Ah, Chol Hamoed. A time to spend quality time with the family, take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and pack on out to a concert to enjoy great music and some plain old fun.
In my case, the concert in question was YBC Live! Pesach 12, featuring Ohad, the all new Chevra and, of course, Eli Gerstner’s Yeshiva Boys Choir, singing a mix of classic YBC songs and some brand new additions. This year YBC staged two shows, one at Queens College and the other at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey. As someone who lives in the suburbs, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend a concert that was located outside New York City. Hats off to EG Productions for putting together a show that was an easy commute, at this beautifully redesigned 1920’s theater with seating for over 1300.
The evening began fairly promptly, only twelve minutes after the announced start time of 7:30. The crowd consisted of many YBC parents and relatives, with numerous people holding signs to cheer on their favorite singer. There were also many families with small children, with so many little kids in attendance that I felt like I woke up and found myself somehow mysteriously planted in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese. But let’s face it. This is a YBC concert and despite the talent onstage, the stars of the show are, all too young to drive a car, buy alcohol or even qualify for working papers in New York State. First and foremost, this is about adorable boys getting up on stage and winning the audience’s hearts, something that they most certainly did.
The emcee for the evening wasn’t customary host Yossi Sharf, but YBC member Shabi Soffer who, with an incredible amount of poise and humor, ably filled Sharf’s much larger shoes. The evening kicked off with an opening medley by the Yosis Orchestra, directed by Eli Gerstner, playing a mix of YBC songs, both old and new, including Kol Hamispalel, V’Ahavta, Shabichi, Daddy Come Home and Those Were The Nights and it was interesting to see how seamlessly the songs flowed into each other. The orchestra was outstanding throughout the evening, always energetic without ever overshadowing the vocalists. A special shout out to Avremi G who, as always, did a superb job.
First up was a surprise act, the Nochi Krohn Band, performing Ein Kadosh KaHashem, the opening track from Krohn’s latest album, Banai. They were extremely enjoyable and it was entertaining to watch Krohn who seemed to be dancing and playing the keyboard simultaneously. I was disappointed to see them leave the stage after just one song.
Ohad took the stage next, singing Shalom Aleichim and Stop, both tremendous crowd pleasers, with the crowd chanting “Ohad! Ohad!” For his next song, Ohad was joined by YBC soloist Yitzy Waldman to sing Birkas Habanim from his latest album Ohad III and while I was hoping for the two to sing a duet instead of just alternating parts, it was still a lovely rendition of this touching song, originally sung by Ohad and his son on the album. By the time Ohad began singing V’erastich, there were the requisite yeshiva bochurim jumping up and down in front of the stage.
While the crowd loved Ohad, they went totally ballistic when Shabi introduced the stars of the show, the Yeshiva Boys Choir. Dressed in white shirts, black pants and skinny black ties, each song was accompanied by YBC’s signature choreography and I am guessing those kids definitely burned off some of that matza by the time the night was over. Over forty boys, ranging in age from eight to fourteen, were adorable and vintage YBC, singing Shmoy, Chasoif, Those Were The Nights and Amein, Amein, Amein off their new a capella album. Throughout the evening Yossi Newman introduced the boys, giving the audience an opportunity to put names to the faces, a nice touch for those of us who had no clue who any of the kids were.
After a short intermission, the orchestra played another medley after which Eli Gerstner, who had been on stage the entire evening conducting the orchestra, finally turned around, schmoozing up the audience and describing how over the years, Yeshiva Boys Choir concerts have a benefitted schools and tzedakas and attributing YBC’s success to their linking their music to this very special mitzvah. This concert will benefit the Bnei Israel Matza Fund, which provides food for Pesach for needy families in Northern Israel. To share in this mitzvah click here.
Gerstner enlisted the audience’s participation for Baruch Haba, a song that debuted on YBC Live 4. Both Ohad and the choir came out for the song and at its conclusion, Ohad once again took center stage, singing Boi B’Shalom which the Maccabeats sang as L’cha Dodi, but is actually a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. (Most interestingly, the person I asked to help me identify the song, because I knew I had heard it before, named it as Hallelukah from the movie Shrek. Apparently a lot of people have heard, liked and used this song.) Ohad finished up with an Eli Gerstner composition from his latest album, Malchuscha, which again, was a real crowd pleaser.
The next act up was just a small taste of the Chevra who are hard at work on a new album. They started off with a Yehei/Chizku medley and while this is only their fourth live performance together it was impressive to see how well the group worked together. They finished off with a new song from their upcoming album, Chai and it would have been nice to have heard them do another song or two in order to really get a feel for this new group.
But alas, that was not meant to be. Not that anybody minded seeing YBC come back on, singing Yevanim in a costume that was totally eye-popping. The stage lights were off and each boy had a green glow stick encircling his face and another on each arm and each leg. With the lights off, the effect was very cool and the crowd went wild, especially when Yossi Newman started throwing glow sticks out to the audience.
While we have all heard the song Daddy Come Home, Yossi Newman told a touching story of an email that YBC received from a soldier in Iraq, who received an emotional phone call from his daughter when the song was released, saying “Daddy, this is our story!” Soloist Mendel Nebenzahl brought the story to life, joined by the choir who followed with Mizmor Shir and the all new Ah, Ah, Ah with some funky choreography.
The evening ended with a finale that encompassed some long standing YBC traditions: Omar R’ Akiva, Kol Hamispalel, beach balls being tossed out into the audience and children from the audience coming onstage and taking their turn with the microphone. At the end of the day, despite innovative choreography, some great songs and a number of exceptional voices, YBC remains as popular as ever because it is all about our most precious resource: our kids.
I have lots to say about concert etiquette…stay tuned for a future post on the subject after Pesach.