Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a band

More than just a music school, Yoel and Yoad Shoshani’s Lenagen Bekef teams up budding musicians and turns them into performers.

Shoshani brothers band 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shoshani brothers band 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Music, surely, should be fun. While there must be quite a few people who struggled with the discipline as children and were required to maintain a consistent musical learning trajectory, Yoad Shoshani and his brother Yoel do their very best to keep things light and mutually enjoyable.
For the past decade the Shoshani brothers have run a music school, now housed in the Clal Building, suitably entitled Lenagen Bekef (Playing for Fun).
The idea for the center was born in New England. “Yoel lived in the States for a few years and he came across the idea of people coming to a place to play music together when he was in Boston,” Yoad explains. “At the time I was in a beautiful village in Guatemala, in the middle of my post-army trip, and he sent me e-mails about this great project he’d seen at a community center and kept badgering me to come over to Boston. So I went.”
The seeds for Lenagen Bekef, however, were sown much earlier and much closer to home. “We come from a very musical family and we had a rehearsal room at home where we’d jam and fool around. One day, Yoel decided to do something here with the concept we’d seen in the States, bringing people together and making bands based on their level and styles of playing.”
On their return to Israel the Shoshani brothers quickly set about establishing Lenagen Bekef, initially at Center 1. “We got an amazing response, and people just starting coming and coming,” recalls Yoad. “I think the need was there and all these budding musicians, with no one to play with, were just waiting for something like to this happen here in Jerusalem.”
The start of the center was preceded by a rigorous, if not entirely legal, hands-on advertising campaign. “We printed a whole load of blue notices at home and put up loads of them along Jaffa Road,” says Yoad, “and we got loads of fines, 180 to be precise, at NIS 250 a time.”
But the Shoshanis managed to avert financial meltdown. “We told the judge about the idea of Lenagen Bekef and he was very understanding,” says Yoad. “In the end he made us promise we’d never do anything like that again and left us with just two fines to pay, in four installments. Having to pay all those fines could have finished us off before we really got going. In any event, we came out of court feeling rejuvenated – and we never put up notices like that again.”
But the message was out loudly and clearly – the phone calls started coming in and the Shoshanis found themselves tackling a pleasant problem. “We got so many responses we didn’t know how to handle so many people. There was obviously a need for what we were offering in Jerusalem. People who had been practicing on their own at home really wanted to get together with other like-minded people and learn how to play in a band together.”
Yoel and Yoad started categorizing the applicants into styles and genres, standard of playing and age groups. Luckily, the brothers had already imbibed different areas of music themselves, which they could impart to their clients. “We are both into jazz a lot,” says Yoad. “I was more into rock, from the 1970s up to the present, and Yoel is into jazz from the 1930s up to contemporary stuff.”
Both are also more than competent on a very wide range of instruments. “We both play guitar as our main instrument, but we both play bass guitar too, and we gradually got into drums, saxophone, piano, trumpet and singing. When you get going there’s really no stopping.”
The Shoshanis’ own fields of interest also dictated the main areas of activity at the center, although these too have branched out. “We mostly take people with a rock or jazz orientation, but we also deal in ethnic music and there are some one-off other bands, like a hip-hop group called Sigma which put out a CD. Sigma did quite a few gigs and also played with Hadag Nahash. Basically, we are open to almost any kind of music other than classical.”
A jazz ensemble put together by the center has also performed at the community center in the German Colony, and more gigs are being put together.
Yoad says that, over the years, Lenagen Bekef has become a nodal point for all sorts of people from around the city and beyond, with all sorts of needs. “We have people coming here from all over, including from outside Jerusalem. The youngest player is 10 and the oldest, a jazz drummer, is close to 60. We don’t want to take kids who are too small, because that can be very hard work but, as far as we are concerned, you are never too old to start playing in a band.”
The center has also helped in other ways. “We have one teenager who suffered severe burns and never left the house before he started coming here. This is a way for him to get out and to communicate with others and, maybe, help him get over the trauma. Music can do that.”
Despite its all-embracing ethos, however, the center does have some entry standards. “You have to have some playing ability and experience,” explains Yoad. “You have to know some scales, chords and rhythms.”
At the end of the day, as the name of the enterprise suggests, the Shoshanis want their students to have fun. “We started out having a good time but, after a while, the name of the center seemed a bit incongruous. Suddenly we had all these bands that were really quite professional, and it all got a lot more serious. But we really do have fun here. We don’t mess around, and everyone makes good progress, but it is fun.”