Catching up with Rock Mishpacha
The sound of the ROSS FAMILY BAND, a.k.a. ROCK MISHPACHA, has definitely upgraded in professionalism, and the voices and faces of the boys have matured since Mishpacha first got to know the young musicians over two years ago — but the fresh, upbeat vibe has stayed the same.
Even as the kids are growing up, the band is still keeping busy, says Rabbi Yitzi Ross, the band’s bass player, who by day is a fourth-grade rebbi at Yeshiva of South Shore in the Five Towns. They’re still playing together as a family at selected gigs, and are working on various music projects.
Making sure the kids fit in music lessons and practice has not gotten any easier. The oldest, Binyamin Zev, who plays the tenor sax, is almost 19; Baruch, the drummer, is 17; Avi, the guitarist, is 16; trumpeter Mordechai is 14, and Moshe on flute has just turned bar mitzvah, so their learning schedules sometimes mean that they can’t all be at every practice. The younger members of the family are 11-year-old Yehuda, who plays alto saxophone; nine-year-old Batsheva, an acoustic guitarist who plays with her brothers but stays out of the spotlight; Dovid, a budding pianist at age six; and little Miriam, who is learning to play percussion. Long summer Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings are often devoted to the family practicing together in their basement music room.
Rabbi Ross switched from keyboard to bass guitar just three years ago, and says he sometimes feels at a disadvantage among his boys, who’ve all had many years of practice on their instruments. “If we have to go over a piece again during practice, it’s for me,” he says. Listening to their recent releases showcases how much they’ve developed as musicians since their debut, and Rabbi Ross is proud that the older boys have recently begun learning music from some of the top professionals in the Jewish world, challenging themselves to push their skills.
The band usually plays together at each of the sibling’s bar mitzvah, but as Moshe turned 13 during COVID, he chose another means of celebration. Rock Mishpacha released a 20-song “Do You Know Your Jewish Music?” contest on their website, with the money raised going to camp scholarships. The fun medley of old and new songs featured some favorites from each band member, arranged and conducted by Avremi G. Its high-quality sound is testament to Avremi’s talent and versatility, especially since his arrangements for each instrument had to take into account the skill level of the young musician playing it.
“Avremi will tailor-make the score to push us just beyond our comfort zones,” says Binyamin Zev. Each band member spent hours practining for the set, and Ian Freitor, the audio engineer, worked his magic.
Moshe, who shines on the flute and piano, is also the soloist on the poignant single “Elokai.” The song was composed in memory of Mickey Berger a”h, a childhood friend of Moshe, who was tragically niftar at age three. Rabbi Ross was teaching Micky’s older brother when this tragedy occurred nine years ago, and he composed and sang “Elokai Neshamah” together with his young students to help them try and make sense of what had happened.
As a rebbi, parent, and author of a popular parenting blog, Rabbi Ross grapples with many contemporary chinuch issues. His feelings about excessive phone use by parents and the use of devices as a babysitting tool, are expressed in his own composition “Atzabay” (“Atzabay hagoyim kesef vezahav, maasei yedei adam, peh lahem velo yedabeiru — They have a mouth but do not speak, eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear”). It’s out in audio version with vocals by the Ross boys, and soon to be on the upcoming music video “Atzabay.”
Then there is the single “Shabbos Melachos,” released last year, a learning song to the tune of Yeedle’s lively “Gilah Rinah Ditzah Vechedvah,” that has already taught so many children the melachos of Shabbos with translation and examples. There’s also the “We Can’t Wait for Shabbos” set, where the five youngest Ross kids sing their hearts out in an upbeat medley of well-loved Shabbos songs, from Shalom Aleichem to Shlomo Katz’s “Shabbos Kodesh” to “I Love Shabbos Yes I Do.” Many preschool teachers have downloaded this for their own little charges’ Erev Shabbos listening.
While exciting new collaborations and projects are part of the future of the family that plays together, it seems that the joy of music is spreading to Jewish children in ever-widening circles. Rabbi Ross says that perhaps the sweetest rewards are the emails asking him for leads for good music teachers.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 863)