One of the fields that has been hit the hardest during this pandemic has been the performing arts. Many people involved in the Arts have either lost their jobs or have needed to find another way to get their message out to the world. This has created a huge learning curve for many people. You either learn to adapt, or you basically give up.
Singing. Acting. Concerts. Live theatre, Religious services. Whether you are an active participant or audience / congregation member these activities are currently deemed “high risk.” Our COVID-altered reality requires all of us to approach our lives in more creative ways.
The Cultural Arts Program of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys (the Jewish Federation) is no different. We have spent much time over the last few months trying to navigate these uncharted waters, making plans to offer programming that is alive and relevant—and safe for all involved.
How can organizations, which rely on face-to-face rehearsals and live performances for their existence, conduct “business as usual” in 2020? They get creative, of course! Like everything else—businesses, families, friends—they depend on ZOOM and other types of technology! This adds hours of preparation to the performance-oriented facets of our Cultural Arts Programs. However, the JFed Players and Kol HaEmek Jewish Community Chorale, are doing just that.
Kol HaEmek Jewish Community Chorale (KHE) and its subgroup, The Quartet, have been rehearsing via Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. Although not perfect by any means, ZOOM has given them the opportunity to connect with one another, review old songs, and learn new music. The rehearsal process is quite different than “normal”—who would have thought that music rehearsals not only can, but must be held, with everyone muted. Each is able to hear only the piano and himself or herself, nobody else. It actually creates a situation where the participant has to actively listen to themselves and be their own music directors. It has been an eye opener for many people who loved singing with a group but hadn’t spent much time perfecting their own parts. They have made the most of these technological limitations adapting to the technical allowances that we do have by being able to sing for each other. Sometimes it is very frustrating and bares our performance to the group as we check in. But those that are sticking with it have been game to put themselves out and improved greatly. Then, each person has to record his/herself properly, something that they probably have never done before, and send it in to be edited into the group performance. Using these techniques, we have already recorded a couple of songs, with plans to record more for a virtual concert to be shown later this year. And everyone is doing it. I’m sure you’ve seen these performances on TV.
The JFed Players have been busy as well. There are plans to release a production consisting of two10-minute plays, as soon as early September. In mid-September, I, along with Melissa Levy, Youth Director at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) are bringing Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to the community. The company, consisting of approximately 40 adults and children, has been diligently rehearsing together on ZOOM – and individually – for the last two months. This performance is much more than a collaboration between PJTC/USY, Jewish Federation, and people from all over the geographic area encompassing the Jewish Federation’s boundaries and beyond. It is also a great creative endeavor for all concerned, a source of camaraderie and some semblance of normalcy during this unique and stressful time. It can help strengthen our Jewish community when all of us are otherwise isolated.
On another note, the Festival of Jewish Music, held annually in December, is a hallmark of the Cultural Arts program. Not surprisingly, this concert will be virtual unless our pandemic situation changes. We are working to bring together our community’s Cantors, KHE, and other Jewish performers to make this a memorable event.
As time goes by and the pandemic has stretched from weeks to months, we are continually learning how to create a new “business as usual,” striving to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a world that seems wildly out of kilter. We have become adept at adaptation, using ZOOM to meet, plan, and rehearse. Virtually, we are coming together, learning new content, and planning to bring you concerts and plays, celebrating the incredible wealth of the Jewish musical, theatrical and cultural heritage.
cantor judy sofer is the Jewish Federation’s Cultural Arts Program Coordinator and a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.