The idea of hosting a virtual concert was on Seth Ettinger’s mind for months. In the midst of the pandemic, virtual events and social distancing, the cantor of Congregation Beth Israel wanted to host a musical celebration that would bring the community together. All he needed was the right theme.
Then, one day, while watching the news with his wife, he realized what that theme would be.
“I was thinking that we have a lot of things going on in our country, and a lot of hurt and a lot of fear going on, and we need something to bring us together that can bring in a lot of positive energy,” Ettinger said. “I turned around to her and I said, ‘What about a virtual concert about love for Tu B’Av?’ and she said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”
He reached out to his colleagues throughout Greater Phoenix, and it didn’t take long for them to respond.
“Would you believe it, 12 returned a ‘yes’ within two hours,” Ettinger said. “It was beautifully overwhelming for me to have that much support and collaboration from my colleagues.”
On Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m., 11 cantors and cantorial soloists from across Greater Phoenix will appear in “Turn It Up! A Musical Tu B’Av Celebration of Love.” The performers will include Ettinger, Cantor Jonathan Angress of Beth El Congregation, Cantorial Soloist Susan Colin of Congregation NefeshSoul, Cantorial Soloist Erica Erman of Congregation Kehillah, Cantorial Soloist Sharon Friendly of the Desert Foothills Jewish Community, Cantorial Soloist Suzanne Guinane of Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Cantorial Soloist Todd Herzog of Temple Solel, Cantorial Soloist Emily Kaye of Temple Kol Ami, Cantorial Soloist Mike Robbins of Beth Ami Temple, Cantor Dannah Rubinstein of Congregation Or Tzion and Cantor Ross Wolman of Temple Chai.
“Turn It Up!” will be hosted on CBI’s YouTube page, where audience members can watch and interact while the musicians perform via Zoom.
For Ettinger, the virtual aspects of the concert have turned out to be the greatest challenge. One of his main concerns was avoiding the many pitfalls of technology.
“I’ve seen with many of these virtual concerts that sometimes the internet can be faulty or the technology can be faulty, things can freeze, and we wanted to make sure it was as perfect as possible, so that none of the viewing experiences would be interrupted,” Ettinger said.
Instead of attempting to perform live, the cantors and cantorial soloists’ songs will be prerecorded and played for a live audience. Each performer selected two love songs, one Jewish and one secular, and will join the livestream to introduce their recordings and interact with audience members. The finale of the concert will be a prerecorded ensemble piece: “All You Need Is Love.”
For one of his own performances, Ettinger selected “Halevai” by Moishe Oyster and the Barry Sisters, the title of which is Yiddish for “I wish.” For Ettinger, it’s not just a touching love song, but a treasured memory.
“It was the song that my wife and I danced to as part of the hora at our wedding,” Ettinger said. “It’s our little kitschy love song, and I can’t wait to sing that.”
The process of preparing for a virtual concert, Ettinger found, is very different from an in-person one. Where normally the preparations would mainly take the form of rehearsals, both individually and as an ensemble, most of the work for “Turn It Up!” has been about set designing, directing and editing performances for video.
“I have found that it’s actually a lot harder to put together a virtual concert than an in-person concert,” Ettinger said. “It’s a lot more of a personal cost in terms of time, because you have to make sure that the bandwidth is correct and that the lighting is correct and everything like that. Things that you would normally have a crew to do, I’m taking on pretty much myself.”
But all the effort, he said, is worth it.
“It’s interesting and it’s a wonderful learning experience, and it’s something that people can really experience over and over again,” Ettinger said.
Ultimately, the goal of the concert is simply to give people a moment of peace, community and love.
“We want people to be able to breathe and to be able to forget COVID, to be able to forget the violence that has been going on lately,” Ettinger said. “[We hope] that people can once again feel part of a community and see that even though we are all separate, we can still be together. And we want our congregants to know that we love them.” JN