Some are born into a cappella greatness. Some achieve a cappella greatness. Others, like Mike Boxer, have a cappella greatness thrust upon them.
“I hadn’t really sung until I got to college, when this guy who was a friend of my roommate literally grabbed me by the arm and was like, ‘Oh, you have perfect pitch? You play piano? You’ve got to try out for my a cappella group!”
Since then, he founded the all-male group Six13, achieving viral hits such as a “Shake It Off” Chanukah parody that reached 2 million viewers. Boxer also runs the annual Jewish Performing Arts Festival showcase (JPAF), compiles the best of Jewish a cappella onto bi-annual albums, hosts Kolcast, a monthly Jewish a cappella podcast, and continues to mentor up-and-coming groups, helping with their arrangements, performances, and recordings.
Needless to say, the gig struck a chord.
“For me, with a cappella music, there’s something about the sonority of when it works,” he says. “When it’s bad, it’s really bad. But when it works, the voices clicking together, it's an accomplishment of the whole musical spectrum with just the same kind of timbre.”
In addition to writing, arranging, and performing original music, Boxer harnesses the power of song to unite Jews across denominations, both among the members of Six13 and beyond.
“Right now we have Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, unaffiliated, secular, all in the same group,” he says. “Somehow we haven’t killed each other yet. The Reform guys agreed to say ‘Hashem.’ The Orthodox guys said it’s OK for there to be girls in our videos and some of them are wearing pants. We’re crossing the aisle. We have a little something for everybody. Jewish is Jewish and it's worked for us.”
Even with the plethora of Jewish a cappella groups, Boxer says that the success of one group benefits the rest, raising awareness about the genre as a whole and instilling Jewish pride in those who might not live in areas with large Jewish communities.
“The Maccabeats should live and be well and have much success and so should we, because for every band that you can get behind to follow, there’s another Jewish kid who’s saying, ‘I don’t feel so out of place.’”
Play us a song…: In high school, Boxer learned to play the entire Billy Joel oeuvre on piano.