Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Whiffenpoofs and the Jerusalem Youth Chorus perform at the Jerusalem YMCA

The Whiffenpoofs were in Israel this month of June 2013. Yale University’s most prestigious a  cappella ensemble, the Whiffs, as they are often referred to, began in 1909 as a quartet of men who met weekly for concerts at Mory’s Temple Bar, a famous Yale tavern. The Whiffenpoofs are the oldest male collegiate group of its kind, continuing to uphold the many Whiffenpoof traditions to today. They still wear tails and white gloves, sing at Mory’s on a weekly basis and end each performance with the Whiffenpoof Song. Consisting of 16 male students, each ensemble works for one academic year, then making an extensive world concert tour. The 2013 Whiffenpoofs left on their world tour of 25 countries in May; their Jerusalem concert took place June 19th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA. It was sponsored by the Rotary Club and the Yale Club.

Micah Hendler, a 2011 Whiffenpoof, has immigrated to Israel and set up the Jerusalem Youth Chorus. Meeting at the Jerusalem International YMCA, this choir is aims to provide a space for young people from East and West Jerusalem to “grow together in song and dialogue”, in Hendler’s words. “Through the co-creation of music and the sharing of stories, we seek to empower our singers to become leaders in their communities…to create an experience for our singers that is both life-changing and a lot of fun.” Weekly meetings consist of both singing and dialogue, with Hendler directing the musical content and two facilitators from the YMCA leading the dialogue, one in Hebrew and one in Arabic. Introducing the young choir, Hendler greeted the audience in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The 14 members of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus opened the evening with three songs, each in a different language, the first being a jaunty performance of a song of the Hawaiian singer Keali’i Reichel:
‘I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes…’
The young singers managed admirably with a version of “Hine ma Tov” from Psalm 133 (Behold how good and how pleasing if brothers sit together), an arrangement bristling with melodic layers and cross-rhythms. The third item was a setting of a Sufi chant; against an interesting, multi-voiced screen of independent sounds, we heard solos and sections singing the melody. Hendler and his singers performed with joy, energy and true dedication.

Enter the Whiffenpoofs from the back of the hall singing a Bohemian marching song. With Andy Berry ("Pitchpipe") conducting, the evening proceeded with sophisticated arrangements of songs, ranging from traditional Yale songs, to original compositions, to hits of all times, mostly arrangements of choir members over the years. We heard such numbers as “On Broadway” (The Drifters), “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Warren & Dubin), “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Weatherly), “Too Darn Hot” (Cole Porter, who was a Whiff exactly 100 years ago), “All Love is Fair” (Wonder) and more. Then there were some of the wonderful sentimental songs that never fail to tug at the heartstrings – “Nature Boy” (Nat King Cole), Kurt Weill’s “September Song” and the traditional Irish song “Down by the Sally Gardens”. Pieces like “Ride the Chariot” and a medley of Yale football songs belong more specifically to the Whiffenpoof repertoire.  An ensemble of outstanding voices, we heard some superb solos and small solo groups. Ben Wexler’s theatrical arrangement of Mika’s “Grace Kelly” was given a jaunty, lively performance, with McKay Nield singing the solo. Tenor McKay Nield is an entertainer; his flexible range took him with ease into “falsetto land” for this song. Nield is the group’s “joker”, sporting a colored bow-tie (not the uniform white one) and a funky hairdo…another Whiffenpoof tradition.  The Whiffenpoofs function at high energy levels, using some choreography, vocal percussion and other effects accompanying songs, with lots of humor and hi-jinks on stage.

Both choirs joined to sing a South African freedom song in Zulu, Hebrew and Arabic, with two of the younger singers adding percussion on darbuka (goblet drum) and shaker. The Whiffenpoofs bring with them much exuberance and young energy. As singers and stage artists, they are also highly trained and professional, offering performance that is polished. Their evening, shared with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, was pure delight!

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