Raising their voices in introduction
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Raising their voices in introduction

'Teaneck Sings' helps unite a diverse community

When Atara Schulhof, a sophomore at the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, won last year’s Teaneck Teen Idol contest – sponsored each year by the Teaneck Community Chorus – she walked away with more than just a “huge trophy.”

“The competition opened up many doors,” she said. “Now I’m getting myself out there and performing more.” She soon also will be enjoying the two-hour recording session offered as part of the Teen Idol prize.

Atara, who studied at the Manhattan School of Music’s summer program this year, said she enjoys singing different kinds of music. “We put on ‘Aida’ and ‘Oklahoma,'” she said, calling herself “more of an ‘Aida’ person,” but noting that she enjoyed performing in “Oklahoma” as well.

“I’m passionate about singing,” she said, though she tries to put it to good use, “helping others.” For example, she participated both this year and last year in a benefit concert for Emunah, “and when our school goes to nursing homes, we sing.” She’s lucky, she said, that “one of my passions combines with another.”

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Atara Schulhof

“The contest meant so much to me,” she said. “I really got myself out there and have progressed in music ever since. I had an interest before, but have gone beyond what I thought I would.”

This year’s Teen Idol contest – the eighth annual competition – will kick off “Teaneck Sings Week,” January 17-25, which includes TCC participation in the Bergen County Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Tenafly and the chorus’s annual winter concert.

The theme of this year’s concert is “Two Paths to Freedom – A Musical Tribute to Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger,” who both died last year. It also will include poems by Maya Angelou, who also died in 2014.

“These extraordinary leaders inspired both lasting change and timeless music,” said Gail Smith, an active member of the chorus and co-producer, with Jack Aaken, of the Teen Idol contest. She said the concert will include songs of South Africa as well as songs by the Weavers. Among the songs “will be a lively rendition of ‘Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,’ arranged by Pete Seeger,” Mr. Aaken said.

Ms. Smith – who is also the vocal coach of the Teen Idol contest, together with William Wade – said the chorus was put together as a way to bring people together in a diverse town. With all the religious and ethnic differences, “we asked, how do you build a bridge to pull all of those differences together? It started off not about a chorus but about bringing people together.

“One of the better ways was to establish a community chorus. We don’t sing religious songs, but songs [reflecting] a variety of different cultures and experiences.” Participants, she said, get to see not only the differences, but similarities as well. “That’s the most important thing. What pulls most of us together is that we have so much more in common than not in common.”

Ms. Smith said when she first began working with the Teen Idol contest, “we had two young ladies from two different Jewish schools.” Watching the interaction among participants, she noted that “at first no one talks, but by dress rehearsal, they’re all talking to kids they would never meet under normal circumstances. They don’t have an opportunity to interact.”

“It took a while to get Ma’ayanot participation,” she said. At first, most contestants came from Teaneck High School, “but over time we started to see kids from different schools and different age groups.” Participants must be between 13 and 18 and must either live or go to school in Teaneck.

This year, 40 students auditioned for the contest, and there are now 15 finalists. Ms. Smith said she has reintroduced the practice of performing a group number, “as an easy ice-breaker for participants.”

“Teaneck is a town full of talent in general,” whether among young kids or adults, she added. “The week allows us to bring to light the talent of the younger folk.”

It also allows the kids to broaden their social horizons.

“I’ve met many people from other schools and other backgrounds through the Teaneck Teen Idol competition,” Atara said. “I don’t think I would have met them otherwise. They are all very talented individuals, and I’m so grateful I got to meet them.”

“I definitely would not have met most of these people ordinarily,” said Avigayil Schiff, who will compete in this year’s contest. “We do go to separate schools and live on different sides of the town, so our paths don’t cross. But I did enjoy meeting them, because it was refreshing to see the different cultures of kids who only live 10 minutes away. They’re all really nice kids and made the experience even better.”

Information
What: Teaneck Sings Week

When: January 17-25

Events:
January 17 Teen Idol Contest
– 8 p.m., Teaneck High School

January 19 Bergen County Martin Luther King Jr. celebration – 6:30 p.m., SMA Fathers, Tenafly

January 25 TCC Winter Concert
– 3 p.m., Teaneck High School

For more information, and to buy tickets in advance, go to www.teaneckcommunitychorus.org or call (201) 906-1017.

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