Music school is a very interesting way to go through college. I am in a really innovative and exciting program within the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music where my instrument is contemporary voice and the vast majority of people in the program are singer/songwriters and producers. Everyone sings and plays with each other and in front of each other and we give each other critiques.
Outside of the music school bubble, all of the traditional college stereotypical activities exist. Greek Life is very strong on our campus. House parties are everywhere. Everyone is hearing that this should be the best four years of your life and they are feeling the pressure to do this whole college thing right.
When you are an artist in college, there are two social forces pulling you in opposite directions. There is the part of you that wants to make amazing friends, join the “right” fraternity/sorority, go to tailgates and be part of the crowd, but then there is the other part that needs to stand out and do something meaningful with your art.
It’s a contradiction that runs through the music school and manifests itself in different ways. One frequent way it manifests itself is through the music we make.
By way of background, as a Jewish person and as a singer and music fan, I am very passionate about Israeli pop music. Oftentimes in my Jewish Day School classes, Hebrew language pop music was used in Hebrew classes to help us learn certain concepts. We would sing Ehud Manor songs to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. Israeli music became the soundtrack to my Jewish identity, my connection to Israel, and my personal identity as a whole.
As far as Israeli pop music goes, one of my favorites is a song called “Milim”, or “Words”, performed by Harel Skaat, who sang the song representing Israel at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a gorgeous song that is musically inspired by traditional Jewish music but still sounds like a pop power ballad.
I thought it would sound really good in my voice so I looked up the chords online (this was before my ear training was at a point where I could figure it out myself) and started learning how to play it. At the time, I thought that I was doing this mostly for experimental purposes, or as a song that I could arrange for the Jewish a cappella group I was starting at the time.
I decided to bring the song to my voice teacher to work on with her. I sang the song once for her and she loved it, telling me that I needed to sing it for my juries (finals for instrument lessons).
That thought was really scary for me. I thought about some students who sang in Spanish in class, but I also thought about how normal that seemed because we were in Miami where Spanish is spoken pretty commonly. Hebrew seemed like putting a big neon sign over my head saying “I love being Jewish”. It terrified me to assert myself and be so openly passionate in that way. It wasn’t the cool thing to do at all. Still, I trusted her judgment and continued working on it to prepare for my jury.
My jury arrived and all of those nerves about singing in Hebrew were on full blast. I told them that I would be singing in Hebrew and I felt my face get hot. I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I sang it and waited anxiously for their feedback.
They loved it.
I didn’t expect them to get it at all, but they really liked how it sounded in my voice and even said that there was a market for this kind of music.
I was shocked at the positive response. I was worried that singing in Hebrew to people who aren’t Jewish and don’t speak the language created a barrier between me and my audience.
Instead, I found that sharing the things that I was passionate about made me unique and gave my audience something to latch on to. My commitment and passion for Judaism and Israel is something that resonated with people, no matter their background.
Now, I am starting to perform more as an artist around campus and I include two Hebrew songs in my set, including “Milim”. I am excited to see how audiences respond to it. I am really happy that I have decided to continue singing in Hebrew and now have even started writing songs in Hebrew. It has been a great way for me to connect to my Jewish identity and to introduce my audience to something unique that they haven’t heard before.