Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation has a long and very proud musical tradition. Our choir was formed in the mid-19th century and led by Abraham Saqui from 1858 until his death in 1893. Saqui was one of the world’s leading composers of synagogue music in the Victorian era and trained the choir to an exceptionally high standard. It performed regularly at local and national events, in a time when many mainstream Orthodox Hebrew congregations had choirs. The repertoire included pieces by the finest composers of synagogue liturgy, including Sulzer, Lewandowski, Mombach, Naumbourg, Salaman, Alman and many more, as well as Saqui’s own work.

 

The high standards were maintained long after Saqui’s death, notably under Rev AB Coleman’s tenure from the 1910s. In 1933, the leadership fell to the young Raphael “Rafe” Dorfman, who had been a member of the choir for some time. He served as choirmaster for an incredible 68 years, until retiring through ill-health in 2001. His brother Charles served a similar period as choir librarian until his death in 2000.

In 1941, under the strain of World War II, the decision was made to recruit a small number of women into the choir to compensate for the evacuation of many of the boy choristers and also the active service of some of the men. The women who joined the choir were Rafe and Charles’ sister, their wives and young daughters. Our congregants became accustomed to the finest musical traditions, delivered by their beloved choir and spectacular chazzanim such as Rev Herman Bornstein.

After the war and throughout much of the remainder of the 20th century, it was not uncommon for mainstream Anglo-Orthodox congregations to retain a mixed choir of this type, however, we believe we are now the only Orthodox congregation in the UK to retain a mixed choir.

Whilst smaller in number, the musical tradition is still maintained by today's choristers during every service and at many weddings. No musical accompaniment is permitted in Orthodox law so this, combined with the acoustics of the building, has the effect of enhancing the beauty of the four-part harmony.

A selection of audio clips of our choir can be found on the audio page of this website.

Saul Marks