When a worldwide lockdown takes you away from something you love, what do you do? Simple. You find a way to do it anyway. And, if you can uplift others in the process, that’s even better.
That’s exactly what the Jewish Women’s Repertory Company (JWRC) did with “Songs from Home,” 12 music videos they released over the last two years that are designed to inspire and bring the community together virtually.
JWRC, which Margy Horowitz and Linda Freedman founded in February 2005, offers Jewish women opportunities to sing, dance and act for all-female audiences. In non-COVID-times they produce one full-length musical and one cabaret show each year. More than 150 women from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform backgrounds have performed with the group.
In March 2020, they were about to start auditions for their next performance when COVID hit. “Everyone was kind of like, what do we do now?” Horowitz told the Journal. “We love making music together and singing together and harmonizing together.”
Horowitz explained how a tradition she started at her synagogue, B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson, led to the group’s community COVID initiative. Back in 2016, for her daughter Julia’s bat mitzvah, Horowitz gathered friends from JWRC to sing to Julia as she approached the bima for her aliyah. The boys at the synagogue had a choir to call them during their bar mitzvahs, so Horowitz decided the girls should, too. Other parents approached Horowitz, asking the group to sing for their daughters.
The first weekend of the lockdown, when a bat mitzvah scheduled for that Shabbat had been cancelled, Horowitz called up Reyna Zack, JWRC’s vice president of communications, to see how they could create a virtual aliyah.
They got the idea to do a video on Thursday, gathered six or seven women from the shul and had a video done by Friday.
Horowitz, along with Zack, who she calls her “co-conspirator” in the virtual music project, figured the group could perform a virtual song since they couldn’t put on an actual show.
The first Song from Home was “Seize the Day” from the musical “Newsies.”
“We put it up online,” Horowitz said. “People in the community were so happy to see it.”
Since COVID was not going away, and they knew it would be a while before they could sing together in person, Horowitz and Zack decided they would keep producing Songs from Home. It’s an intricate process that they’ve both enjoyed.
“Reyna and I pick a song together [and] rearrange it for [a] four-part harmony,” Horowitz, who is a piano teacher and trained musician, said. “A lot of scores are written for soprano, alto, tenor [and] bass, but we have to create our own versions because we’re all female.”
Horowitz and Zack record and send the tracks to the women who are participating, which is usually 20 to 25 women who are divided into four groups. The performers record and send in their vocals. They also record themselves on video singing along with their parts. Horowitz and Zack, who combine all the parts into a cohesive video, have become experts in video production.
“It’s been really fun,” Horowitz said. “I hope that we’ve done something that has given a little bit of strength to the community. [We’re saying], ‘Don’t give up, keep going. We’re going to keep making music; just stick with us and we’ll be back.”
JWRC is now in rehearsals for their next musical, “Something Rotten,” which they hope to be able perform at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center at the end of March. They are also working on their thirteenth Song from Home, which is “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate,” since that ties into the show.
JWRC’s goal is to have fun performing while raising money for worthwhile charities. A portion of the proceeds from JWRC’s shows goes to JFS Hope, a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.
JWRC’s goal is to have fun performing while raising money for worthwhile charities. A portion of the proceeds from JWRC’s shows goes to JFS Hope, a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. They even produced a virtual benefit concert last March, where they created 20 song videos, shared via livestream.
“The idea originally was to start a company where women would have a chance to display their talents for the community in a kosher environment for [the] Orthodox,” Horowitz said. One of the other reasons was philanthropy.
“We are performing as women to help other women in need,” she said. “It’s a way for us to show solidarity with women in general. And it’s a fun way to express [ourselves].”