If you son loves to sing but rarely gets the opportunity, joining a singing group might be just what he needs. We spoke to professional voice trainer Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz of Songs and Voices about his role as a group leader and voice teacher.
I suppose it goes without saying that you’re a very musical person?
Definitely! I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember and it’s never far from my mind. As a child, I sang in a well-known boys’ choir; as an adult, I’ve served as the baal tefillah in many locations on the Yamim Nora’im. I also perform at simchos, although that is not my main focus.
What made you turn your attention to singing groups?
About six years ago, I decided to improve my voice skills — largely for my own gratification — so I took some lessons from a local voice trainer. A couple of my friends in Westgate, where I live, got wind of this and asked me to teach their sons.
Not long after, the mother of one of the boys commented that the boys in the neighborhood could really benefit from a nice kosher activity in their free time. Perhaps I could start a singing group?
You mean a choir?
Not in the sense of a choir that’s specifically formed to give performances, although we have performed for parents. My main goal was to afford the boys unique pleasure that come from singing with others.
What age group did you appeal to?
I initially targeted boys from third to fifth grades. When they all showed up, the fifth-graders made it clear that they didn’t want to do the same thing as the younger grades. So I made them into a separate group, and whenever the larger group learned a song, the break-off group learned its harmony. When we eventually combined the groups and the two sang in unison, the song evolved into something far bigger and better than it would have been had we stayed together.
Sounds sophisticated for such young boys! I imagine you only included boys with good singing voices?
Actually, no! My groups have always been open to anyone who wants to be there, regardless of talent. There are no embarrassing tryouts! It’s a myth that people can’t learn to sing. It’s like learning math; it needs a lot of practice, but you eventually get there. To help things along, I recorded songs — or parts of songs — at a recording studio and then gave each boy a disc, telling him listen to it 30 times in order to “know” it. The results were astounding!
What happened next?
The following year, I opened additional groups in the Chateau, Raintree and the yeshivah area, due to demand. Often, these groups [also] worked simultaneously on different parts of a single song, before fusing them to create a glorious whole.
Even so, after our second year — when everything was going extremely well — I decided to stop the groups.
This comes as a surprise! What made you do this?
We’d grown too much, too quickly. I constantly needed to make trips to the recording studio to make discs for all the groups. This was both time-consuming and expensive as I had to pay hired musicians in addition to the cost of recording. Because I only charge a small fee to join the groups, they were not sustainable, and so put I them on hold for the time being.
What did you do in the meantime?
I fulfilled a long-held dream by obtaining professional training through an intensive 12-week course at New York Vocal Coaching TM, which is one of the top voice-coaching schools in the world. My training there enabled me to expand my work as a voice trainer with greater expertise. I presently teach adults and children, each individual according to his needs. My clients include baalei tefillah, Rabbeim and people who simply want to stay in tune when they sing zemiros with their kids.
In the past year I restarted the singing groups, with a Litvishe group in Westgate and a Chassidishe group in the Hearthstone area, for boys from fourth to seventh grades. By this time, I had perfected my skills on the guitar, so I no longer needed to hire musicians. I’d also acquired my own voice recorder, so I could record myself and eventually the groups without [needing] a studio. We’re having a wonderful season, and I look forward to spending time in the summer working on a disc comprised of the combined recordings of the two groups (who incidentally sound great together despite having different havaros!). And I’m looking forward to more groups starting in the future.
What sort of response do you receive from the boys … and their parents and Rebbeim?
There’s a lot of enthusiasm all around. The boys are having fun and making new friends. There’s also the tremendous uplift and inspiration that comes from singing your heart out. Singing is unique from other forms of art in that it involves the physical person talking and expressing himself. That said, the boys really need to step up and come out of themselves if they want it to work. And that’s very invigorating in a very wholesome way.
Parents and Rabbeim are also very supportive. Of course, they appreciate that we sing popular songs — but not “pop songs” — with a Yiddishe taam. But they also acknowledge that group singing can be transformational for boys who previously lacked self-confidence, highly satisfying for the lively boys who need to let off steam, and an enjoyable and energizing pastime for everyone in between.
For more information, Rabbi Rabinowitz can be reached at (848) 210-6416.