Most college students are now used to living much of their campus lives online, from taking final exams to going to the gym.
But Hillel-affiliated a cappella groups are fine-tuning the virtual pandemic world.
Several Hillel a cappella groups are creating videos of their members singing Jewish and secular songs to comfort and entertain students as well as vulnerable communities.
Jenna Citron, executive director of Queens College Hillel, said members of the Hillel a cappella group Tizmoret refused to let the pandemic alter their shared passion for Jewish music and tikkun olam, or repairing the world. They’re using their talents to provide free, virtual concerts for senior centers and assisted living facilities in the U.S. and Israel.
“The students get a lot of comfort out of singing together,” Citron said. “It’s a self-care practice for both the students and the seniors. They see music as a source of healing.”s
Tizmoret also produced video renditions of popular songs such as, “If I Ain't Got You” by Alicia Keys and “Darkeinu” for Passover. They’re also planning a large, virtual concert, “Tiz a Small World: Together from a Distance,” on Sunday to reunite Tizmoret alumni and raise funds.
“Tizmoret believes Jewish a cappella has a healing power, and that it cannot go away just because of the stresses around us,” Citron said. “They are a group of hyper-dedicated musicians. Music is their heart and soul.”
Still, singing together over virtual platforms such as Zoom or editing together videos has proven to be a challenge for a cappella groups used to singing side-by-side.
Kaskeset, an a cappella group at Hillel at Binghamton University, spent roughly a month creating a video of “Brother,” a fan-favorite song. Hannah Greenwald, the former president of Kaskeset, said producing the four-minute song for YouTube was a lengthy process because each member recorded their vocals separately. The individual audio clips were then synced by an editor into a harmonious track.
“With an a cappella group, it’s all about blend and being in tune with each other,” Greenwald said. “When you sing virtually, it’s a completely new game. There is a ton of editing to get a similar sound and create something that sounds natural.”
Jamie Hendler, a graduating member of Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis’ a cappella group Staam, said singing live over Zoom isn’t an option.
“Unfortunately, it is very hard to sing on Zoom because there is a time lag,” Hendler said. “The challenge is that you have to isolate the audio to make sure everyone is lined up.”
Piecing together separate, pre-recorded clips allows an editor to make sure their voices are in harmony, Hendler added.
Despite the technical challenges of singing together while remaining apart, Hendler and many other singers are up for the challenge.
“We’re such a tight-knit group, and we don’t want quarantine to stop us from making music and enjoying each other’s company,” Hendler said. “It’s amazing that we have technology to be able to produce these songs.”
The group is also sharing its music through an album on Spotify called “Ma’agalim,” which translates to “Circles.” Hendler said the title reflects how Staam wants to create music for generations to come.
Kol Halayla at Rutgers University Hillel is also sharing its music on Spotify, including a new album called “Starry Knights.” In addition, the group is selling CDs, recording music videos, posting old audition videos on social media and reconnecting with alumni.
“We are all willing to put in the effort to make these cool recordings despite not being together,” said Aaron Scheiner, incoming president of Kol Halayla.
Manginah, a Brandeis University Hillel a cappella group, is also posting virtual performances online. In a Facebook post, the group said its performance of “Hakol” was posted because, “distance can’t stop us from making music.” Manginah also posted a recent performance of “Shiru Lamelech” to celebrate Shavuot.
As daily life continues in isolation, many students, including Greenwald from Kaskeset, hope to keep finding creative ways to stay connected with peers through a shared love of singing.
“For a lot of us, this is our main passion and extracurricular in college,” Greenwald said. “We all genuinely want to keep making music. It’s not as fun as standing together, but everyone is very happy with the final product.”