Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has inaugurated the jubilee celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the HUC-JIR's School of Sacred Music (SSM). Founded in 1948 in New York by Hebrew Union College, the SSM was created at a time when the Holocaust threatened to sever the continuity of the Jewish people's cultural heritage. The SSM dedicated itself as a guarantor that the musical traditions of generations past would survive and be enhanced by the creativity of new generations. With a mission to teach, preserve and promote Jewish liturgical music and to train cantors for the Reform Movement and the Jewish People, the SSM gathered a distinguished faculty, began publishing out-of-print classics, and established an academic and cultural center for Jewish music with the Chazzan, the Cantor, at its center.
Since its founding, the SSM has trained 299 cantors who serve congregations throughout North America. In 1975, HUC-JIR invested Barbara Ostfeld Horowitz as the first woman cantor in history; a total of 121 women have been invested as cantors to date.
Today, the rigorous four-year program, leading to the degree of Master of Sacred Music, includes a mandatory first year of study at the College-Institute's Jerusalem School followed by three years at the New York campus featuring intensive Judaic, Hebrew, music, musicology, and liturgy studies, vocal and professional skills training, internships and pastoral care and counseling course and field work, and performance. Upon investiture as cantors, alumni are eligible for membership in the American Conference of Cantors, an affiliate of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The full-year of celebration will include:
- Academic Conference: "Music, Spirit, Scholarship: The Legacy of Eduard Birnbaum" [November22-23, 1998 in New York] - the first academic conference ever devoted to research based on, and music preserved in, HUC-JIR's Eduard Birnbaum Collection. Preserved at HUC-JIR's Klau Library in Cincinnati, this collection is acknowledged to be the world's largest (90,000 items) and most important collection of 18th and 19th century European Jewish music and archival material and comprises some 60% of all known Jewish music manuscripts created before 1840. The conference will host visiting musicologists from throughout the United States and Israel. Musical performances will be presented by the School of Sacred Music Choir and the Collegium Musicum of New York University, an early music ensemble.
- Exhibition: A Treasury of Sacred Melodies [September 1998 - January 1999 in New York, then traveling to HUC-JIR's campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Jerusalem]: an exhibition of rare vocal scores and manuscripts, never before shown to the public, from the Eduard Birnbaum Collection, which will feature music manuscripts for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays from Germany's vanished Jewish communities displayed together with photographs, memorabilia, artifacts and text panels illustrating the cultural and historical context of the music. The influence of secular and church music on the development of 18th and 19th century Jewish liturgical music will also be presented.
- Concerts by cantorial alumni and premiering new compositions by SSM alumni/ae, and the study of liturgical music preserved by the Birnbaum Collection performed by SSM students will take place throughout the jubilee year
- Convocation: the inauguration of the Doctor of Music, Honoris Causa, to distinguished cantorial alumni [Fall 1998].