Nine Jewish a cappella groups from around the country gathered in the sanctuary of Adas Israel Congregation on Saturday for the fourth annual Kol HaOlam competition. Featuring a guest performance from two-time Kol HaOlam winners Tizmoret from Queens College in New York, the annual showdown gave the crowd of 1,100 a taste of the variety of Jewish singers and music styles from around the United States.
Each group performed two songs. The program started with S’madar, an all-female group representing the joint Barnard College/Columbia University Hillel in New York City, making its second appearance at Kol HaOlam.
Then Northwestern University’s ShireiNU, in just its fifth academic year of existence, made its Kol HaOlam debut. The 2013 champion Hooshir of Indiana University was next, followed by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Jewop and University of Michigan’s Kol Hakavod and an intermission.
After performances by University of Chicago’s Rhythm and Jews, Jewkbox of Temple University in Philadelphia, University of Maryland’s Mezumenet (also all-female), and Washington University in St. Louis’ Staam, the four judges calculated their scores during Tizmoret’s set.
Most songs were in Hebrew, and each represented a different segment of Jewish a cappella. Many of the versions performed were arranged by group members. The songs included traditional pieces like “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (Jewkbox) and “Salaam Rav” (Jewop), a mashup of “Shalom Rav” and “Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu)” and new melodies of prayers like “Oseh Shalom” (Hooshir) and “Ahavat Olam” (S’madar).
Other performances ranged from Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sabbath Prayer” to references to popular music like “Shira’s Mom” (Jewkbox), a parody of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” including the line “I’m not the little goy that I used to be,” and a mashup of The Idan Raichel Project’s “Rov Ha’sha’ot” and Adele’s “Skyfall.”
After the last group left the stage, the audience was allowed to text message one vote each for their favorite group. In addition to the audience favorite award won by Staam, there were two award categories, two runners-up and a winner. Best beat boxer was won by Jewop, while Hooshir’s Becky Mann took home the Best Arrangement award for her “Oseh Shalom.”
For the first time at Kol HaOlam, a tie was announced: ShireiNU and Kol Hakavod received identical scores, landing them a joint second runner-up prize. The final two placements were identical to last year’s: Jewop took second place and Hooshir won the title and the $1,500 grand prize. Following their victory, Hooshir sang “Al Hanisim” for the applauding crowd.