Joey Weisenberg (Photo/Facebook)
Joey Weisenberg (Photo/Facebook)

Joey Weisenberg coming to S.F. to help build ‘singing communities’

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Anyone who tried singing with a group live on Zoom during the pandemic knows just how chaotic and deeply unsatisfying such an experience could be. Zoom just wasn’t made for that.

As much of Jewish communal life resumes in person, many are thrilled to once again be raising their voices together in song — and in the same key and tempo. On Oct. 30, Joey Weisenberg will provide a unique opportunity to do just that when he visits the Bay Area to teach a workshop and give a concert at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.

A “giant of contemporary Jewish music,” in the words of Sherith Israel’s Cantor Toby Glaser, Weisenberg will share techniques on setting up singing spaces, harmonizing, finding the groove and cultivating silence. A program presented by local cantors and a concert involving Weisenberg, local synagogue choirs and workshop participants will follow. All events will be in-person only.

“Since communal life was disrupted by the pandemic, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for the preciousness of every musical moment,” Weisenberg, 40, wrote in an email to J. “More than anything else, I’m just excited to get to be a part of the beautiful spiritual soundscape we create together!”

Weisenberg is the founder of the Philadelphia-based Rising Song Institute, which fosters Jewish spiritual life through music. (It is a program of the Hadar Institute, an egalitarian educational institution in New York.) He has led singing workshops around the world, and he said the Sherith Israel program is for Jewish professionals and lay leaders, musicians and “anyone who wants to transform their local musical culture.”

Glaser told J. he attended one of Weisenberg’s workshops in New York a few years ago and was “blown away” by the experience.

“His teaching is really grounded in Jewish thought, philosophy and scholarship,” Glaser said. “He really uses a lot of text, whether it’s from the Torah or the Talmud, to emphasize the way the melody affects us on a Jewish level.”

In contrast to the Reform tradition of Jewish music, which is grounded in American folk music (think Debbie Friedman), Weisenberg works with melodies based on Jewish liturgical music, said Glaser. “It’s a different style to a lot of Jewish popular music that’s been written,” he said.

FROM 2016: Singing with Joey: The power of prayer in communal melodies

With its massive dome and evocative stained glass windows, Sherith Israel’s sanctuary is an ideal place to “get transcendental” with the music, Glaser said. Temple Isaiah in Lafayette and Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael are co-sponsoring the events.

The author of “Building Singing Communities: A Practical Guide to Unlocking the Power of Music in Jewish Prayer” and “The Torah of Music,” Weisenberg plays multiple instruments and composes new nigguns, or wordless melodies. His latest album, “L’eila,” dropped earlier this year.

He said he is looking forward to working with as many Jewish music lovers as possible.

“The more people who attend, the richer the sounds, the deeper the conversation, the more uplifting the experience,” he said. “And I hope this will merely be the starting point of a much longer journey into collective song.”

“Building Singing Communities with Joey Weisenberg”

Sunday, Oct. 30, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., followed by a workshop led by local cantors (3-5 p.m.) and “Rising Song Gathering” concert (7 p.m.). At Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California St., San Francisco. $36 each for the workshops and concert. Vaccination required, masks optional.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.