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Justin OdwakBy MYRON LOVE
The Shaarey Zedek Congregation’s long time choir – which has been led by talented maestro Yuri Klaz for the past 15 years – is no more. The choir as it was formerly constituted has been dissolved and a much smaller choir is being reassembled by Justin Odwak.


“We are transforming our chapel service and building a new identity,” says Ian Staniloff, the Shaarey Zedek’s executive director. “The changes to the choir are part of that. It is sad having to lose this long-standing tradition (the choir), but tradition changes over time.”
The choir had been a staple of bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrations, yom tovim and other special occasions. When Yuri Klaz was appointed choir director shortly after coming here from Russia, the choir had 25 members, Staniloff says.
“Yuri is a great person and is very talented,” Staniloff says. “Yuri currently leads two other choirs (the Winnipeg Singers and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir). Ours was the smallest of his choirs.”
A few years back, Staniloff notes, the choir was cut back to 16 members. In recent years, he says, “the demand for the choir has declined considerably. Many bar and bat mitzvahs are now being held in the evening (instead of Shabbat morning) or at other venues outside of the synagogue.
“Looking at the year ahead, we only have eight occasions where the choir will be called upon,” Staniloff says. “We decided to cut the number of singers to eight. We sought commitments from current choir members who wanted to remain with the choir. We didn’t get those commitments so we decided to dissolve the choir.”
The synagogue board turned to classical singer and University of Manitoba Faculty of Music student Justin Odwak to assemble a new, smaller choir. “This was an opportunity I felt I couldn’t turn down,” Odwak says. “It represents a big boost to my career.”
The 22-year-old had been a member of the Shaarey Zedek choir for the past 10 years. He says that he is currently working toward a degree in Choral music education. He also teaches some private students, leads the Kolot Choir under the auspices of the Rady Centre and is a member of the Camerata Nova.
“We are still figuring out what the new choir will look like,” he says. “It will be smaller and have a different format. We will still have our four –part harmony with soprano, alto, tenor and bass. We have just begun our recruitment efforts. We have had a few people express interest.”
He reports that the new choir is expected to makes its debut for the High Holidays.


Editor’s Post script:
We were contacted by a member of the Shaarey Zedek choir who offered a somewhat different interpretation of what happened.
That individual sent us a copy of the letter that was sent by Ian Staniloff to all choir members. The letter said, in part:
Due to the number of current vacancies already in the choir, it was agreed that unless we had a minimum number committing, with the correct balance of range of voices, Shaarey Zedek would not be able to offer the same musical standard that our congregation has come to expect. Unfortunately, with the response we received from current choir members, we were unable to meet that goal.
Shaarey Zedek has a legacy of being strongly committed to ensuring that we have had high quality choirs to enhance the experience of our congregants and guests attending our services. To that end we have no choice but to advise you that effective immediately we will not be continuing on with the current choir, and will be moving in a different direction in terms of our choral presentations.
Maestro Yuri Klaz has been advised of this decision.  We are saddened by his departure and grateful for his many years of talented leadership.  
According to the choir member who contacted us, Yuri Klaz and the members of the choir were simply “fired”. Further, according to that individual, there never was a possibility that the choir would be reconstituted even if all the choir members had indicated a willingness to join the new choir.