HomeA Fiddler Without A Fiddle

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“The Voices,” a complex and clever parody of “Tradition,” from the iconic Jewish musical Fiddler on the Roof, introduces the listener to various members of Kol Halayla and their respective vocal parts and to the challenges of keeping rhythm and harmony without instrumental accompaniment. As musical director David Rosen explains, “‘The Voices’ basically explains what we do as an a cappella group. It’s one of the best pieces on Fiddling without a fiddle, which is itself kind of a ‘best of’ CD.”

Fiddling without a fiddle is a compilation of Kol Halayla favorites performed from spring 2003 through fall 2005. The numbers showcase the ensemble’s versatility, ranging from the poignant pop song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” sung in a mix of Hebrew and English, to the solemn “Ekrah,” to an up-tempo “Dodi Li” to the sardonic lament, “It’s Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas.”

Rosen, a senior majoring in music, likely inherited some of his musical ability: “My father sings in Tavim, the a cappella group at my family’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck,” he said. He has served as Kol Halayla’s musical director for the past three years, adding on the title of business director this year. “We do mostly private performances — bar and bat mitzvas, organizational events, also a couple of gigs on-campus” in New Brunswick. “In early April, for instance, we performed at a joint celebration of Indian and Jewish culture. We don’t tour yet; hopefully we will in the future.”

Jewish a cappella singing at Rutgers dates back to the early 1990s, with the establishment of Koleinu, which has since disbanded. Kol Halayla was formed in 1996 and now numbers approximately a dozen members. According to Rosen, “Most of our members are from New Jersey; we have a couple from New York and one from Maine. It’s definitely a time commitment: We rehearse Sunday and Thursday evenings for around two-and-a-half hours per night. We hold auditions at the start of each semester.”

For sophomore Joel Yavelberg of West Orange, the audition was merely a formality: “I went to Camp Ramah with Dave; we were friends from years back. He recruited me for Kol Halayla as soon as he found out I was coming to Rutgers.” Yavelberg is the group’s assistant director: “I run rehearsals when Dave’s not around and do some of the arrangements we sing.” Yavelberg, a psychology major with a minor in music, has a strong musical background: “I studied piano for seven years and taught myself guitar.” He enjoys the variety of music the group sings: “We do Israeli and American pop, religious and secular music, pretty much whatever we want. Our songs are about half-and-half Hebrew and English.”

Like Yavelberg, sophomore Marissa Bullock of Edison enjoys the variety of songs she gets to sing with the group: “I’ve been a member of Kol Halayla for two years and I love it. We’re all good friends, so we joke around and have a lot of fun. ‘Zodiac’ is one of my favorite songs on the CD. It’s actually an Israeli dance song — very fast and upbeat. You can tell from the recording that we’re having a lot of fun singing it. ‘The Voices’ is also a lot of fun to sing. And ‘Ekrah,’ which is one of King David’s psalms, has some beautiful harmonies.”

Joining Kol Halayla was the next logical step for Bullock, she said, after singing in the choir all through her years at Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange. Regarding the making of Fiddling: “It was fun but frustrating to record the CD; there were times when we would have to relearn stuff we thought we’d been singing correctly. A recording is final, so everything has to be absolutely perfect.”

As much as she loves performing, Bullock has no plans to do so professionally: “Music and theater are in my blood, but I’m a history major; I want to teach in Jewish day schools after I graduate.”

The other members of Kol Halayla are Emily Bernstein, Avital Fogel (president), Dan Kaiman (treasurer), Jenny Kessler, Avi Rashin, Abby Sage, and Robyn Shapiro (secretary).

Listening to Fiddling without a fiddle, one can actually hear the singers’ enjoyment. If Kol Halayla had a theme song, it just might be the last one on their CD: a remake of the 1960s Turtles hit “So Happy Together.”

On the CD

Tracks on Kol Halayla’s Fiddling without a fiddle are: “Voices,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Ekrah,” “Zodiac” (featured on the new Best of Jewish A’Cappella CD), “Dodi Li” (by Safam), “When You Believe” (from The Prince of Egypt), “Tefilah L’Shalom Hamedinah,” “It’s Hard to be Jew on Christmas” (from South Park), “So Happy Together.”

Fiddling without a fiddle costs $15. Kol Halayla’s other CDs — Kol HaYom v’Kol Halayla (1999) and Mah Nishtana (Kol) Halayla Hazeh (2002) — each costs $10. To purchase CDs or for more information, contact Kol Halayla or by telephone 732-545-2407.

Reprinted with permission from the New Jersey Jewish News: http://www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/060106/ltNoFiddle.html

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