“It’s not Bach,” I kept saying. She had asked me what I thought of the music we sing in Koleinu. I’m sure she was expecting me to gush about how wonderful it is to sing Jewish music, how it’s almost a religious experience, how it makes me feel part of the Jewish community. All I could say was it’s not Bach. Did my answer disappoint her?          

Before I even met Osnat Netzer — Koleinu commissioned her to write a piece for our tenth anniversary — I knew I’d like her. How could I not? Someone who wanted to get to know us as individuals, not just collectively as Koleinu, had to be nice.  

“What did you mean when you said the music isn’t Bach?” Osnat probed. I couldn’t answer. I know a bit about music theory; I should have been able to explain myself. Was it that I wanted to sing Baroque music? Was I was just being a snob about singing pop music? Why didn’t I mention Mozart or Brahms? Why only Bach? 

I thought of our conversation the Sunday morning I went to hear the Bach Magnificat. There’d been a sign at the church on my corner announcing they were singing the Magnificat as part of their Advent service. Eleven o’clock.  Free. Of course the music was glorious — Bach always is — but as I listened, I thought about our “Koleinu music” and how I was warming up to it.

When Osnat introduced us to her piece, “Sound the Great Shofar,” my first thought was wow, I’m going to have to really learn how to sing a triplet. I like being challenged that way. Don’t get me wrong, though. There is certainly more to “Sound the Great Shofar” than counting triplets. I can’t explain what it is that moves me about this music, but maybe it’s okay not to know. Yet. Each rehearsal teaches me more. That’s the way the creative process works.  At first, it’s okay not to know, and then, we do know.  “Sound the Great Shofar” isn’t Bach, and I don’t want it to be Bach. It has its own beauty. Its structure is unfolding, revealing itself to me. I love getting to know it.

–Penny Kohn