Almonds – and Farewells:  Colorado Hebrew Chorale

Preview by Betsy Schwarm

Raisins and almonds:  not only tasty ingredients in certain holiday breads, but also a well-known Jewish lullaby.  It is, moreover, what the Colorado Hebrew Chorale (CHC) calls its mid-winter event of music, food, and celebration.  Culturally, there is a connection to the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, a festival honoring a new year for trees – and for ecological awareness. 

Carol Kozak Ward

This year, Raisins and Almonds, a Tu B’Shvat Celebration brings newly commissioned music.  Carol Kozak Ward, music director of CHC, commissioned her long-time friend and colleague, composer Gerald Cohen, to write something for the ensemble.  Ward and Cohen spent the early months of 2023 occupied with discussions of what text to set.  When Yehudah Halevi’s poem Adonai:  Where Shall I Find You? came up, Cohen sang it to Ward in both Hebrew and English.  As Ward observes, “I knew that somehow, this was all going to work out.”  She has dedicated the resulting composition to the memory of her mother, Joanne Kozak, who passed away in June 2023. 

Gerald Cohen

Cohen describes Halevi’s poem as a “meditation” on the solemnity of Yom Kippur.  In his position as cantor for a synagogue in New York, he wrote an a cappella setting in English for himself to sing during the worship service.  As Cohen had been wanting to make of it what he describes as “a fuller and more developed piece of music,” Ward’s commission was a perfect opportunity to make that happen.

Set in both Hebrew and English, Cohen’s Adonai:  Where Shall I Find You? uses a translation from the prayer book for the High Holidays.  The opening lines of Halevi’s poem are followed by others borrowed from later in the text.

Adonai, where shall I find You?

High and hidden is Your place.

And where shall I not find You?

The world is full of Your glory.

I sought Your closeness,

I called to You with all my heart,

And going out to meet You

I found you coming toward me.

As the uppercase pronouns and possessives imply, the entity being addressed is not a person, but rather, the Lord.  Cohen attests that he hoped to suggest “the idea of the divine presence being distant… and at the same time being close and within each living being.”  His setting often flows peacefully, though with greater rapture where the text suggests increasing closeness of the Lord.

Adonai:  Where Shall I Find You? will premiere at CHC’s Raisins and Almonds event on Sunday, February 4.  It is the newest work on the program, though not the only commission written especially for these singers.  The Colorado Hebrew Chorale will be joined by its sister chorus, Kol Nashim, that is, ‘Women’s Voice.’

Leah Peer

The all-women’s choir was established in 2013 by conductor/music director Leah Peer.  This season will be Peer’s last leading Kol Nashim, a fact that led her to choose for this program music the chorus has performed during its first decade.  Peer observes that the selected works, several of which were commissioned by Kol Nashim, “all focus on different expressions of women’s strength.”

Nili Abrahamsson

 Three of these works were written especially for Kol Nashim by Denver area women composers:  M. Susan Brown’s To Die Young, Julie Geller’s When I Blessed the Candles (piano part by David Ross), and Nili Abrahamsson’s And Again.  The first two have a melancholy subtext conveyed with very beautiful music.  Peer concedes that the suggested sense of loss “is extremely relevant (again) to the Jewish community at the present time.”  Of course, whatever one’s individual faith, we can all feel sorrow for those losses.

The Raisins and Almonds event, a Tu B’Shvat Celebration, will take place Sunday, February 4, at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 South Ivanhoe Street in Denver, just south of Hampden and west of I-25.  Activities begin at 5:30pm with a VIP reception honoring Leah Peer in her last season leading Kol Nashim.  The concert itself starts at 6:30pm and is followed at 8pm by an ice cream bar and Shirah B’Tsibur community sing-along.  The in-person event will also be available via livestream.

Tickets are available at this link:


Further information is available from the Colorado Hebrew Chorale.  Both a Contact page and a phone number are available at the choir’s website:  https://coloradohebrewchorale.org/contact-us/

In the troubled times of recent years, music can bring us together both as performers and as listeners.  CHC’s Carol Kozak Ward certainly agrees: “We who ‘do music’ must continue to do so, and our communities are counting on us to help unify a fractured world.”  Raisins and Almonds can be one step toward that desired unification.


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