These Jews have soul.
Congregation Bet Haverim’s talented volunteer chorus has released The Threshing Floor – an unforgettable CD combining African American spirituals with ancient Jewish chanting from the Middle East to Uganda and more in a 21-song collection that will knock your socks off.
Chorus director Will Robertson and music director Gayanne Geurin Weiss are the driving forces behind Congregation Bet Haverim’s unparalleled, multi-cultural music program. Seasoned musicians themselves, they let it rip like rock stars – inspiring singers, musicians and overflowing crowds at their annual Shabbat service that celebrates song, Shabbat Shirah. CBH is one of Atlanta’s most progressive synagogues.
When we play the new CD for friends, we go right to On My Way – a spirited, sensual version of a Civil Rights protest song. Robertson takes his inspiration from a version by gospel great Mavis Staples. This one climbs to a jubilant crescendo with each verse.
It turns out On My Way is among Buckhead resident Lynn Tarnow’s favorites as well. As a CBH member and special education teacher, Tarnow often uses the expansive sounds to unwind in her car on her way home to Buckhead from work, helping her let go stress. “Every time I listen, I hear something I’ve never heard before – a new harmony or a violin solo,” she adds.
We often skip to an original tune by Robertson titled Sittin’ in the Dirt. The bluesy ballad features lyrics like “It’s hard to believe you have fallen so far. From the princess you were to the beggar you are.” And that’s about the time Weiss chimes in with her powerful pipes, taking us back to shades of Janis Joplin. Hold on to your “clean white skirt.” It’s hot! Our friend Eve heard a few lines and cooed, “That’s so sexy. I have to get this CD.”
Another highlight is a heartfelt cover of REM’s Sweetness Follows, a poignant ballad about family relationships. Here’s Michael Stipe’s version. Here, Weiss appears to be singing a solo with Robertson on guitar. At the bridge, Sarah Zaslaw’s violin and Ruth Einstein’s cello float in, adding bittersweet depth. When the full chorus arrives for the finale, we have lift off. The beautifully crafted arrangement soars. Note to Michael Stipe: you need to hear this.
These three songs will attract absolutely everyone. While all other cuts are winners – layered and complex, some may appeal more to connoisseurs of choral and sacred music. Trust me. You want a copy of this locally-produced, limited edition work of art. Order here for $15 plus shipping.
Special thanks to chorus member Faith Russler for introducing us to the CBH community many years ago.
Photos of the CBH chorus by Jonathan Hillyer.