Music is central to Jewish worship. At Kol Ami, the Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community in Arlington, prayer is augmented by a musical ensemble of congregants known as the Kol Amites.
Led by congregants Jim North, a cantorial soloist, and music arranger Jason Wright, the multigenerational group of professional and amateur musicians plays during services, holiday parties and b’nai mitzvah. In addition to singers, there are a few guitarists, a drummer and even a family of three that all play the French horn.
Wright and his wife, Erin Bueno de Mesquita, had played the French horn in orchestras before joining Kol Ami about 10 years ago. When their son, Nate, entered eighth grade, the three began playing the French horn together with the Kol Amites.
“[Playing with my family] is absolutely wonderful,” said Wright. He said when the Kol Amites reach the end of the prayer “Oseh Shalom,” that’s when the three French horns come in. “It’s kind of our showpiece,” he said.
At the end of a bar or bat mitzvah service, the Kol Amites play the hymn “Adon Olam,” its words reputed to be able to conform to any melody. At Kol Ami, the bar or bat mitzvah picks the tune. North said versions the group has played have included “Hey Jude” by the Beatles and “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga.
North, who plays guitar and hammered dulcimer, said “at Kol Ami, pretty much everybody’s singing.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Wright started exploring ways to keep the Kol Amites performing together. In order to make music that could be played at services, he made arrangements and recorded a guide track to send to each musicians. The musicians recorded their parts on their phones and sent Wright the results so he could mix the sound together and put them all in a Zoom-like grid.
Being back in person now allows the Kol Amites to perform together the way they used to.
For North, the ability to share music with others is a “heartfelt responsibility.” Music has always been part of his spirituality, he said. To up his game, he is taking a two-year training program at the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute, to help students become effective worship leaders.
“Music is a lifelong love of mine,” North said. “So to have a community that embraces me, lets me sing out, and encourages everybody else to sing, it’s really