Lay-led music has congregation following beat of its own folk group, choir

Congregation Adat Reyim Choir Music Director Mitch Bassman leads the choir, folk group and students in “Hal’luyah (Praise God)” to open the “Praise and Inspiration” concert on June 13. Photo by Josh Marks
Congregation Adat Reyim Choir Music Director Mitch Bassman leads the choir, folk group and students in “Hal’luyah (Praise God)” to open the “Praise and Inspiration” concert on June 13.
Photo by Josh Marks

As Congregation Adat Reyim choir member Frannie Nadel looked out at the audience bopping their heads and clapping along to the music on Saturday night in Springfield for the synagogue’s “Praise and Inspiration!” concert, she knew that the year-and-a-half of planning and practice had paid off.

That hard work culminated in the concert that, for the first time, combined the choir, under the direction of Mitch Bassman, with the Shir Reyim folk group, under the direction of Larry Kugler and Russell Nadel, brother of Frannie.

Frannie Nadel is testament to the drawing power of the thriving lay-led music scene at Adat Reyim. She became a member when her brother and sister-in-law were looking to affiliate with a synagogue.

“They found this place, and they said, ‘You’ve got to come along. They’ve got a chorus. They’ve got a folk group. I think you’re really going to like it.’ So I was like, ‘Sure, why not,’” explains Nadel. “So I went along and I happened to be there for the High Holidays where the choir leads services. And the music was amazing. It was a four-part choral harmony to a lot of the melodies that I had grown up with and I just sat there going, ‘I want to do this. I want to be part of this chorus.’ And so I joined.”

Some might view the lack of a cantor as a minus musically for the congregation, according to Adat Reyim President Andrea Cate.

“We have freedom at Congregation Adat Reyim musically. We don’t have a cantor, which many of us wish we did. But we don’t. And so this allows us the freedom to create our own music,” Cate says.

Bassman founded the choir in 1983 with nine members. There are now 16 members who perform at two Shabbat evening services each month. Kugler founded the folk group in 1998 with six members. Today it has 12 members, including four or five musicians depending on the piece they are performing. The folk group performs monthly in the sanctuary.

The program included joint musical selections that required choir members and folk members to get out of their comfort zone. Some of the folk members who were used to more improvisation had to learn to read off the page while some choir members used to sheet music had to learn to “loosen up,” as Bassman describes.

Guest performers included students from the Adat Reyim Religious School and tenor soloist Alexander Kugler, son of Larry Kugler and his wife Eileen, who returned from San Francisco to his hometown synagogue to sing on Yah Ribon Alam. The wide-ranging musical selections included big choral pieces like Hal’lyua to the Ladino song Los Bilbilicos to the Klezmer medley Stompin’ at the Synagogue and even a rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

An unaffiliated congregation, Adat Reyim was founded in 1981 by three Northern Virginia families and has grown to nearly 300 families under the leadership of Rabbi Bruce Aft, the congregation’s spiritual leader since 1991.

Aft says the music is a “gateway to spirituality” for the folk and choir members.

“We’ve always been real supportive. And it’s just so nice to feel their energy and that’s something that’s really special.”

[email protected]

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here