Born in quarantine jam sessions, Shalhevet band plans second performance on Purim

Still no name for nine-piece group, though ‘Shakshuka’ has been considered


BP Photo by Nettie Wolkind

BASEMENT: Band members have set up a practice space in room B-104. From left, Rami Melmed, Mateo Robinson, Asher Taxon and Noah Elad practiced Feb. 9 for this week’s Purim performance.

By Keren Tizabi, 9th grade

When Dean of Students Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg asked whether they could perform at the school Chanukah party, members of the school’s new band hadn’t given it a name yet and had only recently received the last of their instruments.  

“I honestly didn’t think we would have enough time to pull it off,” said guitarist junior Elliot Serure. “But we did. We all met together and we practiced a lot that week – almost every single day that week.”

Meeting in an unused classroom in the basement, the group –  founders Elliot, Rami Melmed, and Noah Elad, along with Asher Taxon, Eli Weiss, Vivienne and Zion Schlussel and Mateo Robinson – used their lunch periods as well as their free periods to prepare.

When the day came, the band still didn’t have a name – it still doesn’t – but the crowd Dec. 3 in the gym was smiling, dancing and singing along. The songs were “Al Hanissim,” the same version the Choirhawks sing every year a acapella; and “Candlelight,” famously adapted for Hanukkah by the Maccabeats and also familiar to all.

Junior Asher Taxon sang “Al Hanissim,” and for “Candlelight,” the solo was given to Head of School Rabbi David Block – a founding member of the Maccabeats himself.  

Band performs at Chanukah celebration in Shalhevet gym
FIRST: The band made its debut at the Chanukaffe in the gym Dec.3. (BP Photo by Sam Elyaszadeh)

The entire school was there to see the band perform. 

 “Everything kind of came together the week before the Hanukkah performance,” said Rami, who plays bass guitar. “It was everything we hoped for, and it exceeded our expectations.”

Elliot, Rami and Noah started meeting up for music during quarantine, when they decided to make their idea of becoming a band a reality.

It plans to perform again this week on March 18, and again at the end of the school year. 

The band has had a hard time deciding on a name, and therefore has not yet picked one. They mostly joke around about it, the members said, and throw names around here and there, but nothing is finalized. Some options have included Black Shabbos and Shakshuka.

Eight band members performed at the Chanukah event, but already now the group has nine – they’ve been joined by freshman Parker Gruenbaum.  

Noah, Elliot and fellow junior Eli Weiss play guitar.  Mateo Robinson and Vivienne Schlussel are the drummers. The two singers are Parker and Asher Taxon; Rami is the group’s bass player, and Zion plays keyboard.

One challenge the band faces is picking which songs to perform. They have to make sure the level of the song isn’t too hard for anyone in the group to play.

“We can’t just pick something because we like the song, or because we think the audience will have a good time,” said Rami. “We have to really make it work for each band member based on their skill level. On more than one occasion we have said this is a cool song, and then when we tried to play it it was out of our players’ skill ranges.”

That has led to some disagreements, but they’ve managed to work them out. When there’s no consensus. Rami, Elliot, and Noah decide, they said.

“We sometimes vote but sometimes get to make the executive decision,” said Elliot.

Rami said he’d worked on getting funding for the band from the school all of last year. He said it is now funded by Shalhevet and private donors.The money was used to buy instruments, amplifiers and cables for the school such as a keyboard, drum set, bass, bass amp, guitar amps and microphones, PA system and cables.

Everything kind of came together the week before the Hanukkah performance. It was everything we hoped for, and it exceeded our expectations.

— Rami Melmed, 10th grade, band co-founder

The official faculty advisor for the band is Rabbi Block, but when the band needs something financially they go to Dean of Student Life Dr. Jonny Ravanshenas, who they say made setting it up go smoothly.  

Rabbi Block does not attend rehearsals.

“We didn’t really want a faculty member that would be there all the time, because we wanted to run it ourselves,” Rami said. “The person who has really helped us through this process is Jonny. He helped me get a budget and if I need something he will immediately help me. Jonny has been a key element for the band.”

According to music teacher Ms. Joelle Keene, there have been a few bands at Shalhevet over the years, and they generally end when their key players graduate.

But Rami said one of the new group’s goals is to let incoming ninth-graders know that Shalhevet has a band for them to be part of. 

“I hope that after I graduate the legacy of the band will stay with Shalhevet for many years,” Rami said.

The band also wants students to know that if they have the skill level they should consider joining even now.

“I’m so proud of everyone in the band and what we have done,” said Rami. “I want to tell the readers to get hyped for our Purim set.”