The Beth Israel Synagogue is hosting the Cumberland Oratorio Singers as they present a powerful performance of Chichester Psalms written by Leonard Bernstein on April 19, at 4 p.m.

Chichester Psalms is a celebration of Hebrew culture and a remembrance of the Holocaust.  

“The lyrics are taken from poetry about the Holocaust called “The Butterfly.” It ties into the Jewish Holocaust memorial holiday (Yom HaShoah). It is when the Jewish community remembers the dead of the Holocaust, and we wanted to tie the concert into that remembrance,” Dr. Michael Martin, the director of choral activities and music education for the Cumberland Oratorio Singers said. 

This piece is quite unique. It combines theatrical and liturgical music in a way that could only come from the musical master Bernstein. 

Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein is written for a boy soprano and an orchestra. We are using a piano, a harp and percussion in a small ensemble. The songs are from the Bible and the Hebrew Bible and translated into the original Hebrew,” said Martin. “This piece was commissioned in 1965 for a festival located in the Chichester Cathedral in (Sussex) England. They just wanted something liturgical and West Side Story from Bernstein. He wrote the music for West Side Story. So, you can hear aspects of West Side Story in the performance if you are an aficionado,” Martin said. 

For those who cannot speak Hebrew, programs with translations will be available.  The performance also includes Frances Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

This season has been a particular challenge for the Cumberland Oratorio Singers, but in a good way. Martin explained that the most difficult aspect of this season has been how busy they have been and the reduced time that they have to prepare for each show. 

“We just finished two shows and we have three rehearsals and then we go to finish this. It is a quick turn around that this group is not necessarily used to. They haven’t really conceived of themselves as professionals with one piece at three weeks and then a new piece. I have mediated that a little by working on two at once,” he said. 

The unwaveringly fantastic performances, despite limited time, speaks to the skills of the performers. 

Despite the end of the season approaching, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers are not slowing down. Instead they are growing. 

“We are looking forward to putting (a youth choir) together this summer and then reaching out for an artistic director … it is an exciting new part of our organization. I get a lot of phone calls when people move here, especially from military families and they say, ‘Mr. Martin you seem to be the guy to call. Where is your local youth choir?’ Then I have to say we don’t have one,” Martin said. “Next fall, we will have the leadership in place and we would like to have them as part of our performance of Carmina Burana with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra. If we can, we would like them on another piece at the end, but for right now we want to start small and then keep building, building, building.”

For more information, visit or call 910-630-7153. Beth Israel Synagogue is located at 2204 Morganton Road. For more information, call 910-484-6462. 

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