The famed Philadelphia Boys and Philadelphia Girls Choirs will add a new language to their performance repertoire on Sunday, April 27, at 1 p.m., when they participate for the first time in the 50th annual community Yom Hashoah commemoration on 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
According to Anne Hagan, the group’s executive director, the multilingual children’s chorales have been learning to sing in Yiddish to prepare for their debut in front of an anticipated audience of several thousand Holocaust survivors, legislators, clergy, Jewish communal leaders and community members.
Both choirs will perform “Zog Nit Keyn Mol Zog,” a song written by Hirsh Glick, a young Jewish man enslaved in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II. The song, popular for its opening line — “Never say that you have reached the final road” — was adopted by a number of Jewish partisan groups in Eastern Europe and became a symbol of resistance against the Nazis’ efforts to annihilate Jews during the Holocaust.
The boys choir will sing “Yugnt-Himen,” the youth hymn of the Vilna Ghetto that was written by Yiddish activist Shmerke Kacerginski. Kacerginski also wrote the lyrics for “Shtiler, Shtiler,” which was composed by Alek Volkoviski, an 11-year-old Vilna Ghetto resident.
The song, which will be performed by the girls choir, means “hush, hush” in English. Although designed as a lullaby, it chronicles the murders taking place in the forest just outside the ghetto and expresses the pain and suffering of the Vilna inmates.
Hagan says the young vocalists are eager to perform these pieces, which have such profound significance to the assembled audience on April 27. She believes that it will be great preparation for their separate European tours this summer.
The boys choir leaves on July 7 for travel to England and Wales, where they will perform Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.” The late composer was inspired by the Psalm of David to create this piece to be sung by a boy soprano, to suggest the voice of David himself.
On July 25, the girls choir, created just two years ago, will depart for Krakow, Prague and Vienna for performances with the Vienna Boys Choir. One of the tour’s highlights will include a performance at the sight of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they will sing “Night,” a song inspired by the book by Elie Wiesel, which chronicles his experiences with his father in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
They will also sing “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” inspired by a poem by Pavel Friedman, a young man incarcerated at Theresienstadt concentration camp and later killed in Auschwitz.
Hagan, who will accompany the choir, calls the Auschwitz performance “a rare opportunity and a priceless educational experience for the girls.”
Auditions are now open for both the Philadelphia Boys Choir and the Girls Choir. If interested, call Hagan at 267-207-2726. For more information about Yom Hashoah on April 27, call Beth Razin at 215-832-0536.