Why should Justin Bieber have all the fun? Instead of the teenage pop sensation chanting “Baby, Baby, Baby,” why not the words “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” sung to the same tune?
One professional Jewish a cappella group is doing just that. Six13 is part of a growing number of Hebraic harmonizers springing up across America in recent years, mostly on college campuses.
“The growth of Jewish a cappella is following the trend generally in a cappella music in America,” said Mauro Braunstein of the group Techiya at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Crossing decades, languages and styles, Jewish a cappella groups are touring, putting out CDs and bringing unaccompanied vocals to wider audiences, including senior centers.
Indeed, Jewish a cappella is no longer just for college auditoriums. Six13 has sung “God Bless America” at five Mets games during the seventh inning stretch, and the Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group at Yeshiva University, shot to viral superstardom in Hanukkah 2010 after recording “Candlelight,” a parody of Mike Tompkins’s a cappella cover of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” The group’s music video garnered more than 4 million YouTube hits.
“I don’t think any of us thought it was going to be that kind of success,” said Joshua Jay, a member of the Modern Orthodox group.
Even non-Jews have gotten into the act, if only occasionally. At Miami University, the Men’s Glee Club sang a cappella music in celebration of Hanukkah; Harvard University’s Radcliffe Pitches have the Yiddish title “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” on their song list, and Emory University’s Aural Pleasure has been known to belt out “One Day” by Matisyahu.
Mike Boxer, director of Six13, estimates the number of Jewish groups to be about 40 today, compared with perhaps 30 a decade ago. This is quite an increase since what is believed to be the first collegiate American Jewish a cappella group, Pizmon, was formed in 1987. Consisting of crooners from Barnard College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, Pizmon has its ninth CD out and is planning to tour the American South in March.