Making Their Voices Heard

A concert of this type is rare on the Israeli stage. The Moran Beit Yitzhak Choir, under the direction of Naomi Faran, will perform this Sunday at the Tel Aviv Museum. But the Moran group is much more than one choir; in fact it incorporates four. The concert will include musicians playing various instruments, and children for whom singing in a choir is not at all taken for granted: at-risk children from boarding schools, wards of closed institutions, and children with special needs. The gala concert for friends of the Moran Choir and the public at large will give the group a chance to display both its musical and social elements. The money raised (tickets cost NIS 250 each) will be used to support young musicians and additional community projects.

The story of the choir begins with one woman - musical director and conductor Naomi Faran. A graduate of the Levinsky College School of Music and the Conductor's Training Program at the Rubin Academy of Music, Faran arrived at the Beit Yitzhak moshav (cooperative farm community) in the Emek Hefer area via marriage. "I was born in Kiryat Ono," she says, "and I moved with my family to Be'er Sheva when I was 12 years old. One of the consolations of the move was singing in a choir." Singing had such a strong influence on her that she changed from what she describes as "a silent girl" to a woman who aspired to give others the chance to make their voices heard.

Faran studied music, education and conducting. In 1980 she landed at Beit Yitzhak, near Netanya, and like a typical music teacher she started a school choir. Pop singer Aviv Geffen and conductor Yishai Steckler are among those who took part.

"After a while I brought the choir for the first time to a national conference of choirs, with not the most suitable repertoire: songs the students wrote themselves and popular music," she said. "I understood from the reaction that this wasn't anything like a real choral repertoire, [which requires] at least three voice ranges in the classic-artistic style. I decided to start this kind of choir and I turned to other conductors to learn how: Maya Shavit of the Efroni Choir, Dafna Ben-Yohanan of Ankor, and Ronit Shapira of Li-Ron."

Faran also traveled abroad to listen to renowned choirs. The German Toelz Boys Choir made a deep impression on her. "That's what I wanted to start here too, a local Toelz Boys Choir," she says. But on the "Yekke moshav," as she calls it (using the Hebrew slang for German-speaking Jews), people warned her that this would not go over well.

Still, with the help of her husband, and despite minimal support from the community, she founded the Moran Beit Yitzhak Choir in 1986. Her dream of establishing a local Toelz Choir never receded: "I didn't want just one choir, but three and even four, which would sing with the opera and with symphonic orchestras, and to commission works from composers. To start an entire [music] center."

The center was indeed built. The Israeli Center for Vocal Music features four choirs: the Moran Singers Ensemble, which began with 12 singers and now numbers 30 professionals aged 18-32, including tenor and bass vocalists; the Moran Representative Choir, the original group which now numbers 50 children aged 12-18; the Moran Intermediate Children's Choir, with 50 singers aged 8-11; and the Moran Little Ones Pre-School Children's Choir for 4- to 8-year-olds. "My dream is to see more and more children singing," Faran says.

And why should children sing?

Because "children who sing in a choir - their world changes. And also the way they speak, the way they use their voices, their attitude toward words, toward the value of words, toward the value of everything. Harmony is created by the group, a kind of common frequency among all the singers. It's a different kind of learning, a profound kind. Graduates of the choir become very special people with highly developed modes of self-expression, who are creative and self-confident in terms of language and speaking. I have observed this over the years."

Faran's determination carries the children from one success to another. The Little Ones Choir recently sang in the Israel Opera production of Tosca; the Representative Choir sang in Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Cameri Theatre, as well as at international concerts and competitions, events which have won the singers compliments and even prizes.

"Still, I understood that I had to bring more children [into my activities], those who have not had the privilege of singing in a choir," Faran says. Thus the idea was born to approach institutions, schools and hospitals - where children faced difficulties, were considered socially at risk, or had special needs such as being autistic or brain-damaged; she also reached out to economically disadvantaged children from south Netanya and the Ethiopian community.

"I contacted a reformatory school for youth in crisis, some of whom are rape victims," Faran says. "I visited there with 20 girls from the choir. The girls sat among the residents and began to sing. The interaction between the girls and boys was magical, and the influence on the boys was wonderful. After five years the program ended, [but] only because of administrative problems." At another such institution, the Moran choir has been working for four years with its complete cooperation, including joint rehearsals and appearances. All the participants wear the choir's signature shirts and will perform at the gala concert on Sunday.

Just as the silent girl suddenly found herself on center stage, at the conductor's podium, so it happens to the girls who become soloists. Faran points to soprano Revital Raviv as one example. "At first the girls sing like everyone else in the choir, each maturing in her own way," Faran says. "And then, suddenly, it happens without warning - they feel the need to sing a solo and step forward. Technique, attentiveness, sensitivity, self-expression - all these are expressed differently by each singer and at some point, it just happens. And every time I am completely amazed."

On Sunday, works by Vivaldi and Mendelssohn as well as Israeli music commissioned by the Moran choir over the years will be performed, giving the audience a glimpse of the program that has developed in Beit Yitzhak.