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Waking Hours...with Israeli jazz singer Michal Hoter


Michal Hoter. Photo Gerry Mooney.

Michal Hoter. Photo Gerry Mooney.

Michal Hoter. Photo Gerry Mooney.

If I've been performing the night before, I might not get up until late in the morning. But, if I have school, I'll be up early. I go to Newpark – it's a jazz music school in Blackrock. I live in Rathfarnham with three other students. Two of them are from Israel and the other is German.

We were all studying in the Rimon School of Jazz in Israel, and then the director of Newpark came over to audition us for scholarships – the schools have a partnership scheme. With our diplomas, we can now complete a jazz degree here in Dublin.

Our house is far from the school, but near the synagogue. That is no accident. I walk there every Saturday morning to pray and to meet the community. It's really important for me to feel like I'm not alone. When I'm there, I put my phone aside and I think about what I've done in the past week, and what I want to achieve the following week.

My life is so busy, so it's good to have this time to myself. Being Jewish is a big part of my life. Every morning, when I wake up, I thank God and the universe that I'm here. If it's not raining, I like to go running to start the day. It makes me feel more awake. Exercise is for the body and singing is for the soul.

The weather in Ireland is confusing. In Israel, when it's winter, it's winter and, when it's summer, it's summer. But here you could have everything in one day.

I was a swimmer in Israel and I trained triathlon teams, but, now that sport is not part of my working day, I have to discipline myself to do exercise.

I never have breakfast in the morning – just coffee or tea – though I always have lunch. I eat kosher food, but, because there is such a small Jewish community in Dublin, there is only one place where you can buy kosher meat. It's very expensive and I'm a student, so I tend to just eat vegetarian food instead.

I'm sorry to say that Israeli food is so much better than Irish food, but, on the other hand, the Guinness here is great. It's nothing like the Guinness in Israel.

If I'm not doing sport, then I get started on warming up my voice. I sing scales and I practise songs. As a kid, I used to study opera and then I changed to jazz. With classical music, you have to use a lot of technique to change your vocal range. All of that helps for jazz.

My mother said that, before I was able to talk, I was always singing and making up songs. When she was eight months pregnant with me, she went to see Les Miserables, but she couldn't concentrate on it fully because I was kicking the whole time. I suppose it's no great surprise that I love Les Mis.

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Music is a big part of my family. My mother used to be a singer. She's English, but she moved to Israel when she was 18. She used to sing with her two sisters. My father's parents are from Yemen and they moved to Israel in the Fifties.

Normally, in the synagogue, only the cantor sings, but, with Yemen Jews, they all take turns to sing. Everyone laughs about this. I haven't met one Yemen person who doesn't have a nice voice.

Even though it's only the men who sing in the synagogue, my father was always teaching me the songs. Then my mother taught me about The Beatles and The Kinks. I am one of six children and we were always harmonising. For the Sabbath meal, we would sing the prayers with the tunes of Disney songs.

Ten years ago, my brother, Gavriel, was studying, during his gap year. He was preparing the Friday-night dinner at his school when some terrorists came in and shot him and three others. It was terrible. That day, I lost my brother and my best friend. It really changed me. It's like I had my life before and after my brother died. Then, when I sang with my other brothers, we could hear that there was a voice missing. We recorded a CD in his honour called The Missing Voice and we shared all our sadness in the music. It helped us grieve. Later, we made another CD, called Before the Sunset. This was more cheerful, about happiness and how to look at life in a better way.

My late brother inspired me to pursue my dream of becoming a singer. I once made him a yamaka [Jewish hat] and, in return, he gave me a siddur – a Jewish prayer book – with the inscription, 'Never give up'. I feel he guides me through everything. When I started studying, I had all this music in my head, but I didn't know how to write it down. But I worked hard and now I can write the orchestration for different instruments. I hope to make a living out of music some day, and my dream is to have a concert in a big venue.

I always get nervous before a performance. I never forget music, but I'm very bad at remembering lyrics and the order of the verses. If I'm singing my own compositions, I have no problem, but, if it's something like Fly Me to the Moon, I can't sing the last verse first.

I do a warm-up with my musicians and then, the minute I go out on stage, I relax. I love singing with my band. We have the same energy and we get inspiration from each other. I try to give everything to the audience and I feed off their energy, too. There is a jazz scene in Ireland, but it takes time to get an audience.

After a concert, I like to speak with people and hear feedback. Sometimes, I meet my friends afterwards. I often do a show on Friday evenings. It is light until late here, which means that I can sing and then, afterwards, I am on time to start the Sabbath. I had a boyfriend back in Israel, but a long-distance romance is not for me. Besides, right now, I am dedicating myself to music.

When I go back to Israel, I'll probably start a wedding band to make some money, but jazz is my big dream.

See www.michalhoter.com

Michal will be performing as part of the Newpark Jazz Gradfest, which runs until Wednesday, June 18

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