Kathryn Barnard first heard “Anne Frank: A Living Voice” nearly two decades ago.
“Then, about 10 years ago, Aron Zelkowicz, the founder of the [Pittsburgh] Jewish Music Festival, asked me if we would perform it and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.
Barnard is the artistic director and founder of the Pittsburgh Girls Choir, a choral group for girls aged 6 to 18 that was launched in 2005 as the Oakland Girls Choir.
On April 16, the choir will sing the work, which incorporates entries from Anne Frank’s diary, along with “Ani Ma’amin” and Srul Irving Glick’s “Palm Trilogy,” in partnership with Beth Shalom’s Derekh program, as part of a Yom HaShoah commemoration concert at the Squirrel Hill Conservative synagogue.
The collaboration between Beth Shalom and PGC had its genesis when Maria Angelica Caruso, director of the Bodiography Center for Movement, told Judith Hoenig Adelson of Beth Shalom about a partnership between PGC and local dancers using words from Anne Frank.
“When I heard the description of what was going to take place, I thought this would possibly be a great thing to produce in our sanctuary,” Adelson said.
Caruso, though, played more than an introductory role. She was, until recently, the head of La Roche University’s dance department and was asked to choreograph “Anne Frank: A Living Voice.” Instead, she offered the opportunity to a composition student, Sarah Pereira, who is Jewish, to choreograph “Anne Frank: A Living Voice” for six dancers.
PGS’s Executive Director Angela Goldberg said the partnership between PGC and Beth Shalom stemmed from “a beautiful coincidence.”
“We were on a Zoom call with Maria talking about the most appropriate venue for the concert and then, enter Judy, [Adelson],” Goldberg said.
“Anne Frank: A Living Voice” was written by Linda Tutas Haugen as a commission for the San Francisco Girls Chorus. It is based on portions of Frank’s diary written while the teenager was hidden from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
Barnard, who isn’t Jewish, said she selected the piece because she’s always felt a strong bond with Judaism.
“I love and respect it,” she said, “but more than anything, I hate the abuses that happened and I’m a strong advocate for children. I think that was an impetus to really want to do these pieces.”
For chorus member Eliza Meyer, it wasn’t hard to connect to Frank’s words, first published nearly 80 years ago. The Fox Chapel High School senior has been a choir member since she was in first grade.
Meyer feels a connection to Frank’s words as a young woman and, since studying the Holocaust in school, that bond has grown.
“I cry every single time I sing it,” Meyer said. “The selected texts give you insight into some of the most beautiful and insightful things in her mind.”
Oakland Catholic High School senior and choir member Alexandra Price first sang the piece while she was studying the Holocaust.
“We were reading Anne Frank’s diary at the time, so it just all lined up … but then singing the words with music, I think, gave me more of an artistic connection, so I can express it physically and emotionally,” Price said.
Meyer credited Barnard with helping the choir members understand what it was like for Frank during the time she wrote her diary.
“She’ll say, ‘What do you think this means? What do you think she was going through?’ There are points where the silence is eating away at her, and we’ll discuss what that means,” Meyer said.
The choir will perform the piece, which Barnard called “difficult and nuanced,” with a string quartet.
Instrumentation, Price said, brings an added dimension to the work.
“There’s a lot of fluctuation in dynamics and tension,” she said.
Noting that the concert is titled “The Beauty That Still Remains,” Barnard said she wants those directly affected by the Holocaust to feel they are being honored, especially since it takes place the night before Yom HaShoah.
She also wants to show that the younger generation will not forget the horror of the Holocaust.
“In a more general sense, I want people to hear hope because her diaries are flooded with hope,” Barnard said. “We go from the Anne Frank piece to three psalms. So, there is a lot of hope.”
Price said that feeling of hope is buttressed by the words sung.
“One of the last phrases that we sing out of the seven pieces is, ‘And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better. I must hold onto my ideals and perhaps one day, I will be able to realize them.’ We come out of this depression and complete and utter hopelessness in humanity; but instead, we can look at the bright side and know things will change if we try to change them,” she said.
“[Frank] teaches us that,” Meyer said. “She’s young but she had so much maturity. Reading that as a young person trying to figure out what’s next in life, is just so interesting because we hear her talking about her ideals and hopes.”
“The Beauty That Still Remains” will be performed on Sunday, April 16 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom. Tickets can be purchased at bethshalompgh.org/holocaustremembranceconcert. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.