In just 30 years, Kol Rinah’s new choral director, Joshua Fishbein, has dabbled in more musical zones than most people can imagine. He is a composer, a pianist and conductor. And that’s just part of the list.
Fishbein grew up in Owings Mills and began taking piano lessons at age 7, which, he says, is where his passion for music began to blossom.
“I just kept on taking more lessons and singing in choirs and eventually writing music,” he said.
At 15, Fishbein started singing in the chamber choir at Franklin High School and the men’s choir at Beth Tfiloh Congregation before spending three years at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he learned music theory. He then spent his undergraduate career at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned degrees in psychology and composition. He also has two graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in music from UCLA that he earned last year.
Fishbein, now 30, said he is not sure whether he enjoys composing, directing or performing the most, but he finds that the two often go hand in hand.
“My primary focus is composing, but I couldn’t imagine composing and then not being involved in performance,” he said.
Fishbein said since taking over Kol Rinah, a mixed-voice a cappella choir, after the High Holidays he has enjoyed working with the group’s 21 members. He has tried to expose them to a wide range of musical generals in attempting to create an Anglican style of music making.
“I feel strong you shouldn’t neglect music from any era,” he said.
Fishbein said his interest in this period of music came from some of his prior experiences of singing in church.
“When I moved to San Francisco I got a job directing an Anglo parish’s music department,” he said. “I directed a vocal ensemble that did a lot of early music, and I became interested in music from a lot of medieval eras.”
Currently, Fishbein divides his time between directing Kol Rinah, teaching part time at the Peabody Institute and singing on a substitute basis at the Washington National Cathedral. Fishbein said he often draws his energy from music that he performs, such as a piece based on a poem by Emma Lazarus about the Statue of Liberty.
“We’re singing different settings of the same text, and I’m inspired by different settings,” he said.
In rehearsal, Fishbein said he often jumps around between different vocal parts, although he normally sings baritone.
“I try to be flexible based on what the group needs at a different time,” he said.
Bill Saks, a member of Kol Rinah for 19 years, said the group’s sound quality has improved dramatically since Fishbein took over, in part because they have learned to appreciate what they are singing.
“He tells us the history behind his music,” he said.
Saks said Fishbein has a no-nonsense but friendly demeanor that has given members reason to arrive on time, as opposed to past years where attendance often lagged.
“He’s managed to achieve the impossible and stop that,” he said.
Saks said it has been a joy so far to learn about the dynamics and various styles of music Fishbein has taught, and they have added several new pieces to their repertoire.
“He’s a consummate professional, and we’re thrilled that he’s with us,” he said.
Fishbein has finally settled down in one place and can spend more time with his wife and 2 1⁄2-year-old daughter. He taught part time at the University of Nevada Las Vegas last year.
“After a year of flying back and forth between D.C. and Vegas, I was ready to come back East,” he said.
Kol Rinah’s next performance will be Dec. 15 at the North Oaks Retirement Community, and Fishbein says it is never too late to join.
“We’re looking for more singers, especially male voices,” he said.