BOSTON – Gann Academy’s a capella group, ShenaniGanns, knocked it out of the park singing the national anthem on the field during Jewish Heritage Night at Fenway Park on June 8.
While the group from the Waltham Jewish day school has been rehearsing and performing virtually, this was its first live performance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The singing group took to the field on a hot, humid overcast night with some drizzle in the late innings before the Red Sox lost to the Houston Astros, 7-1. The ballpark appeared to be about three-quarters full after the state lifted pandemic capacity limits on May 29.
Gann Academy history teacher and Israel curriculum coordinator Jonathan Golden threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Those who purchased tickets for Jewish Heritage Night through a special offer received a Wally bobblehead doll wearing a kippah from the team store on Jersey Street.
Wearing gray T-shirts with “Gann Academy” written on the front, the group’s performance was shown on the Jumbotron, and drew loud applause from the Fenway faithful.
Preparation was an important aspect of their performance, as the group practiced the anthem leading up to their appearance, said senior Joshua Sherman of Lexington, who plans to attend Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in the fall.
“This was really the big performance of the year. This was the only time we got to perform live anywhere since everything has really been virtual.
So that was exhilarating being out there especially in front of how many people it was,” said Sherman, who said this was the biggest audience he and the rest of the ShenaniGanns were ever in front of for a performance. The group is made up of about 14 singers, Sherman said.
“It was like surreal,” said junior Sydney Raby of Newton. “It was crazy. I’ve never sang for that many people before, and just getting to be at Fenway, on Jewish Heritage Night, singing the national anthem, it just means so much.”
In addition to performing in front of such a large crowd, Sherman is “a huge baseball fan,” and he was aware that the likes of Red Sox players J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve – a six-time All Star – would be watching them sing.
“When I got out there,” Sherman said, “it was just focus on Ms. [Lisa] Jacobs [the arts department chair at Gann], watch the conducting, make sure I’m staying in time, and I didn’t really get to think of that other stuff. But then I’ve seen the videos my friends and family have taken and seeing myself on the Jumbotron, seeing myself on the field, like it’s crazy to see that was actually me.”
“It’s just you have to just look around and be in the moment,” Raby said. When singing, she had to focus on what she was doing because of the echo and the sounds swirling around the park.
“You have to focus on what you are singing and what you are there to do and take it all in,” Raby said.
Due to the pandemic, Sherman said the weekend-long Kolot Hayam Jewish Choral Festival the group usually takes part in at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, N.Y., with other Northeast Jewish day school choirs has been virtual for the last two years.
During this time, the group has been performing virtual, prerecorded music, “but this is the first time that we actually got to perform live together.”
Sherman said he’s been going to Jewish Heritage Night for as long as he can remember Fenway holding one. He said it’s an amazing feeling of being able to walk around, knowing many of the faces in the crowd, “and feeling such a strong Jewish presence there.”
The ShenaniGanns were supposed to sing the national anthem on May 26, 2020 for Jewish Heritage Night, which got canceled due to COVID-19. The inaugural Jewish Heritage Night kicked off in 2014 with klezmer music and kosher snacks, according to a story in the Times of Israel.
Of the eight players who are Jewish in the Major Leagues this season, none are on the Red Sox roster, but Astros star third baseman Alex Bregman had a hit and a walk during the game.
“Getting rescheduled for that this year,” Sherman said, “and getting that experience of being the Jewish representation for such a special event that takes place before every single baseball game that’s played in the United States, knowing that we got to be part of that was crazy,” Sherman said.
The ShenaniGanns took to the field before another emotional moment of the evening, when 7-year-old Lucy Frates – the daughter of the late Pete Frates of Beverly who helped popularize the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and who died in 2019 – threw out a ceremonial first pitch. The ball she threw out was handed to her by Governor Charlie Baker, who lives in Swampscott.
Honoring the Frates family and others who have been touched by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was all part of Major League Baseball’s inaugural Lou Gehrig Day, in memory of the Yankee Hall of Famer who died from the nervous system disease on June 2, 1941. The day was officially scheduled for June 2, but the Red Sox were away for that game and decided to wait until they were home to honor Frates and his family at Fenway.