The Soul of A Cappella: A Review Of A Kumzitz in the Rain 3
Just in time for Sefirat Haomer, producer and arranger Doni Gross has released his third album in the a cappella CD trilogy A Kumzitz in the Rain, and this time around, like with the first and second albums, listeners will not be disappointed. Now you may be thinking, “three? I never even heard one and two!” That would be a fair statement since the A.K.I.T.R. albums have flown somewhat under the radar. I’d like to briefly discuss why that may be, before elaborating in more detail on this specific album release.
I do not wish to go into the Halachos of listening to music, live or recorded, during sefira right now, but let it be noted that many Orthodox Jews refrain from listening to music during the days of sefira, even when the music that they might play in the privacy of their homes and cars is recorded . However, many poskim allow for a cappella music to be played during these weeks, as the lack of instruments detracts from the simcha with which music infuses us. It is something which is definitely worthy of contacting your Local Orthodox Rabbi to discuss.
Because of the limitation on music during sefira, a myriad of albums has been released over the years which consist solely of human voices in order to avoid the issue of listening to instrumental music. Well-known artists like A.K.A. Pella and Six13 revolutionized the Jewish a cappella world with tracks that make you wonder how they can produce such sounds merely with their voices and beat boxing. The popularity of this genre has led as well to a cappella songs being produced for non-sefira times, such as A.K.A. Pella’s Purim song “What Does Haman Say,” a spinoff of the secular song “What Does the Fox Say?” Other groups like The Maccabeats and YStuds as well have used the a cappella genre to produce creative tracks which can liven up one’s day, in addition to producing more traditional ones.
Undoubtedly some Jewish Music listeners wish to listen to upbeat and lively music all year round, and these a cappella innovations help one do so even during sefira and the Three Weeks. But sometimes, these tunes cause us to lose focus of what the limitation on music during these times is meant to be about. Sometimes Jewish a cappella releases are more of a technical circumvention of a prohibition, than a channeling of that prohibition to provide inspiration. What eliminating music can do for a person in terms of framing the days of sefira as more somber, soulful a cappella can do to turn those days into ones of inspirational introspection. This is what A Kumzitz in the Rain does so uniquely for its listeners. In fact, in the featured description of the third album on mostymusic.com, it states, “Once again, the group is focused on delivering pure and catchy sing-along kumzitz songs with no electronic or synthesized sounds.”
Due to its more soulful and less creative a cappella style, as well as its general lack of well-known Jewish music names, A Kumzitz in the Rain may not be a familiar brand to many. But it should be. The tracks on these three albums help bring listeners back to those inspirational Three Weeks summer camp kumzitzes. Each song is a soulful and stirring classic. They are the tunes you often hear during kedusha on Shabbos, meant to bring you down memory lane. A listener may glance at the track list and wonder why it’s necessary to record “Hamalach” or “Habein Yakir” yet again, but these a cappella vocals give the pieces a whole new meaning.
A Kumzitz in the Rain 3 – which is available in stores, on iTunes, and with a free sampler on Youtube – has two new features setting it apart from the previous albums. First, A.K.I.T.R. has been successful in its first two albums in using children soloists to bring the songs to another level. These kids are not screechy, but rather hit their notes well and have impressive vocal abilities. A.K.I.T.R. continues this trend in its third album by making this CD a “junior” album, consisting primarily of kid solos. While most of the vocals are placed against the backdrop of skilled adults and familiar voices like that of Rivie Schwebel, the kids in this album certainly demonstrate their unique and tremendous talents in their own right.
The second new feature follows somewhat of a recent trend, in that the songs highlight the compositions of the great Abie Rotenberg. While Shwekey’s new release Those Were the Days also consists of a “Journeys Medley,” and others like Dovid Dachs in Shiras Hayam have made tributes to Rotenberg before, A.K.I.T.R. draws on Rotenberg’s unique capability to produce stirring kumzitz songs in addition to his classic English hits like “Joe Dimaggio’s Card” and “The Man From Vilna.” A Kumzitz in the Rain 3 even features Abie Rotenberg in one of its songs, “Modeh Ani.”
Because this series of albums is in the unique position, given their name, to deem songs as “kumzitz worthy,” it essentially takes songs and adds them to the repertoire of kumzitz songs and kedusha tunes. While this third album is focused exclusively on songs from a past generation since it pays tribute to the work of Abie Rotenberg, the first and second albums did a good job of interspersing some lesser-known songs into the mix, expanding the sometimes too short list of potential kumzitz songs utilized in different venues. Look for future A.K.I.T.R. albums to hopefully continue that pattern of expanding our “kumzitz playlists” beyond just the typical “tov lehodos,” “ana Hashem,” and “vezakenini.”
If you are the type of Jewish music listener who always looks for the vocal-focused slow songs on albums, A Kumzitz in the Rain 3 is certainly for you. And even if you are more into techno a cappella, I recommend giving A.K.I.T.R. a try. Certainly, during the days of sefira and the Three Weeks, days on the Jewish calendar meant for introspection and yearning, we can each use a little “Kumzitz in the Rain.”