If there’s one thing that Hopkins has no shortage of, it’s fantastic a cappella groups. But with so many groups on campus, it can be difficult to really highlight the unique strengths and interests of each one. This week I was able to sit down with senior Matt Rodgers, the president of Ketzev at JHU, to find out what makes Ketzev and a cappella at Hopkins so special.
Ketzev is the only Jewish a capella group at Hopkins. Each semester, they perform one to two Jewish songs, usually Israeli pop songs in Hebrew. Along with the Jewish numbers, they also typically perform five to six English songs in genres such as pop, rock and R&B. They meet a couple of times each week to rehearse and perform in showcases and have also competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.
Each semester, they begin by creating a form where members can submit songs that they’d be interested in singing. After they’ve gathered these submissions, the executive board bounces around some ideas and picks the music that they think would work well. Most of their arranging is done by one of their music directors, Maxim Brekhman, a Peabody Institute student blessed with perfect pitch.
After arranging the music, they start doing rehearsals. Usually, they designate a portion of the music that they want to get through during that rehearsal, such as a single verse and chorus, and break out into sections to learn their parts. Then they all try to sing it together.
Rodgers described the ways Ketzev works through challenges during rehearsals.
“Sometimes you feel like you understand your [own] part very well. Then you come together as a group, and someone is slightly off, and then [that throws you] slightly off. But that’s the thing about creating music in any form, whether it’s a cappella or being in an orchestra. Everyone is so reliant on each other. It’s really a codependent team,“ Rodgers said. “It can be super challenging just to gain that cohesiveness as a group. And the way that we try to work through it is by having our music director lead us. We’ll start by learning a song, and if we get to a part where something is messed up, we’ll just do it again until we’re able to get it.”
When I asked Rodgers about why he decided to join Ketzev he spoke about being encouraged by a friend to join, but he wasn’t sure about a cappella at first.
“I had a really good friend who was in the group. She heard me sing in the car and she was like ‘Oh, you should try out’. I wasn’t super sure [about it] at first, but she helped me film my audition,” he said. “Even after I had submitted my audition, I still wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to join. I’ve always liked singing, but I’d never thought about doing it in front of people. That was terrifying.”
After Rodgers joined the group though, he spoke about how valuable the sense of community is within Ketzev. As he talked about them with a giant smile, I could feel how passionate and grateful he was for the family he’d found there.
“Then Ketzev accepted me. I was like, ‘You know what, I’ll give it a try.’ I started showing up to stuff and realized this is actually a really good time. It’s the activity we’re doing, but it’s also the people that we’re doing it with.” Rodgers said. “I had my friend who introduced me to the group, but everyone else in the group were completely new faces I had never seen before. That can be a little bit scary at first. But I like meeting new people a lot, and everyone in the group is so awesome. We hang out a lot outside [of rehearsals], and it’s just a whole new family.”
In an email to The News-Letter, senior Anne Flemming wrote about having a similar experience becoming a member of Ketzev.
“I hadn’t planned on joining an a capella group, but my big from my sorority was in a group and kept telling me to join. One day we were driving in her car and I was singing along to an Olivia Rodrigo song and she just looked at me and said, ‘You’re joining,‘“ Flemming wrote. “It was just sort of a done deal after that, and once I was actually in the group I met so many amazing people who I have so much fun with and now call some of my closest friends. My first ever solo in the group was to that Olivia Rodrigo song I was singing in the car that one night which I think was [a] beautiful full circle moment.”
Rodgers emphasized that, apart from the community aspect, one of the things that he appreciates is Ketzev’s roots in Jewish culture.
“I feel like a lot of what makes us special is the fact that we’re grounded in this faith. I’m not [Jewish myself], but I think that learning about different cultures is always super interesting. Last year, we had one member who spoke [Hebrew], and she would translate what the songs meant for us. It was super cool and awesome.”
Ketzev is a group with a deep sense of community. If you’re not sure about joining an a cappella group, Rodgers encourages everyone with the slightest bit of interest to just take the plunge and try it out. And if you’re interested in listening to Ketzev, make sure to follow their Instagram account @jhu.ketzev to learn about upcoming performances. Keep a lookout for their end-of-semester performance in December!