Shir Madness attends singing competition for first time since COVID-19


Julia Diamond

Shir Madness and other a cappella groups watch another team perform.

Talia Loeffler, Reporter

All eyes are on the stage as junior Shiri Cohen begins to sing the lyrics to “Mizmor/King” arranged by Kol Sasson. A few moments later, junior Nate Shemony joins in, harmonizing beautifully with Cohen. The rest of the Shir Madness choir accompanies the two during the chorus, and everyone dances along to the music.

This past weekend, Shir Madness, the a cappella group at CESJDS, attended the Kolot Hayam Shabbaton in Eatontown, New Jersey, along with five other Jewish high school choirs from the Northeast region. Kolot Hayam is a 13-year-old event that features workshops, bonding activities and a culminating a cappella competition between the schools.

Shir Madness, which is composed of 17 high school students and is directed by high school math teacher Karen Pang, set out early in the day on May 12 for the Sheraton Hotel, the location of the Shabbaton. 

JDS has been sending students to this competition for many years, but due to COVID-19, has not been able to attend for the past three years. This was their first year back. 

The Shabbaton gave the students an opportunity to not only bond with one another, but also make connections with other schools. Sophomore Julia Diamond, who is new to Shir Madness this year, particularly enjoyed the opportunity. 

“I get to sing and do what I love with this amazing group of people, which is really exciting,” Diamond said. “Getting to meet all these people, becoming closer with these people, they’re all so talented. It’s really like a sports team [with] that kind of energy.”

Friday afternoon, the students could choose to participate in different musical workshops run by staff. On both Friday night and Saturday morning all schools prayed together, and the competition began on Saturday night. 

The choir performed “What About Us” by Pink with featured solos by freshman Maya Greenblum, juniors Serena Gill and Reyut Wasserstein in addition to “Mizmor/King” by Kol Sasson with solos from Shemony and Cohen.

While the Ramaz School from New York won the overall competition, the Shir Madness choir put on a memorable performance, according to Diamond.

“We did not win but it was still really fun to perform and get to show everyone what we’ve been working so hard for,” Diamond said.

Shemony believes there were some things they could have done better, but he was ultimately proud of their performance. He said that they should focus on working to match tempo and pitch so that they don’t end up changing keys mid-song, but in general their choreography and stage presence was solid.

“One thing we do that’s really unique that the other schools didn’t do at Kolot Hayam was our students are the ones that are conducting the songs,” Shemony said. “In other choirs, the teacher or the choir director does, but ours is entirely student-led. I really like that about our choir. I think it shows that we are taking initiative.”

Overall, the Shabbaton was a bonding experience for the students. They were able to spend time together as a choir, as well as with students from other choirs. The students were also able to spend time with Pang, their new director since mid-April.

Pang, who founded the Shir Madness choir in 1999, took the students to regular music festivals and competitions before Kolot Hayam existed. This event was then established in 2010 in order to bring Jewish schools together through music.

“I’m having so much fun,” Pang said. “I love singing and I love working with kids who love to sing. It’s just been wonderful.”