Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble performs at Beit Avi Chai, closing the 2011 Stage One#2 Amateur English Theater Festival

Beit Avi Chai (Jerusalem), in collaboration with Mercaz Hamagshimim Hadassah’s Center Stage Theater, held the “Stage One #2” Amateur English Theater Festival, April 20-22 2011. The aim of artistic director Rafi Poch and producer Tamar Akov, in presenting three days of local English language theater, was to shine a spotlight on this thriving subculture. The festival also included some musical events. This writer attended an informal morning family concert performed by the Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble at Beit Avi Chai on April 22nd 2011.

The Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble was founded in 1983 by Joe Romanelli. Its repertoire ranges from traditional folk music to modern songs in English and Hebrew, arranged mostly in the barbershop style, sung a cappella (unaccompanied). Its members are bass Dani Barkai, bass Howard Clapsaddle, lead baritone Ian Cohen, lead Boaz Feinberg, tenor Roger Friedland (assistant director), baritone and lead R.Martin Rogovein (director) and lead Joe Romanelli (manager).

Native to the United States, stemming from the time the barber shop itself was a center of many communities in the second half of the 19th century, the barbershop style combines chord structure, sound, delivery and interpretation, usually performed by quartets of unmixed men or women's voices. In its early days, barbershop singers improvised harmonies or “woodshedded” (tenor, baritone and bass harmonizing to a lead’s melody).

In a selection of the JBE’s song repertoire, interspersed with jokes and quips, we heard many old favorites in barbershop arrangements like “The Glory of Love” (written by songwriter William Joseph “Billy” Hill and made famous by Benny Goodman), “Don’t Blame Me” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, first performed in 1932) and Baby Face (Harry Akst, Benny Davis). The JBE’s program offered plenty of variety, such as Billy Joel’s “Longest Time”, the Beetles’ heatwarming “When I’m 64”, the Hillbilly number “Mountain Dew” performed with the assistance of musical and/or courageous audience members, the poignant “There’s a Place for Us” (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim) and, from the south of America, “When Uncle Joe Plays a Rag on His Old Banjo” (T.Morse, D.A.Esrom, 1912) rendered in velvety tones.

The audience of mostly English speakers, ranging from toddlers to the elderly, was well entertained. Not to be ignored, however, are the challenges of singing barbershop music in its harmonic, rhythmical and formal complexities. The Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble’s blend, intonation and expressive range lend shape and polish to its singing, the members’ fine aesthetic sense making for a truly musical experience.

A hearty performance of “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” (Frank Sinatra) rounded off the program, sending people off into the somewhat inclement Jerusalem weather with a smile.
‘I’m gonna live till I die! I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry,
I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down….’

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