See more photos at JoshsJm site.
They’ve been around for so long that there aren’t many of us who can remember a life without Miami Boys Choir. And after all this time, we still keep coming back for more. In this case, it was the annual Succos concert, held this year at the charming State Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Every single one of the 1800 seats in the theater was sold and there has been some buzz online about staging a second concert on 24 hours notice. Let’s just say it turned out to be a night to remember in some very unexpected ways. Intrigued? Good. Keep reading.
A few things I need to say up front. For starters, I am writing this review at an obscene hour of the morning, so forgive me if I don’t mention which album each song is from. Miami has released so many albums, it would take a while to track down each song. Given that everyone wants to read concert reviews right away, I am not going to spend the time naming each album. Next: the crowd was a little different than what you normally see at a concert, in that there were no white shirted yeshiva bochurim dancing in the aisles, cheering and singing along. From the pictures I have seen of the audience at the Fried mit Lipa concert it looks like they all went there. A pity that two such good concerts were scheduled for the same night. But not to worry. Yeshiva bochurim don’t have the monopoly on being leibidic and there was plenty of energy in the audience.
Yerachmiel Begun seems to have heard our disappointment with the pint sized band he used at the Pesach concert, and this concert featured five musicians: keyboard, drums, bass guitar, guitar and another musician who played assorted horns. The sound level and mixes were better at this concert than at most I have heard and the lighting was used nicely to enhance the concert.
Aside from the boys, this years concert also featured singer/composer Baruch Levine and The Alumni, who were the opening act. While MC Yoily Karr did announce their names, I didn’t catch them and couldn’t tell you for sure who they were. They clearly have nice voices and were enjoyable to listen to. They also seemed to have brought their own cheering section with them. This was one leibidic crowd. Their first song was Ilu, probably the only song I can remember that The Alumni ever sang. They followed that up with Miami’s Mehaira which they then took into P’sach Libi. While the Alumni were perfectly fine, they are not exactly a household name and I would have enjoyed if they had added one more performer to the roster that was a little more well known.
Baruch Levine, as usual, was hartzig, sweet and a welcome treat. His first song Shalom, from his Chosson HaTorah album, was one of the few songs he did where he didn’t play piano, which is how I enjoy Baruch Levine most. After that it was piano time and Levine performed my favorite song from his last album, Ki Hu. One thing I’ve noticed about Baruch Levine is that when he comes on stage, he always takes a water bottle with him and tonight was no exception. He opened up the water bottle, poured it into a glass and announced “Mommy, this glass is for you” as he explained to the audience that his mother was in the audience and she always tells him to drink out of a glass instead of straight out of the bottle. Next, Levine sang Kol Haberuim and the audience clapped enthusiastically along with him as he sang the high part.
And then it was time for the main event. So many things I want to say before I get down to what they sang.
First of all, I estimated that there were nineteen boys in the choir. (I could be wrong. They kept moving around.) I’m guessing there were about eight younger boys and the rest seemed to be anywhere from seventh through ninth grade. I know that at least two of those boys are in high school already. Which means that while right now Begun has some seasoned performers, he is going to have to start cultivating the younger kids. The ones he had on stage tonight were all terrific and showed lots of potential.
Second, because there weren’t a lot of boys on stage, each kid had his own mike. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before and they were able to get a fuller sound out of the kids. There were a few instances where a few mikes weren’t working well, but all the issues were worked out quickly and painlessly.
Third, no mikes on the stage gave the boys a lot more room to dance. And wow, did these boys dance. This wasn’t just motions to go along with the music, these kids were REALLY moving up there. There were times when they appeared to be simcha dancing, but there were other times where some of the moves had just a little too much movement in them for my taste.
Fourth: Costumes. While I can’t tell you that I would ever want to see my son wearing sequins, the idea that the boys were changing their costumes and coming out on stage looking completely different from time to time added to the professionalism of the choir.
Fifth: Music. There is no question that not all the music that you heard was being played live. Stay tuned for more on that one. There were a few times during the concert when I wondered if there was also some choir on the soundtrack, but I honestly don’t know.
Sixth: Names. I’m sorry, I just don’t know most of their names. They did introduce the boys at the end, but there is just no way I can tell you who sang which solo on which song.
Seventh: My apologies to Yerachmiel Begun. I was so busy keeping track of songs, costumes and all the other details, while at the same time trying to video that I wasn’t able to keep track of when he came out and sang. Suffice it to say that he made occasional appearances and enhanced the boys performance, really giving them the opportunity to be the stars of the show.
Eighth: There is something so professional about a boys choir performing and doing a great job on stage without anyone up front directing them. I can’t think of another choir that does that. Again, these boys are real pros as became obvious a little later. No hints yet. Just keep reading.
The choir’s opening number was Galey, from Miami Yovo. The boys came out dressed in either shiny silver shirts with maroon ties or shiny maroon shirts with silver ties amid swirls of fog and lots of lighting schtick. A four level riser in the middle of the stage gave the boys a lot to work with in terms of placement and choreography and they used the space well. It looked to be the same arrangement that they used in their Pesach concert, but do you really expect a concert with no repeats from the last concert? As long as they mix things up a little, I don’t mind.
Their next song was Yerushalayim, which, unfortunately, did not feature Yoshi Bender doing his chazanus at the beginning. A word about Yoshi Bender. Now a ninth grader, his voice has gotten very deep and while his solos were excellent, he had very few of them. But it didn’t matter. That kid owned the stage and is an unbelievable dancer. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a boy to deal with the idea that he can’t hit the notes he used to be able to but Yoshi Bender seemed to handle it with grace and dignity and there were many moments during the night where the crowd was calling his name.
