Family bands? Nothing new there, considering the legions of brother-and-sister (and cousin) bands. But a band made up of a single, nuclear family unit (TV’s Partridge Family was led by a widowed mom) that performs covers of iconic Queen songs? That’s more of an anomaly.
Enter Kol haMishpaha, comprised of the Grumans — father Baruch (always known as Bam), 53, mother Idith, also 53, and their four kids, Shani, 28; Noa, 25; Rinat, 20; and Yarden, 18, the youngest and the only male of the clan.
Whether they’re in their comfortably crowded kitchen (yes, that’s their very own kitchen in the video of “Somebody to Love”), a home studio that is stuffed with two bass guitars, a keyboard, cello, accordion and balalaika, or onstage at O’Sullivans, the local pub, their romantic, comical and faintly Goth-like renditions of the beloved British band’s hits are tightly produced and spot on.
Tthis is a family that rocks together, and does it admirably well.
It was Queen that brought them together: Bam and Idith were both students at the Technion in 1980 — he had immigrated with his family from Russia in 1972 and was studying electrical engineering, she was in civil engineering and physics. A student party found Bam at the piano, his long, lanky body bent over the keys, picking out the chords for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Idith, a French immigrant in braids and schooled for many years on the violin and Bach, had no idea what he was playing. But she liked it.
“He took my breath away,” said Idith.
That really was music to Bam’s ears, since he was a lifelong Queen fan who considers the British progressive rock band to be “the only group” out there.
Fast forward not so many months and Idith was playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” proficiently on the violin. They married, eventually settling in the bedroom community of Lapid near Modiin, working in high-tech (Bam) and teaching (Idith). But “music was always in the background,” according to Shani and Noa, the two oldest Gruman siblings. “We were born into this,” said Shani.
For years, music framed the background of family life. Bam and Idith were members of the local Lapid singing group, and the music played in the house was either Queen or classical. Every child studied a musical instrument (and eventually matriculated in music in high school) and the family often sang a capella together — complex canons in the car during family vacations, harmonized tunes at the Shabbat table. In fact, they sang pretty much everywhere.
“It’s like breathing for us,” said Idith.
So when the kids’ spate of bar and bat mitzvah parties began some 15 years ago, it wasn’t all that surprising that a family-performed song — a beloved custom in many celebratory gatherings — became a hallmark of the Grumans’ celebrations.
Bam would write a song each time, a duet for Shani, the family’s first bat mitzvah, that became a full-fledged family affair by the time of Yarden’s bar mitzvah, when they produced a takeoff of music reality show “American Idol,” complete with performances, videos and all.
By that time, they had already been performing for several years as a local band, sometimes singing soulful Israeli pieces at local ceremonies, or, often, doing Beatles covers (well, you can’t do Queen all the time) at bars and clubs, with Bam on acoustic guitar, Shani on drums, Yarden and Idith on bass, and Noa or Rinat as the lead vocalist. (There appears to be some sibling competition between sisters number two and three, with Noa often standing in as family spokesperson, but each sibling appears to be holding her own.)
Despite the cachet of being in a band, it’s not quite the same when your fellow musicians include your parents.
“I didn’t want to play in front of my friends,” said Noa, reflecting on her teenage self. “I was a teenager, I wanted to be independent, and here I was on stage with my parents.”
Rinat, who spent most of her high school years at a boarding school, would hurry home each weekend for rehearsals. But she wasn’t always thrilled about the prospect.
“We had to do this,” she said. “And we got sick of the Beatles.”
And yet, with Bam as the driving force behind Kol haMishpaha, performing together is the way they’ve “survived as a family,” he said.
“Some families have businesses,” he said. “If you don’t have anything in common, the family can part. It’s a reason for survival.”
At the moment, each Gruman has their own musical projects. Parents Bam and Idith still sing with other friends; Noa sings lead vocals for other bands, teaches voice and has her own progressive-metal band; Shani, studying to be a massage therapist, focuses on various drumming techniques in her spare time, while Rinat is in Vocolocity, a local a cappella group, and Yarden, still in high school, is the lead singer for Dedsin, his own garage heavy metal band.
Ultimately, the stage is where they feel most unified as a family.
“Here is where we know each other so well,” said Noa. “We know how everyone will react.”
“What do other families do?” quipped Shani.
Lily Steier, Idith’s mother, pointed out that their work as a band demonstrates how they trust and believe in one another.
There are breakdowns from time to time, said Shani. They can’t plan too much ahead because each person is forging ahead with their own lives, and it’s harder than you’d think to bring all six family members together. Shani and Noa currently live together in an apartment in Ramat Gan, while Rinat is in the army, leaving Yarden as the only sibling at home.
At the same time, they’re also venturing further afield with their work as a band, working on their own composed pieces, and adding other covers to their repertoire.
“I don’t think of us as unique,” said Bam. “We’re lucky we have this.”
Kol haMishpaha will perform Friday, March 21, 2 pm, at the Ozen Bar, 48 King George, Tel Aviv.