Hannah Piracha, 26, moved to the area in June to become the music educator at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. Piracha teaches music to all grade levels during religious school on Sundays and Hebrew school during the week in addition to other responsibilities. She grew up in a family where almost everyone played an instrument.
Tell me about growing up.
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., in a Reform congregation. At the temple, we had an incredible music program. You could start in choir in third grade and basically keep singing until the end of your life. Honestly, I think that that played a huge role in becoming who I am or really becoming interested in Jewish life.
Did your family also have influence on you?
My mom is a singer. My older brother plays guitar, and he’s the one who got me to start playing guitar and trumpet. My younger brother plays trumpet and my younger sister decided to go the other way and play clarinet. So yeah, we all grew up making music together and we were all in choir and band at our temple, so that hugely informed all of our
Did you listen to any of your mom’s music?
She produced a tape back when people were still producing tapes. When I was a kid she had a tape called “Silly Songs and Quiet Times.” You’re not going to find that on iTunes.
Is there one song of hers you really liked?
There’s one about driving in the rain. It goes, “Did you ever notice, raindrops walking across your windowpane? When you’re driving in the rain. When you’re driving in the rain.” There’s more verses. So yeah, we were always writing and
Do you write music, too?
I used to do more of that than I do now. I do it when I have time.
What’s a Jewish song you’ve written?
I wrote a Purim song called “The Shushan Shake” because when I was song leading at my old temple, I realized that there weren’t a lot of recently written Purim songs that seemed like a lot of fun for kids. We could do “my head, it has three corners …” but there was nothing danceable, so I wrote that.
How do you motivate students?
Naturally the grades that are the biggest challenge are fifth through eighth. Beyond that, usually I’m dealing with the kids in NFTY [North American Federation of Temple Youth] that are excited to be there. They have the capacity to be even more enthusiastic if you meet them where they are. There’s definitely that stigma of, “Oh it’s not cool.” But if you can kind of be goofy and stop taking yourself seriously as a teacher — it makes it easier for them if you allow yourself to be the dumbest one in the room. Sometimes I’ll say to them, “Listen, I have the best job here because I just get to act really dumb all day, and I invite you to act really dumb with me.”
What song do you use to get people to loosen up?
The songs that tell you what to do are good, like the “Cha Cha Slide,” because it tells you, “Put your hands up.” Anything like that is almost surefire because people are singing, they’re moving, they’re engaging every part of their bodies and that is ideal.
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