Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is one of the last vestiges of the European Choral Synagogue tradition. Music has always played a key role in the life and identity of the Congregation. Indeed, one of the major reasons for establishing Congregation Shaar Hashomayim was the yearning of its founding members – a group of English, German and Polish Jews – for an Ashkenazic service that included the melodies with which they were familiar. The Congregation established an all-male a cappella choir in 1887. Today, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is one of only a few synagogues left in the world whose services are led every week by cantor and male choir.
Philosophy and Repertoire
At Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, music is seen as an extremely powerful force in the act of prayer. The music dignifies and beautifies the prayers and imbues the liturgy with meaning and reverence. A special environment and ambience is created that is conducive to an elegant prayer experience.
The repertoire reflects the long and distinguished history of the Congregation and includes traditional melodies sung the world over, classic pieces for Cantor and choir, as well as signature choral pieces and compositions by former cantors and choir directors.
The Cantor and Synagogue Choir
We are also proud of having many different settings of the same text. Weekly repertoire choices are based on the time of year, size of congregation present, and circumstances such as a Bar Mitzvah, a long Torah reading and so on. A successful service has variety and pace and is capable of adjusting to the needs and desires of the congregation.A number of elements are intrinsic to the music of the services at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Of primary importance is the chanting of the Cantor. The foundation of his singing is Nusach Hat’filah, the traditional prayer modes which are associated with a particular time of day and whether the service is being held on a weekday, Shabbat, Festival or High Holy Day.
The Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir is a highly regarded all-Jewish, all-male ensemble. The Choir sings on Shabbat and at Festival and High Holy Day Services throughout the year. The method of arrangement and broad harmonic palette, combined with the style of singing, produces a very distinctive sound that has been widely praised. Much attention is paid to blend and balance, creating an especially elegant choral sound. While the choir sometimes sings compositions on its own, much of the time it provides a sophisticated a cappella harmonic accompaniment to the Cantor’s vocal line.