Next were some oldies: Al Eileh from Miami Moshiach and Nikadesh from Shiru Lo. Both slow songs, both pretty, both gave the boys a little bit of a chance to rest as they arranged themselves on the risers and took advantage of an opportunity to sit down. Baavur David featured only five boys: Yoshi Bender, Yair Kenig, Jeremy Hershkowitz, David Hershkowitz and Moshe Yaakov Braun. (I may have gotten the names wrong. Someone please correct me if I did?) Yerachmiel Begun came out and gave a short d’var Torah on Esa Einai, before the boys began the song, all wearing suit jackets over their shiny shirts. The last song before intermission was Moshiach and watching those boys, you’d think they had springs for legs. To be able to sing and dance like that all at the same time? Wow. I don’t think I had their energy at that age!
After a brief intermission The Miami Alumni were back and I definitely enjoyed them more their second time on stage. They sang a few Carlebach songs: Oseh Shalom, Esa Einai and Shomrim Hafked. After seeing the boys choir perform, it was funny to see the Alumni and realize that one day, these boys will be grown men in suits, sporting five o’clock shadow.
Baruch Levine returned to the stage with a story of how he asked Abie Rotenberg the secret of song writing and he replied that the music should be an expression of the meaning of the lyrics. Levine acknowledged his parents, in laws and children, all of whom were in the audience and expressed the hope that the words of his next song, obviously V’Zakeini, would one day be fulfilled. Instead of a sweet voiced boy joining Levine for this song, it was Yerachmiel Begun who was invited onstage and the duet was truly lovely.
Next, Levine told a story about a song that he wrote on Simchas Torah almost two years ago. As he stood in Shul at the end of layning, the music for the song Chosson Hatorah came to him, but being yom tov, he was unable to record the music anywhere, so he spent the rest of the day singing the song to himself, in the hopes that he wouldn’t forget it. Levine sang energetically and the crowd was more than happy to help him out.
Miami was back next with a medley of older songs including, Lo Yisa Goy, Od Yishama and Ki Hashem, among others, each song featuring a group of boys in different costumes.
Remember at the beginning when I told you things were going to get really interesting? Well, here we go. Fasten your seatbelts.
It’s kind of ironic that the words to this song were Me’im Hashem, because what happened next truly was. The boys came out in a costume I have never seen before: a navy blue vest with a white v-neck. Begun introduced the song and the crowd was clapping enthusiastically as the boys began singing. Now, I will tell you that there were definitely moments in the concert when it was obvious that some of the music that you heard was coming from a soundtrack. How can you hear violins when there are none on stage? But I don’t think that’s a big issue. At least it wouldn’t be if something hadn’t gone wrong with the soundtrack halfway through the song and it just stopped in the middle of a solo. You can see the soloist looking around in confusion, but he had the presence of mind to just keep going. It took just a few seconds for Begun to start singing along with the boys from backstage. You have to understand, it wasn’t like there the band was playing in addition to the soundtrack. ALL the background music was on the soundtrack and it just stopped. Completely. You can see the kids looking around in confusion, but they kept their cool and just kept going. The audience started clapping in time to the beat to keep the kids going and they did just that, first with Begun singing in the background and eventually with some accompaniment from the band. The fact that Begun did not come out on stage to rescue the boys tells you just how much confidence he had in them to handle the glitch and they more than rose to the occasion. The song finished amid thunderous applause from the audience. Don’t worry. I got the whole thing on video. :)
Next up, Revach. For me, I don’t think Revach will ever be better than it was on the Miami Revach DVD, but I know. You can’t compare live to a DVD. The stage crew rolled out the piano again, but not for Boruch Levine this time. It was for Yair Kenig singing the heartfelt Azor Na, accompanied by Stanislov Nikolov on the violin, truly a hartzig and beautiful moment. Kenig is clearly a very talented boy.
Finally, finally the song everyone was waiting for: Yovo. The song began with the boys, newly changed into black sequined vests, lying on the floor amid swirling fog and as the song began they rose up slowly, as if rising up from the dead. The song was awesome, so good in fact that I thought it was the finale. The boys captured the energy of the song and it sounded almost as good as it did on the CD which makes me wonder if there was a soundtrack behind the boys to capture the fullness and the many harmonies of the song. The song ended, unfortunately, with the boys laying back down on the floor amid the swirling fog and it reminded me of the graveyard sequence in Fiddler on the Roof. I didn’t have a problem with the image of the boys simulating Techiyas Hamaysim but the idea of these boys going back to their graves was a little creepy for me.
After the ebullient Yovo, the boys needed a break and they followed up with Mehaira from their latest album, sitting on the risers, starting and ending the song with their heads down on their arms.
Before the finale, Begun took a minute to introduce all the boys to the audience and then he told the audience he wanted everyone on their feet for the finale. The mikes got turned up really loud, there were lights swirling all over the place and the room really rocked for Ayom V’Nora. I have to tell you that I don’t get the idea for a really leibidic song with the lyrics “Ayom V’nora”, but what do I know. It’s not like I’m a lyricist or anything.
And that was it for the night. All in all, the concert, the first Miami concert I have ever been to, was a great night, full of fun and great music. The boys were consummate professionals and did an an absolutely terrific job.