There must be some mistake. The band has struck up some promising da-da-da-DAA…, the spotlight is hovering and ready to shine, the audience is warming up for the grand entrance of the star…and …what’s this? A maid wandering onto the stage? Hair wrapped in a sort of shower cap, draped bathrobe hanging over shabby slippers, a disgruntled looking charlady cradling a coffee mug shuffles downstage. The band strums along, tentatively. The spotlight checks her out. The cleaning woman stretches and twists. And eases into “Feeling mighty lonesome / Haven’t slept a wink / I walk the floor from, nine to four / and in between I drink / Black coffee / Love’s a hand me down brew…” And the audience, sitting in a Raanana auditorium, is transported straight into a Manhattan jazz joint, where smoky-voiced singers kill you softly with their songs. Jeanne Rabin, despite the shlumpy clothes, lights up the stage. And when she peels off the gown to reveal a hip-hugging little black number underneath, shucks off the slippers and steps into high-heeled pumps, the effect is even more electrifying. “How’s that mamma?” the singer deadpans, fluffing out her auburn tresses as she shakes off the cap. “My hair okay?” Her hair’s okay.
Her voice, trained by some of New York’s finest teachers, is okay too. So are her moves, down to a finger seductively twisted on the crown of her duet partner’s head. And her piano playing (which began at age four) is pretty okay too. Rabin, 53, who was born in the United States came to Israel with her family when she was 16. A graduate of Tel-Aviv University’s Musicology Department, she kick-started her career by writing songs together with her then-husband, Eliooz Rabin, which they sold to army groups, music festivals and various signers. The products of this musical pair, Lee and Eden, her 29 year-old twin sons, often accompany Rabin on stage and are ‘both phenomenal musicians,’ according to their proud mom. Her shows include “George and Jeanne: Jeanne Rabin sings George Gershwin,” a Brazilian Music Program and the famous “Baby Grand” show in which I sang ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and swooshed my tuchus over the keyboard to instant fame!”
Rabin’s backside, however, is more often seated firmly on the piano stool, from where she conducts the four choirs that she trains each week. “The Jeanne Rabin Ensemble” has been singing together for 14 years in Raanana, “Jean’s” (in jeans!) for a decade in Hod Hasharon, “Katzefet” in Sde Warburg (in which Rabin’s sister sings), “Rosh Tov” from Rosh Ha’ayin, and oh! there is also the high school for music work that she does in Raanana’s Ostrovski.
“Being in a choir is tremendous commitment,” Rabin explains. To start with, each singer regularly receives his/her voice part by email attachment. Jeanne sings each of the five part harmony voices and uploads them in her studio, conveniently located in her gorgeous Kfar Saba apartment. Five parts per four choirs works out to a lot of singing and orchestrating. And then there’s the rehearsals, either at night or on Friday afternoons from 4-7p.m. when the rest of the country is reading the papers or sleeping. Or putting chickens in the oven. It’s not a hobby for the lazy.
But the endless hours of discipline paid off big-time this year” “The Jeanne Rabin Ensemble” competed in the recent World Choir Games (the Olympics’ of choirs) in Graz, Austria and hit all the right notes. They came home with a silver medal – a first for Israel. “We were competing against professional choirs,” adds Rabin, “where the girls are all the same height and shape and come with an eight-part orchestra. These singers do nothing else but practice; they are sponsored by their countries and sing every day.” Jeanne’s Ensemble, in contrast, includes pilot and librarian, bio-chemist and a building contractor, students and high-tech managers and a banker, a designer and a speech therapist. They range in age from their early twenties to almost their seventies; they practice their parts on their way back to work or in the gym. One hour before the finals, Eyal, the baritone, displaced his shoulder and needed an emergency shot in the arm. “And our choir STILL won a medal,” exults their conductor.
Four hundred choirs from all over the world competed this July in Austria in categories ranging from classical through sacred music to jazz and children’s groups. ‘Jeanne’s Ensemble’ entered the pop music division, and their medal enables them to vault automatically into the finals next time round. But before that the ‘Katzefet’ choir is off to Hungary, to take part in a different music festival. Any interested would-be Pavarottis or Fitzgeralds are welcome to apply to join the celebration of song… “especially men. Jeanne is looking for men,” says Rabin. To sing in one of her choirs, that is. Not as an antidote for black coffee.