Residents of the William Bremen Jewish Home in Buckhead sat around tables decorated for Hanukkah with balloons and gold-wrapped candy coins. Five younger women took the stage and started singing crowd favorites. They began harmonizing on “Sunrise, Sunset,” and Rose Cooper, who had a front-row seat, perked up and sang along. “I like to sing,” she said after the concert ended.
So do the women who were onstage singing everything from “The Dreidel Song” to “Rivers of Babylon” to a rousing version of “God Bless America.”
They’re members of Shir Harmony, an Atlanta-based a cappella singing group. They call themselves Atlanta’s only Jewish, all-woman a cappella group. And to hear them tell it, they feel it’s important that they are all three things at once.
“It’s more than a choir, it’s a family,” singer Heather Low said after the show. “I think if it was just a choir, some of us would have dropped out. This week we have three concerts, so we must really like each other.”
“If we didn’t love it, we’d have quit long ago,” said singer Mindy Margolis, who lives in Buckhead and can claim to be the only member of Shir Harmony who’s stayed with the group continually since the beginning, “For me, it’s really about the friendships.”
They’re quick to say they’ve been through a lot together in the past decade. Marriages. Babies. Good times and tough ones. “We all are really close,” said Lauren Grossman of Sandy Springs.
Shir Harmony – which takes the first part of its name from the Hebrew word for “song” — celebrates its 10th anniversary as a women’s singing group with a show Dec. 16 at Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs. The show begins at 3 p.m.
The group actually was started in 2000 by a bunch of guys who wanted to keep singing a cappella – meaning without instrumental accompaniment – after they graduated from Emory University, Margolis said. A cappella singing, after all, is usually associated with colleges. The style may show up in popular TV shows or movies now, but it’s still rooted in college glee clubs.
The original version of the Shir Harmony, Margolis said, featured five men and four women. But after a couple of years, “the men just kind of dropped like flies,” she said. The singers who wanted to join all were women. Shir Harmony found its identity. The group now has eight female members.
“We like to call ourselves ‘sisters of song,’” Margolis said. “We’re so close as friends.”
But they also see themselves as Jewish performers of Jewish music. Their shows feature Jewish prayers, songs written by Jewish composers, songs in Yiddish, songs with Jewish themes, Grossman said. They do tunes from “Fiddle on the Roof,” but their definition of ‘Jewish music’ includes tunes by Paul Simon and Carly Simon, she said. “We do Jewish music. That really sets us apart from other a cappella groups,” Margolis said.
They came to Shir Harmony from different places. Grossman grew up in Memphis, surrounded by that city’s soul music, “which is why I think music is such a big part of my life,” she said. She started singing in musical theater when she was young, then, after college, found her career working for nonprofits. Margolis works as a singer of classical music with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and local opera companies. Low, who as a teenager helped Margolis teach music to younger kids, works as a psychoanalyst and is proud to say she just finished her Ph.D. in psychology. Offstage, this is an eclectic bunch.
Onstage, their voices blend. “We blend eight individual voices,” Margolis said. “We actually sing in harmony. That’s what makes us Shir Harmony. We are actually in harmony.”