From schools to market, Choirhawks share a capella in Seattle


Alyssa Wallack

SHARING: Students at Seattle Hebrew Academy heard the Choirhawks’ Chanukah songs Dec. 14. The next day the group sang at Northwest Yeshiva High School, where Mr. Jason Feld is head of school.

Twenty-five teenagers are wandering around the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle, indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd that is chatting, laughing and admiring the produce. At one moment, a few teens break seem to break out into song, and gradually they are joined by more who have walked over, until finally the strangers around them stop their errands to watch, listen, and record on their cellphones: it’s a flashmob!

The Choirhawks flew to Seattle Dec. 13 for their second-ever Hannukah performance tour, spending four days singing not only flash mobs but planned concerts for people ranging from kindergarteners to senior citizens.

“In all of the flash mobs, there were people who immediately took out their phones to film us,” said senior Daniel Lorell, who sings bass.

“Usually we’re all on the other end when something happens in public, so you pull out your phone to document the event. It was an interesting feeling to be on the other end of that, because suddenly we were the event that everyone wanted to document, which made us feel significant and showed that people really wanted to listen.”

Two years ago, the choir bussed to San Francisco and sang at schools, shuls and the Golden Gate Bridge. This year, they went further, singing John Legend’s “All of Me” and Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” in four flash mobs — two at Pike Place, home of the original Starbucks store, and two near the Space Needle, including one at an ice rink. They also spent time with students at Northwest Yeshiva High School.

BP Video by Zev Hurwitz

They also gave three planned concerts and spent time with students at Northwest Yeshiva High School, where they met a famous choral conductor who had also fought in Israel’s war for independence.

Thursday was busiest, with three planned concerts — at two Jewish day schools and at Seattle’s Kline-Galland Home for the Aged, where the singers gave their third performance of the day after having arrived in Seattle at 2 a.m. the night before.

“We were all exhausted but we went and performed for around 30 people and it was amazing,” said sophomore Evan Rubel, who sings tenor. “They were Jewish but didn’t get to hear much Jewish music for Hanukkah.

“Afterwards, we got to mingle with them, and some [of the singers] had a conversation with an old lady who was blind, but she said that she could tell that we were all beautiful people, which was so touching for me.”

On Friday morning, the group met with Maestro Abraham Kaplan, an Israeli-born choral director and former teacher of Choirhawks director Mrs. Joelle Keene. One of the leading choral conductors of his generation, Maestro Kaplan worked closely for many years with Leonard Bernstein — the composer of musicals such as West Side Story and longtime conductor of the New York Philharmonic —  and taught for many years at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

First Maestro Kaplan spoke to Shalhevet and Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS) students about his past experiences with music and Judaism, and shared stories including his time as a teenager in the IDF during the War for Independence.

He had not spoken about his experiences until this occasion, he told the group. As he talked about his history in the war, particularly being inspired by first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, he started to cry, which he later confessed surprised even himself.

Daniel called it “a particularly emotional moment.”

“He choked up with tears,” said Daniel, “when he said, ‘It was such an honor to meet the George Washington of the state of Israel.’ That was pretty memorable and inspirational.”

Maestro Kaplan also told the two schools’ students that he had first wanted to be a mathematician, “so [he] could encounter God.”  But as his musical skills were sought after in Israel and beyond, he realized that he was doing that every day with music. 

After his talk, he led the Choirhawks in a master class, working on music he’d written that they had learned, including the group’s new rounds, “The Camel” and “Gratitude.”  He taught the singers how to conduct beats and and helped them and Mrs. Keene learn how not to rush.

Now 86, Maestro Kaplan had recently had surgery on his hands and had expected that he would not be able to actually conduct that day.  But in the end, he did.

“In my three years of choir, this was the first time we had been directed by someone other than Ms. Keene,” said Daniel Lorell. “That facilitated growth, certainly in me, but also in a lot of other members of the choir. I think by virtue of his being different, and of course of his skill, this really helped us grow. “

The Choirhawks also had the chance to spend time with students from Northwest Yeshiva High School, whose head of school Mr. Jason Feld, is a former teacher and Dean of Students at Shalhevet. NYHS has just 50 students.

 “It’s very small,” said Daniel, “so coming from Shalhevet, which is a fairly small and tight-knit school, it seemed more like a friend group than a collection of friend groups. I really felt how close everyone was.”

Junior Hannah Friedman, who mainly sings as a soprano, enjoyed becoming friends with the NYHS students. Noa Silberstein also liked meeting new people.

“It’s nice to see how we live in different places and go to different schools but we are all still Jews and no matter what, we still have that to bond us,” said sophomore Noa Silberstein, an alto.

On Shabbat, the members of the choir davened at two different synagogues, one Sephardic and one Ashkenazic, and had dinner at the Felds’ cooked by NYHS parents. The entire student body was invited for an oneg after that. Lunch was at one of the synagogues, followed by an afternoon of chatting, games and some singing back at the Felds’.

Saturday night, the group went ice skating at the Seattle Center and held a sliding flash mob on the ice. The rink’s staff turned off the overhead music so other skaters could hear them.

The choir spent Sunday morning at Pike Place Market, and some visited the original Starbucks store. The performed two flash mobs, one at each end of the market.  First, at the north end, they sang “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran.

“It is such an emotional song,” said Evan Rubel. “I thought, and Ms. Keene actually pointed out that, with the fires that have been going on lately, this really helped us to connect really meaningfully to the song.”

In a crowded area near the south end — near stalls where salesmen are famous for throwing whole fish — they sang “All of Me,” by John Legend.

“Everyone around us stopped and looked at us,” said Hannah Friedman. “They started clapping and videoing us singing this song that we had been practicing for so long, and all these strangers were hearing it and enjoying it and it was a really cool experience.”

The group returned to Los Angeles on that afternoon, and those interviewed all thought the trip’s effect would be long-lasting.

“There is something I call the field trip high that you get when you are with friends from school, in a school setting, but going somewhere else, that can’t be achieved anywhere else,” said senior Daniel Lorell, who sings bass. “The experience of going away is always going to change a group of people.”

Hannah Friedman agreed.

“I think it’s very important for the choir to go on a trip like this,” said Hannah. “It it makes the choir so much closer and it makes people more motivated to go to choir, because they know that they will be surrounded by their friends.”

Evan Rubel said the trip affected the way the group sings together.

“If you can connect emotionally then you can connect much better in sound,” said Evan.