SPLASHNEWS– Yerushalayim -History was made this past Chol Hamoed when the brand new project of Yerachmiel Begun hit the American shores for the first time. ”Miami Mizrach” is the brand new Miami Boys Choir from Givat Shaul in Yerushalayim. Produced by Yerachmiel Begun and conducted by musical director and former MBC star Menachem Klein, the choir made waves in the music world when they exposed their professionalism on stage, three concerts in a row at the Millennium Theatre in Brooklyn. The shows were called “East Meets West” as the two choirs, MBC and Miami Mizrach, actually performed alongside each other on stage in an interesting display of boys from two different nationalities with different accents and languages.
Chananya Begun is the son of Yerachmiel Begun who apparently inherited some of his father’s talent. Chananya is heavily involved with the new Miami Mizrach. He composed one of the five songs featured on the album, and arranged two of the musical arrangements on the album. Menachem Klein is the man you saw on stage, the director of this new choir who also composed two songs and arranged three songs on the new album. Yerachmiel Begun, who produces the project overall, also composed two songs on the album. SPLASHNEWS takes you from the U.S. to Eretz Yisroel to give you an inside look at Miami Mizrach.
-SPLASHNEWS-Why was this new choir created in Eretz Yisroel?
Menachem Klein-There are a few reasons. First of all, the fact that the choir is physically located somewhere, makes it more attractive to the people of that place. People in Eretz Yisroel always recognized the Miami Boys Choir but now they will feel a stronger connection, with the choir actually located in their own country. This will help us take advantage of the Israeli market with more opportunities for us to perform in Eretz Yisroel. There are also a lot more opportunities in Israel than in America for in America people live more or less in the Greater New York area but in Israel there are hundreds of cities that all have their own events.
Chananya Begun-With such a big market in Eretz Yisroel, it was very hard for the Miami Boys Choir to take advantage of it as often as we would like, with MBC located in America. It was decided to open a Miami Boys Choir in Israel which would be an Israeli take on the Miami Brand. It brings something fresh to the market. What’s interesting is that the Miami Mizrach Choir features Israeli kids, singing with an Israeli accent, but with American style music and songs. This is a combination that has never been done before.
–SN-With many Israeli’s into American products, many of them have been commenting that this is not the “real” MBC. They want to hear the choir from New York. How will you overcome this challenge?
MK-I think that’s a good question and it’s a fair question: We’re brand new and they are the original. Yerachmiel Begun is there, he’s not here. This leads to the question, “are we the real Miami”? There are differences of course, (accent, different type of kids, etc.) but there is a professionalism in our choir that’s not found in any other Israeli choir. The reason is that it is under Yerachmiel Begun, and I am here running it as someone who went through MBC. Of course, it is a work in progress. We are now incomparable to how we were two years ago, and this past concert really proved it. Standing alongside MBC and being lead by Yerachmiel, the kids themselves now believe that they are the real thing. I think when people hear our CD and see us perform, they will realize that this is an authentic act.
CB-It’s not a challenge. With our unique combo that we discussed, we feel that this choir, with this new sound, has the broadest appeal and will be popular all over the world including America where the album is selling very well. We are marketing this choir as a separate group with its own sound and people in Israel will soon come to realize that. The American choir will of course still be performing in Israel as they always have. Miami Mizrach is not taking over MBC in Israel but will performing as a separate choir with its own unique style.
-SN-Why the decision to use an Israeli accent?
MK-We are an Israeli choir. For people that want the American choir with it’s American accent, this is not that. We don’t hide the fact that this is a frum, but inclusive choir. We don’t say “no” to a boy simply because his yarmulke is a little different. As long as he is a good, frum boy who is a baal middos – and of course, possesses the right amount of talent – we give him a shot. We didn’t think it was the right thing to use a forced yeshivishe accent on this Israeli choir. I also happen to think that this accent sounds nicer and more authentic.
-SN-How do all the different kid interact with each other?
MK-They interact just fine. This is not the Knesset where all the different parties come in and argue. That said, it’s quite amazing to see the mix of boys – we have Charedi, Daati Leumi, Chardal, Chabad, Sefardic, Chassidish, European and even totally American kids who moved to Israel! It’s really amazing what goes on over here.
-SN-What is Yerachmiel Begun’s role in the choir?
MK-He oversees everything. He is the ultimate decision maker. He hears what I have to say and everything gets discussed. He will always ask my opinion and usually we talk it through and come to a consensus, but it’s ultimately his call. We are essentially a product of Yerachmiel Begun’s musical mehalech. So everything I do, from composing, to the music and harmonies, it’s all done with some form of oversight from or collaboration with him.
CB-He is the producer which means he is involved in every aspect of the choir. He composed two songs on the album and is involved in everything including choir practice.
