It was a week before Hanukkah and Rabbi Jonathan Kligler was about to start his 25th year at the helm of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation with a long dreamt-of project.
“We’re recording the music of the high holidays. What a gift to do this in December,” he was saying to his gathered choir and congregation members in the main room of the congregation’s home off Glasco Turnpike on a white-skied Sunday afternoon.
A large boom camera lowers in front of him as a second camera test zooms from a distance. Sound engineers test mics and recording producer Chris Andersen of Nevessa Productions explains how he’ll be keeping an eye and ear on the next two days’ proceedings from his remote truck outside.
“Do you want us standing or sitting,” Kligler asks him.
“I just want everyone to sing loud,” Andersen replies before disappearing, all his subsequent messages about to come over a loud speaker inside this room, like some disembodied, non-threatening Wizard of Oz.
Kligler explains that he’s long wanted to record the great music the WJC pulls together for every Rosh Hashanah in a huge tent outside where everyone’s now seated. With Nevessa’s help, a CD will be produced, along with a DVD and YouTube works for distribution by this spring.
His former assistant and musical director Zoe Zak, now rabbi at a temple in Catskill, tests runs on her accordion, then joins the choir with a smile and lots of hugs.
“Enjoy yourselves,” Kligler says as he leads the congregation through the introductory chant/song with which he usually starts his new year’s services.
After a run-through he gets the choir to lead the congregation through a six-part roundelay. After some jostling about as people move closer to the room’s microphones, and get a sense of the sight lines they’ll need to follow their section leaders, and the rabbi, Andersen calls for all tape to start rolling.
By song’s end everyone stands stunned for a moment. Then the room breaks into beaming faces.
“That was great,” Andersen’s voice says from afar. “Let’s do another take, though, since it sounded just a little tentative as first.”
“Let’s give our voices the sense of building,” Kligler adds. “Shall we shake out first?”