April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Day School Choirs Perform at Teaneck’s Votee Park

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The recent Bergen County day school choir festival grew from an idea that percolated over a couple of years. Marsha Motzen, Yavneh Academy’s choir director, explained that she’s often looked over at the Votee Park bandshell and couldn’t help but think what a great venue it would make for a Jewish music concert. Every time she passed it, the thought would cross her mind and eventually seemed to settle there.

On a separate occasion, another thought came to her. “How can we have a concert with all the schools together and without the fear of COVID and all of its restrictions?” At the time, the idea of getting schools together seemed daunting since they were still limiting who could come into their buildings.

Naturally, the best solution was to hold such an event outdoors—and before she knew it her two thoughts collided and she found herself emailing Deputy Mayor Mark Schwartz (who is also The Jewish Link’s co-publisher) to find out how to book the bandshell.

“He loved the idea, and said he’d do anything we needed to make it happen,” Marsha said.

The last time an interschool choral festival was held was in 2019. Despite being back in school for the 2020-2021 school year, many after-school activities were still off limits, and choir was no exception. But this year school choirs made a big comeback and by Chanukah, they all had performances booked at a number of different venues.

The evening of May 24 saw the long-awaited return of the first interschool choral festival since 2019, and it did not disappoint. A spirited crowd was spread out on blankets and camp chairs, picnicking on pizza, chicken fingers, sandwiches or Chinese food.

They were the family and friends of student singers from Yeshivat He’Atid, The Moriah School, Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, Yavneh Academy and Frisch’s Cougar Chorus, who joined the interschool choral festival for the first time.

First up was Yavneh Academy’s junior chorus, under the guidance of Motzen and accompanied by Cantor Eric Freeman (who also heads up Yeshivat He’Atid’s choir). The fourth- and fifth-grade students sang three songs, including “Chutim Shel Geshem,” “Ants Marching” and perennial favorite “Halleluyah.”

The Yavneh Concert Choir, made up of middle schoolers, then came on and sang the Steven Soindheim classic “Comedy Tonight.” Then seventh-grade flutist ingenue Tamar Zaider accompanied her fellow students for the song “Katonti.” They ended with the uptempo “Kos Nisa Reyim Kos Yayin.”

After they took their bows, Schwartz and Teaneck Mayor James Dunleavy came on stage to welcome the crowd. “We were thinking of singing some songs for you,” Dunleavy joked, “but we decided after we heard what we heard, we better not do that.” Schwartz shared that he looks forward to next year’s concert which he hopes will take place in the brand new bandstand that the town has on order.

Next up was the Cougar Chorus, under the direction of Randy Wartelsky, director of choral studies at Frisch. “We’re so excited to be here and it’s so exciting to sing live together as a community,” she said. The chorus sang “A Toast to Life” by Yaakov Shwekey. The high schoolers then belted out the classic “Stand by Me.” As the seasoned singers exited the stage to thunderous applause, Wartelsky gave a heartfelt message to the elementary school kids in the audience: “This is you in a few years. Keep singing!”

Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County sang next. Under the direction of Carey White, the school’s music teacher and chorus director, the kids sang “Hallelu/Hineh Ma Tov” by Lisa Levine and Tfila, a fun selection that had the crowd clapping along the entire time. “There’s really nothing that gives a music teacher more joy than being able to sing together and come together and celebrate children and music and life by a concert like this,” White said.

Making its interschool choral debut with not one, but two choirs—Yeshivat He’Atid came onto the stage led by Freeman. The younger kids began with a long-standing favorite “Hinei Mah-Tovu” medley, then went on to “All Is Found “ from “Frozen 2.” They finished their endearing performance with “Shalom.”

Freeman expressed his delight “for Yeshivat He’Atid not only to be back here but to participate in live music and communal events. … We’re really excited to expand the program and to join other schools in the area for such art and music events.”

The Yeshivat He’Atid upper school choir sang “And You Will Be Found,” from fan favorite “Dear Evan Hansen.” They ended with a moving rendition of “Al Kol Eileh,” accompanied on guitar by Emily Billauer, a Yeshivat He’Atid seventh grader.

 

The Moriah School, led by Rabbi Michael Nadata, ended the evening’s performances with moving renditions of “Uvnei” and “All From Above.” As the kids swayed to the music, a hush seemed to fall over the crowd and it was clear that a night like this could only come with a little help from above.

The evening’s festivities concluded with all the singers and choral directors going on stage to sing “Hatikvah” together. With that, another long-awaited Bergen day school choir festival was in the books.

A special thank you was given to Chickie’s, Chopstix and EJ’s for sponsoring the event.

By Ronit Mershon

 

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