–SN-With Y.B. obviously in America how can he be so involved with choir practice?
CB-He actually does skype sessions where he watches the choir throughout various practices (and studio recording) and at the end he makes adjustments in any area that he feels needs to improve. He is also in constant touch with Menachem Klein.
-SN-With Yerachmiel composing all Miami songs for years, why did he decide to use new composers for the Miami Mizrach album?
CB-Yes, it’s really amazing that he has been able to compose every single Miami song on every album! There are three people involved with this album, Menachem Klein, my father, and myself. All three of us have our own unique style of composing and arranging music so it was decided to test out an album with different composers and arrangers and see what happens when this blend comes together.
-SN-Why did this album have only five songs?
CB-With the whole choir, a new concept, we felt we can do a five song album which is also a new concept. There are a couple reasons. It is well know that there is a big issue of people stealing music and putting it on their ipods. Additionally, some people complain “how do they expect us to buy it if its so expensive?”. We decided to make a CD that would not be so expensive with five songs. As it is, many people don’t listen to the full twelve songs on a CD and when is the last time you heard a twelve song album with twelve good songs? Usually you don’t have more than two good songs. This album we decided to make only five songs but make five good songs.
–SN-I have heard from a famous producer that he never knows which song will make it. How did you know that these songs would be good?
CB-With my father’s experience, he is a true composer and knows a real good melody when he hears one. He has the ability to pick songs that are not just like some of these recycled songs you hear on CD’s today, but five real melodies. Additionally, we of course didn’t just rely on ourselves but we showed them to different people and asked what they thought of them.
-SN-Why was Menachem Klein chosen to lead the choir?
CB-Menachem Klein is multi-talented and he has worked with my father in the past. He also spent about nine years in the choir and has always remained close to him.
MK-You will have to ask that to Yerachmiel! But really Miami is a “mehalech”; it’s a certain style that has been around for a long time. Being that I am a product of Miami, I understand what Yerachmiel is looking for and what he is not looking for and he trusts me to continue that vision here in Eretz Yisrael.
SPLASHNEWS interviewed many people at all three shows and people were blown away by the performance of Miami Mizrach. People were not expecting such a professional choir from Israel but were pleasantly surprised.
-SN-Were you nervous before that first show in New York?
CB-I was definitely worried about how the kids would sound in concert for the first time. Not that I was actually worried of course but I really didn’t know what to expect! My father watched them for a rehearsal for like six or seven hours long on the day of the concert which is something that I can’t remember him ever doing. The bottom line is that I knew that my father would settle for no less than perfect before sending the choir out to perform.
MK-This wasn’t the first time they performed in front of a large crowd but this concert in New York was the real deal. I was nervous and excited at the same time!
-SN-Why do you think they were so good?
CB-They have gone through expert training by Menachem and really put in a lot of effort to build themselves up to a professional level. Additionally, the Mizrach choir has such amazing soloists and they really bring out the whole choir and make all of them sound better.
MK-They had worked really hard and they also knew that they had to step up to the plate. Until the show, we did not know if it would pay off. They were not in their environment; it was like a vacuum with us taking these kids out of Eretz Yisroel and placing them in New York but B”H it was a success.
-SN-Were the kids nervous at all?
CB-The kids had worked really hard to get to this point so they were extremely confidant that they would do well. They were also very excited for finally reaching this point after spending so much time preparing for this moment. This was also the first time that many of the kids were in America.
-SN-How did the kids in Mizrach react to being with the kids from MBC?
MK-The first time that they got together was actually here in Givaat Shaul two years ago when MBC came to rehearse before an Israeli concert. When the New York kids walked into this room, there was absolute silence from the kids in Mizrach. The Americans were like “all right, move over; you can sit down and we’ll show you how it’s done”! And at that time, they really did show them how it’s done.
-SN-How did the kids of MBC react to Miami Mizrach? Did they feel that the stage was being taken away from them at all?
CB-It was very interesting back stage to see the two choirs interacting. I would say there was probably some friendly competition!
MK-Of course we are not competing with them but I’m sure a natural reaction is to feel some competition. The Miami Mizrach choir of course felt the pressure but they stepped up and were excellent.
One soloist, Ori Shaked had the stage to himself where he sang solo and was phenomenal.
CB-Ori Shaked has an amazing voice and really did a great a job. The first night he was actually very sick but he still came out and did a great job.
-SN-We hear that Yerachmiel Begun is producing an album featuring Ori Shaked alone?
CB-Yes, they are working on an album and it should come out in the near future. Probably within the next few months although I don’t know for sure.
-SN-Any final thoughts?
MK-We thank you for promoting us and for the opportunity to come down and interview us. We look forward to many more exciting things and we hope you enjoy the album!