Unity meets competition as girls’ choirs sing at YULA


Maayan Waldman

SING: The girls of the Shalhevet choir perform at the “Neima: Sing It Forward” competition at YULA Girls High School April 26. They lost to YULA by three points.

By Maayan Waldman, Opinion Editor

In an emotional performance that broke new ground for the group, the Lady Choirhawks took second place at the second annual “Neima: Sing It Forward” girls choir competition, sponsored by YULA Girls High School.

The evening combined unity with competitiveness, as girls from the different schools hugged one another and mingled over dessert before showing off their talent before a panel of three judges.   YULA won the competition with 238 points, compared with 235 for Shalhevet and 183 for Bnos Devorah High School.  Shalhevet won last year.

Each group sang three songs, and each group brought its own style and groove.   YULA had a new name for its choir – YULA Tiferet – and sang with spirit and smiles.  They sang two pop songs given new English lyrics to fit Jewish themes, along with an a capella setting of “Yedid Nefesh” by the yeshiva group Lev Tahor.  At the end of their last song, they struck a theater-like pose on the stage as the home crowd cheered.

Bnos Devorah sang “Melech Malchai Hamlachim” by Eyal Golan, in perfect Israeli-accented Hebrew. They also sang the Maccabeats’ “Lecha Dodi,” and “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” from the American musical Prince of Egypt. The last, a very challenging piece to sing without accompaniment, featured diverse soloists with ringing voices, all of whom moved to the front when it came their turn as the rest of the group fell back in smooth choreography.

It was the 22nd night of the Omer, so there were no instruments, and Shalhevet’s girls – used to singing with boys – sang the tenor and bass lines themselves.  This included the complicated parts for “Al Hanissim” by Mike Boxer, which the entire choir learned in February to sing with Ramaz.

Junior Ariella Cohen once again rocked the energetic solo.  The group also sang “Pitchu Li” by Ramacapella.  Choir director Mrs. Joelle Keene conducted from the floor in front of the stage.

In the middle of their set, the Shalhevet girls sang a new arrangement of Sarit Haddad’s “Shema Yisrael” by junior and Choirhawk vice president Shirel Benji.  It was the first time the Choirhawks had performed an arrangement by a student.

Shirel also sang solo through the entire song, with the rest of the girls in rich harmony behind her.

“While Shirel was singing, I looked around and I saw three women crying,” said freshman alto Sivan Platt. “It was beautiful and it made me feel really good and confident.”

The score was determined by three judges, who rated each school with up to 10 points each in 10 different categories on their scoring sheets.  YULA’s choir director, Mrs. Chava Tombosky, created the categories, which were energy, volume, pacing, stage positioning,  stage presence, clarity, articulation, intonation (pitch), harmony, blend and unity.

Judges were YULA teacher Mrs. Juli Shanblatt; Mrs. Aliza Greenbaum, an occupational therapist who was asked by YULA at the last minute when another judge could not attend; and Ms. Margy Horowitz, founder of the Jewish Women’s Repertory Company and a director of Halleli at Bais Yaakov.

“The most important thing for me was ‘Can I understand the words,’” said Mrs.Horowitz. “I also looked for their energy level, if they had intricate harmonizing, are they keeping beats, and if they were staying on key.”

The scoring rubric was a first for the competition. YULA was the only choir to see it beforehand, but Mrs. Tombosky told the Boiling Point that wasn’t deliberate.

“I’m sure if [Shalhevet and Bnos Devorah] would have asked, they would have been able to see it,” Mrs. Tombosky said.

Before the results were announced, the atmosphere in YULA Girls’ auditorium was not too different from backstage at Regionals on the television show Glee.  After Bnos Devorah was announced as winning third place, the room was hushed and girls grabbed one another waiting to hear who would win.  After the announcement, the winners cheered and screamed.

“I think we reached our potential and we all had a really good time,” YULA co-captain Sarah Lipman said.

Mrs. Tombosky told the Boiling Point that she worked with each girl individually and with the group as a whole to prepare for the contest.

“Our main focus was on confidence,” Mrs. Tombosky said, “but we also worked on performance and of course their vocals.”

Unity through music was an important theme of the evening, and Mrs. Julia Sebban, mother of Shalhevet junior and Choirhawk Asher Sebban, gave a dvar Torah on this point before the performance started.

Ticket sales from the event raised $1,350  for Tomchei Shabbos.