Seven women, ranging in age from 31 to 55, sit around a breakfast table, noshing on some fruit and finishing the morning’s first cup. But this is not your run-of-the-mill coffee klatch.
The women in the brightly lit kitchen of Jeanne McHale are, at first blush, an unlikely assembly. While some are wearing sheitels and long skirts, others are dressed in blue jeans. They come from Squirrel Hill and Fox Chapel, and are members of Beth Shalom and Chabad of Pittsburgh, Shaare Torah and Poale Zedeck. Toddlers run in and out. Infants are cooing. Two of the women are pregnant.
It seems to be an eclectic group — and a bit chaotic — until these women begin the real task at hand.
The members of Kol Shira, an a cappella vocal performance group, have met to rehearse for their first independent, full-length concert, to be performed Monday, Dec. 14, at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.
Without formalities, McHale, Lynn Berman, Amy Schwartz, Gilah Moritz, Shoshana Judelman, Beth Jacobs and Jessica Neiss suddenly set down their cups and open their mouths in song, creating harmonies with no accompaniment other than the occasional cry of a child.
Two-month old Sulha Moritz looks up from her baby carrier and smiles.
Not only do these women come from various Jewish backgrounds, but their musical backgrounds differ as well.
While somehave had classical choral training, others have simply “always been singing in the shower,” said Neiss. Still, their voices come together to create a rich and warm sound in the arrangements they have put together themselves.
Kol Shira was formed six years ago, by Moritz, Berman and Schwartz, as an offshoot of Kol Isha, Pittsburgh’s Jewish women’s theatrical group. The group performs Jewish-themed songs in Yiddish, Hebrew, English and Ladino, working by ear from sheet music.
And out of respect for the most observant women in the group, Kol Shira performs only for women.
“We go to the higher standards,” said Berman, who serves as the group’s musical director.
“We’re glatt,” quipped Schwartz.
Kol Shira performs songs ranging from liturgical pieces to pop tunes. The women choose their works collaboratively and rehearse weekly.
Kol Shira has performed in a variety of venues including sisterhood luncheons at Beth Shalom and Poale Zedeck, an evening performance along with Kol Isha at Rodef Shalom, and a garden concert with Lubavitch Women’s Organization.
The upcoming concert at the JCC will be the first time the group will be performing on its own, without being connected to another event. It will be performing about 20 songs, said Schwartz, including music specific to Chanuka, and will be open to all women and young girls in the community.
The members of the group seem to complement one another, just as their voices come together in harmony, despite their diverse backgrounds. In fact, the diversity itself is precisely the point, according to founding member Schwartz.
“Since we are diverse, a lot of our mission is to unite Jewish women through music,” Schwartz said.
At least in this Squirrel Hill kitchen on a Wednesday morning, it seems to be working.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com or 412-687-1263.)