Rona Nadler believes that music is one way to get people to enjoy coming to temple and participating in services.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve introduced some new music into the Friday night service. People love to hear the tunes they grew up with, but there are a lot of very creative new Jewish composers, especially in the Reform movement, and that music is being published and circulated,” says Nadler, the music director of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount, Que.
The temple has just launched an online album, called Shabbat at Temple, which is made up of songs and nigunim and is available, free of charge, for streaming and downloading on its website, templemontreal.ca.
Nadler, along with piano accompanist Mark McDonald, are still ringing with praise for Studio 451 in Verdun, where they spent time recording the 10 selections.
“The recording engineer said we might have done it in the sanctuary, but he wanted to mic it relatively close, so the voice would have its own acoustical space,” says Nadler, who is accustomed to balancing the acoustics of a big hall with her smooth mezzo-soprano.
They created the recordings after a number of people requested them. “They asked me to find a way they could have access to the music during the week, to learn it and sing along at home, as well as for people who maybe haven’t been to temple and are investigating us online to be able to get the flavour of what we do,” says Nadler.
With funding from two congregants, Chantal Cohen and Stephen Yaffe, the project came to fruition in January.
Clicking on the Hashkiveinu composed by Fred Ross-Perry, for example, activates a nearly two-minute long rendition of a completely new musical version of the popular prayer.
“I came across it a couple of summers ago at Mifgash Musicale, a program for worship leaders wanting to expand their musical breadth, organized by the Guild of Temple Musicians on the Cincinnati Campus of Hebrew Union College,” says Nadler, who also holds the title of cantorial soloist.
“I don’t know if I’ve heard the Yih’yu L’ratzon/Oseh Shalom sung this way elsewhere, but it’s a very organic melody, one you feel you’ve known for a long time.”
There’s also a more traditional Shalom Aleichem. With its mix of upbeat (L’cha Dodi), contemplative (Bar’chu) and wordless (Nigun Lubavitcher), the selections encompass a good mix of styles.
Nadler’s background is its own mix of vocal work and piano. She grew up in Calgary, where she attended Jewish day school and was the daughter of a cellist mother and violinist father who are now retired from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
She came to Montreal to attend McGill University, where she studied and acquired a master’s degree in early music performance. Along with her cantorial work, she is also in high demand as a harpsichord and continuo player, with groups like Les Voix Baroques, the McGill Chamber Orchestra, Infusion Baroque, I Musici and Ensemble Caprice.
“I also direct my own vocal ensemble, an independent collective group that we formed seven years ago, called One Equall Musik, taken from John Donne’s phrase describing what it will be like in heaven. We do Renaissance and Medieval music,” says Nadler, who is also a rehearsal pianist for operas.
Her work at the temple includes directing the annual Purim spiel, tutoring the B’nai Mitzvah in their chanting, conducting the adult Kol haNeshama Choir and directing the inter-generational Kabbalat Shabbat Band. She enjoys every minute of it.
“I’ve been in this role for four years now and it makes use of the different skills that I have,” she says. “I’m making music in a context where I know that it’s meaningful for people.”