Spring concert to be Cantigas Women’s Choir director’s farewell

For her final concert, Joan Isaacs Litman has prepared a program featuring Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sheep May Softly Graze," Johann Strauss II's "Gentle Breezes Softly Blow" and Imant Raminish's "Daybreak Song," among others.

Having celebrated women’s voices in Hudson County and beyond for 16 years, the founding artistic director of the Cantigas Women’s Choir will be retiring after Saturday’s annual spring concert.

“Everything has come full circle,” Joan Isaacs Litman said as she prepares to lead the choir in her final concert, “Of Heaven and Earth, Land and Sea.”

A Jersey City resident, Litman started the Cantigas Women’s Choir in Hoboken in 2002.

“When I was teaching a school choir in Hoboken in the late ’70s, I would watch the parents, the mothers in particular, at the concerts we would have,” Litman told The Jersey Journal. “I thought to myself that they wanted to be singing and they needed to sing.”

While doing graduate studies in Eastern Europe, she saw Finnish, Hungarian and Swedish women’s choir’s and realized a movement was underway, a movement she could bring to Hudson.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Let’s go for it,’ and we did,” she said. “We figured if we (had) 15 women by the end of the year, we could have a respectable concert. We ended up with 30 by the end of year. It was an idea that was in the right place at the right time.” 

Now, Litman said, the time is right to turn over leadership of the choir and pursue other interests, including her involvement with multicultural music education.

From teaching in schools in Hoboken and Manhattan to working with teachers around the world, Litman has specialized in international traditional music.

In recent years, she has taught and guest-conducted in Syria, throughout the Middle East and in Argentina, Mexico, Qatar and Poland. For many years, she served on the music faculty of the United Nations International School in Manhattan and is currently artist-in-residence at the Mustard Seed School in Hoboken, where she is also a founder and music director emerita.

As for Cantigas, “it’s in a very strong place right now,” Litman said.

“The interest continues,” she added. “Cantigas will get a new director and we’ve narrowed it down to a few final choices and it will be someone who can continue the unique mission of this group.” 

For her final concert, Litman has prepared a program featuring Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Softly Graze,” Johann Strauss II’s “Gentle Breezes Softly Blow” and Imant Raminish’s “Daybreak Song,” among others.

Choir members range in age from 13 to 75. They have performed locally and internationally as well as charitably for groups such as the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton and Bayonne Cancer Survivors.

The choir has traveled to Buenos Aires to perform with composer and director Leonardo San Juan as well as to Philadelphia; Hartford, Connecticut; Brooklyn; and Manhattan.

Rachel Chang, a Hoboken resident who has been singing Alto 2 with the choir for 14 years, praised Litman.

“Joany has an infectious way of not just inviting you into the choir, but into her life,” Chang said. “She makes every single person feel like they are an essential part of the group at every moment, through her eye contact and winks during rehearsal and inside jokes and conversations during breaks.” 

Assistant director and pianist Erasmia Voukelatos, who has performed with Litman for 25 years, will conduct Saturday’s concert and provide strings, flute and percussion alongside the choir.

The Joan Isaacs Litman Legacy Fund has been started to continue Litman’s vision. After uniting women with diverse backgrounds through world music, Litman sought to bring that music to communities in need. The fund will help keep the choir going and also help it keep to those values.

Reflecting on the past 16 years, Litman looked back on her own growth as well as the choir’s.

“I’ve had a lot of musical growth personally,” she said. “I was already very seasoned when staring this choir. I was over 50 and now I’m approaching 70. I’ve come to believe, more than ever, that one must work at one’s strengths and one needs to consult and take the help from those who could help them in areas of need. Don’t shy away from it. I learned that better with Cantigas than I did in my first 30 years of teaching.” 

If you go …

The Cantigas Choir Spring Concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at St. Matthew Trinity Church, 57 Eighth St., Hoboken. Suggested donation is $20 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. For information, go to www.cantigas.net.


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