The POLIN Choir

In 2014, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews invited Warsaw residents to take part in an exceptional musical undertaking – to co-create an experimental community choir which would develop its own composition inspired by the Polin legend – the legend on the arrival of Jews in Poland. The premiere of the composition took place during the Open Days accompanying the Grand Opening of the Core Exhibition (October 2014). 

Professionals and amateurs, youth, adults and seniors, representatives of minorities living in Warsaw – about 60 people in total – took part in the project. Since then, the Choir continues to create new compositions, with the premiere of each one of them being preceded by a series of workshops lasting approximately two months; each new project is open to both the participants of previous editions and to new individuals who are willing to join the group. Besides the traditional techniques of working with voice, the Choir never ceases in its quest for extraordinary means of expression: sounds, melodies and interpretations are created as a result of individual or group explorations in the fields of emission, rhythm and sound. As a result, the POLIN Choir has become a collective voice which provides interpretations and commentaries on selected aspects of both Jewish heritage and contemporary life as well as on various themes which span many different cultures.

The first project, i.e. the interpretation of the legend on the arrival of Jews in Poland, prepared by the Choir and presented to the audience in October 2014, draws inspiration from many contexts: Jewish songs and texts have been combined with compositions from other musical traditions in which the leading theme is a journey throughout life, a plea for a safe journey and the search for home. The word Polin in Hebrew and Yiddish means “Poland”, but also “here you shall find rest”. Both of these meanings came together in the legend that formed the basis for the work of the Choir. 

The second major project – “Dialogue”, premiered in April 2016, accompanied the nationwide conference entitled “Education on Diversity”; through its lyrics and music, the project made references to the subject of refugees, serving as a commentary to the question on the possibility of inter-cultural dialogue in contemporary Poland and Europe as well as the challenges which such dialogue presents in the face of the increasing radicalism. Among the various works of poetry from both the past and present that served as the Choir’s inspiration, one must mention such works as Auden’s “Refugee Blues”, presenting the story of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany before World War II, “Home” by Warsan Shire, with its famous words “No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark”, or “The Worst Day Ever”, a poem written by a teenage Jewish girl which, when read in an ordinary manner, presents a dark vision of reality, whereas when we read it backwards, the message suddenly changes, becoming upbeat and positive. The composition also incorporates contemporary comments of various columnists, pieces of folk songs as well as individual stories of the members of the Choir itself. In this composition, blues – the music born out of the songs of slaves – was juxtaposed with reggae – the music of freedom.

In October 2016, the Choir presented a project entitled “Zamenhof”, prepared by the Jewish Historical Institute Association in partnership with the POLIN Museum and with the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The project itself was inspired by the sounds and languages of the Zamenhofa Street: Polish, Yiddish and Esperanto, the latter being included as a reference to Ludwik Zamenhof himself. The sounds of the composition itself incorporated various techniques such as beatbox or body percussion; the concert was accompanied by screenings of works prepared by the participants of the workshops under the guidance of Sylwester Łuczak, a visual artist. 

In February 2017, the Choir presented a new project called “JewTube”, designed to accompany the “Jukebox, Jewkbox! A Jewish Century on Shellac and Vinyl” exhibition which portrays the influence of Jewish culture and history on the popular music of the 20th century. Members of the POLIN Choir acted as living vinyl records, with two conductors/DJs, Sean Palmer and Kuba Pałys, being responsible for the mixing. The audience were treated to a mixture of tangos, foxtrots, waltzes, new interpretations of pieces written by Jewish composers of the interwar period, popular songs taken from interwar film soundtracks, hit songs from various Jewish theatres and cabarets such as “Rebecca Dances the Tango” or “I’m Such a Cold Rascal”. 

The overarching theme of the subsequent POLIN Choir projects is the participatory process of creating collective musical expression as well as the use of the collage as a creative method, combining various styles, melodies and creating an added value on the basis of many different sources. Another important aspect is that we make efforts to present the effects of our work – attained in the course of individual editions of our performances – on many other occasions, such as the performance for an international group of educators, activists, museum experts and researchers in the course of the “Interculturalism in Historical Education” conference (2015), the performance during the “Evening for Three Choirs” event along with the Hvalkjæften choir from Norway and the Gre Badanie ensemble (2015) or the performance at the Theatrical Studio in the course of the “Exceptional Choirs” project (2016). The participants of the individual editions are also invited to take part in various other musical projects, such as, the creation of the soundtrack for the alternative walk of the Muranów district called “Lily from Muranów”, prepared in cooperation with Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, an artist-in-residence at the POLIN Museum. This piece also became one of the features of the vernissage of the “Presence/Absence/Traces. Contemporary Artists on Jewish Warsaw” exhibition (April-March 2016), intended as a summary of the first stage of the artist-in-residence programme at the POLIN Museum. Apart from being played during the opening ceremony, the piece also became part of the exhibition itself.

The POLIN Choir is led by Sean Palmer – an independent British artist, composer and a conductor; Jakub Pałys – an accompanist, vocal coach and composer; and Ewa Chomicka – the project founder and coordinator.

POLIN Choir - "Jew Tube":

Chór POLIN - „Zamenhof”:

POLIN Choir - the “Dialogue” project:

POLIN Choir - performance during the Grand Opening of the Core Exhibition:

POLIN Choir - making of:

See the pictures from concerts and rehearsals:

fot. Muzeum POLIN