A cappella with attitude

With songs ranging from hip-hop dance tracks to rock anthems, New York-based group Six13 sounds like a full band – while using nothing but members' voices.

Six13 (photo credit: Courtesy of Di Zhang)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Di Zhang)
I attended my fair share of a cappella concerts in college. Brandeis University offered no shortage of talented groups; one that performed Broadway show tunes, another committed to pop and soul, another all about Jewish music. The men of Six13, a six-voice Jewish a cappella powerhouse from New York, deliver a fresh take on Hebrew liturgy, singing their original arrangements and music for Jewish songs, parodies of pop favorites, and covers of Yiddish and Israeli classics.
Mike Boxer, 31, the group’s musical director, songwriter, arranger and business manager, says they don’t really have a musical style per se.
“It’s kind of just a methodology of how we create our music using just voices. We like to think once the methodology is spoken for we can do pop or rock- ’n’roll or doo-wop style or jazz or anything that you could possibly imagine,” he says. “One reason the audience is never bored at our concerts is we keep it varied and interesting. We do as many types of things as we can.”
The group – Mike Boxer, Eric Dinowitz, Rob Operman, Alan Zeitlin, Noah Aronson and Avi Ishofsky – is scheduled to perform in Jerusalem at the Association of Americans and Canadians on September 22.
On their fourth album Zmanim, released in April of this year, Boxer says they recorded more of their original music and covers of popular Shabbat songs.
“The split between original stuff and covers of other people’s songs is much more even on this album,” he says.
The album features Six13 takes on “Tov L’hodot,” “Mi Adir,” “Hinei Ma Tov” and “Kol Haneshama,” a cover of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” and entertaining parody medleys of Hanukkah songs “I Light It” and Passover songs “P-A-S-S-O-V-E-R.”
“On this album people will find a whole lot more they are already familiar with and may already know,” Boxer says.
With loads of awards for their parodies and arrangement of Jewish liturgy, such as the 2010 Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards pick for best humor song, “I Light It” and “Yesh Chadash,” selected as one of the Recorded A Cappella Review Board’s top picks of 2009, Six13 also performs regularly around the US at universities, synagogues, Jewish youth conferences and private simchas. They even made it to the finals in the casting process for NBC’s a cappella competition The Sing-Off.
Avi Ishofsky, 36, says Six13 offers audiences a richer sound by breaking down each element of a song so listeners can hear each voice on its own. And together, they sound like a full band.
“The music is just fun. Audiences get really into it.
Audiences are often shocked that there really aren’t any instruments – that it’s just six guys singing,” Ishofsky says.
Jews familiar with traditional liturgy enjoy the new music the words are set to and fans of a cappella are drawn to Six13 for their polished sound. For all listeners, it’s an opportunity to connect to Judaism or become more familiar with the Jewish heritage, Ishofsky adds.
Z’manim showcases the group’s developing sound, as they continue building their voice as a group.
“I think that every album has been a labor of love and we learn so much from each album. I think that this album has a lot to offer. I hope that people will check it out,” Ishofsky says.
The original Six13 ensemble of four members officially formed in 2004 after having sung together in a cappella groups at Binghamton University in New York. Soon after, they held auditions and added more voices via friends of friends.
“A cappella is very popular on many American campuses so there were already many groups and opportunities to perform in college, but once we graduated we looked for new opportunities to sing together. We decided that we wanted to add a new voice to Jewish a cappella,” says Ishofsky, who graduated from Binghamton in 1999, spent a year in yeshiva in Israel and then served in Golani Brigade for a year. He is looking forward to spending time with friends and family on this upcoming trip to Israel.
To get ready for shows, the group gets together once a week to rehearse for about 2.5 hours. Not always easy to squeeze in, considering they all have other jobs.
Boxer, for instance, works for a small music publishing company, and is a freelance vocalist, vocal coach, music arranger and producer. Ishofsky is the director of business development for 1-877-SPIRITS.com, a gift concierge company.
“It can be hard, certainly, but the rewards are worth it. I really love carving time out of the hectic schedule to sing with friends at this level,” Ishofsky says.

To save time, when Boxer completes an arrangement, he records it and sends the group the mp3 so they can become familiar with the piece before rehearsal. Choosing songs is sort of a half-collaborative effort, Boxer says. “At the end of the day when you have six guys, it’s six cooks in the kitchen... it’s a democracy, but there needs to be someone making decisions.”
Those sound decisions have paid off. Six13 has come a long way, from six guys getting together in an apartment in Manhattan, to traveling to Israel this month, Ishofsky notes. “I’m really excited for the future of the group to continue. Just going out, creating music… [and] bringing more music to a wider audience.”
To purchase tickets, visit aaci.org.il or call 02-566-1181.

NIS 60 for AACI members, 70 for non-members. AACI is located at 37 Pierre Koenig Street, Jerusalem