Saving the Song From the Reality TV Circus

A chance encounter with a favorite tune reminds one critic that, despite the deluge of reality music shows celebrating the personality of the singer, there is still magic to be found in the power of the song.

Last Friday, outside an elementary school in Ramat Gan, I experienced a particularly moving musical event. It was ten minutes before the end of school, and only a few parents were waiting for their kids by the gate. From the school’s auditorium came the voice of a young girl singing Shuli Rand's "Ayeka" (Where art thou?). My suspicion that this was a rehearsal for a Memorial Day ceremony was soon confirmed when a different girl started singing another song commonly heard on that day. With all due respect to Gidi Gov’s "Yoram," I’d like to focus on "Ayeka" The sound of that song, delivered by that young girl, was a true moment of grace. 

Maybe the circumstances played a role in the experience, along with the situational similarities to one of my favorite Hebrew songs, "Kol Od" (As long as) by Yoni Rechter and Eli Mohar, which describes a man waiting outside a school, hearing his son’s class singing (“A man in mid-morning/A man in mid-life/By the school stands alone/but the children sing still /of first rains and the squill”). Even if it was just one girl in this case, the parallel was enough to make one’s heart more permeable than usual. Of course, it took the right song to pierce the heart.

"Ayeka," which debuted in 2008, is one of the few songs in recent years that both climbed the charts and entered the Israeli bloodstream. This isn't a small thing. Most songs on such somber occasions are the older traditional ones, like "Yoram" and "The Little Prince," that we've heard countless times. "Ayeka" is fresh and unique and its novelty was one of the things that moved me when I heard it sung by that girl.

What does "Ayeka" have to do with the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers? I have no idea. Perhaps the person who chose it thought Shuli Rand was crying out to a fallen comrade or family member. Perhaps it captures the struggle of a religious person put to the test by the death of a loved one.

In any case, this particular rendition offered another reason to be moved. She didn't sing perfectly, nor did she try to. She wasn’t always on key and even stumbled from time to time. Since it was only a rehearsal, she didn’t seem pressured or anxious, but sounded natural and free. Luckily she didn’t know she had an audience on the lawn outside.

With all the music-related reality shows out there, when we hear children singing today, our first association is the TV program “School of Music." It's not quite the same as thinking of cell phones when actual birds sing, but it's close. On TV, everything revolves around the singing child.  The song is only the springboard, and has no independent value aside from the story woven by the producers around the child. In the experience I had outside the school, which was a little artificial since I could not see the singing girl, nearly everything revolved around the song itself. It was more modest, innocent and healthy from a cultural point of view, which added to the beauty of the moment.

“The song, not the singer” is the most exciting formula the pop world has to offer. That’s what it was like when I first heard "Ayeka" four years ago. I remember what traffic light I was stopped at. The song came on the radio, and immediately you knew it was something special.

I had no idea who was singing it. My first thoughts on hearing the broken, raspy voice and the heavyset presentation was that Yitzhak Klepter was emerging, sharp and bright, from some extinguished creative world. Or was it Shmulik Kraus, from an even more darkened place? Perhaps it was an unknown recording of Meir Ariel, made in some magical moment before his death?

At the end of the song, the presenter announced that the singer was Shuli Rand. My first reaction was: “What?? Shuli Rand? Yes, when you think about it, it makes sense, but even so, wow!!” What happened next is well-known. His album Good Point became a major hit, selling tens of thousands of copies, soon becoming a platinum album. Rand even had a show in Caesarea.

This incredible story, a rare fusion of critical and commercial success, overshadowed the initial excitement stirred up by "Ayeka". There was inevitably some saturation after endless listening. But last week, outside the school, in the voice of that girl, I heard it again with fresh ears was moved as if hearing it anew.

Tess Scheflan