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About Us

"Expert exuberance...

real choral competency and finished style..."

           The New York Times

Zemer Chai (“Living Song”) is dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich musical heritage of the Jewish people at the highest level. The singers come from all walks of Jewish life, joined together in their loving commitment to keep this music alive and relevant.

Founded by conductor Eleanor Epstein in 1976, Zemer Chai today is one of the nation’s leading Jewish choirs. The choir sings the full range of Jewish choral repertoire, from classical and liturgical pieces to world Jewish folk music in multiple languages, and new works composed especially for the choir.  The concerts offer a breadth of Jewish music that is rarely heard – giving life to music that had been hidden away in dusty archives over decades or even centuries, and also giving contemporary composers the opportunity to have their works performed with respect for their vision. In the words of composer Steve Cohen, “Your magnificent rendition of Baruch Habah … went way beyond just the correct notes; it was very clear that every singer understood just what I meant to convey, and they delivered that with conviction and assurance.”


Zemer Chai has performed at the White House, Library of Congress, Strathmore and the Kennedy Center. The choir has traveled to New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, the Catskills, the West Virginia mountains – and the hills of Jerusalem. An integral part of the Greater Washington, D.C. community, Zemer Chai takes pride in building bridges to other faiths and cultures, attracting audiences of many backgrounds and participating in numerous intercultural events.

Collaborative endeavors bring deeper meaning to the connective power of music. In addition to performing with noted cantors, Zemer Chai has performed in joint concerts with groups ranging from the Baltimore chapter of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir; The Jerusalem Academy Choir of The Hebrew University; the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band; Coral Cantigas, Washington’s Premier Latino Chorus; and the Heritage Signature Chorale. Guest artist Ysaye Barnwell, formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock, after conducting Zemer Chai in her arrangement of Go Down, Moses, noted,  “How much more profound an experience than to share this particular spiritual in which our histories and faiths are so inextricably bound together.”

“Thank you, Eleanor, for the opportunity to work with and get to know you and the marvelous singers of Zemer Chai.”                       

Ysaye Barnwell

composer, singer, author 


Singing in Zemer Chai is a deeply moving experience, engaging the singers in their broad history and tradition, and connecting them ever more strongly to the rich legacy of the worldwide Jewish experience. As the singers prepare to perform texts and melodies from around the world, Eleanor  empowers them to move beyond mere pronunciation of words to an internalization of the experience that gave rise to these personal expressions. The singers then share this deep understanding of the text and musical setting with the audience, creating a memorable and moving experience for all present.


Throughout the growth and evolution of this Washington choral institution, the original mission of Zemer Chai remains strong: to share the rich heritage of the Jewish people through its poetry and music.

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