Kaskeset began as an idea in a Hinman College lounge and in just 15 years, has grown into an award-winning Jewish a cappella group. The group will be celebrating the benchmark anniversary at their semester show this Saturday night.
As the only Jewish a cappella group at Binghamton University, they cater to the extensive Jewish population on campus, but also work to appeal to anyone who enjoys a cappella.
“The group’s message and sound is universal,” said Max Buckler, the show’s coordinator and a senior double-majoring in history and English. “I’ve had people say to me ‘I’m not Jewish, but I could understand exactly what you were singing about from the emotion and sound of the performance.’”
Unlike most of their shows, Saturday’s show will feature Kaskeset alumni for most of the performances, according to Buckler.
“This will be our biggest show ever because instead of 15 people singing, they’ll be 50,” Buckler said. “Our alums have been instrumental in the progress of our group. It’s so important to bring them back and do a big show and show our appreciation.”
They plan to perform a total of 16 songs that will include well-known tracks like “Belegan” and original music, Buckler said.
The group currently has 17 members, and Buckler said he admires how much they’ve grown in just his four years at Binghamton through touring and other efforts.
“We’re always trying to expand and take on new things,” he said. “We maintain a very professional attitude about the way we operate.”
The group is known to take classic Jewish and Israeli songs and incorporate different rhythms and languages to make them more original.
“We’ve sung in Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and Arabic,” Buckler said. ‘We take a lot of pride in the subtleties, which is something the audiences pick up on.”
This pride and identity is something Buckler holds close to him after watching the group grow. He’s worked with other members to improve the group’s caliber and professionalism.
Debbie Veetal, a BU alumnus who graduated in 2000, is one of the original members of the group.
Veetal said she is looking forward to being back at BU and having the opportunity to sing. Now an elementary school math and science teacher, it’s one of the few chances she gets.
After watching Kaskeset develop for 15 years through her strong connections with the group, she is amazed at how much they have grown and how the talent has improved.
“I never would have gotten into the group if I was auditioning now,” she said, laughing.
When she was in the group, they rehearsed one night a week, which has now changed to three nights a week. While singing was just a hobby of hers when she started, being involved in Kaskeset turned into a way she formed life-long relationships.
“I probably wouldn’t have been friends with most people in Kaskeset unless I was in the group, but there’s no question that those people became my closest friends,” Veetal said. “I still hang out with people from Kaskeset in New York all the time.”
This isn’t Veetal’s first time back with Kaskeset, as she was involved with rehearsals in New York City this semester with some other alumni to prepare for the upcoming show.
In our digital era, Veetal said she learned her part, as did others, by communicating via the Internet.
“It’s really amazing how just even through technology you can send voice parts over email or through a website,” she said. “You can learn your part at home, and then everyone comes together.”
Veetal has come to support the group at almost every show since her graduation and continues to form friendships with Kaskeset’s new additions.
Even the group’s youngest members feel this sense of community. Rachel Schy, media correspondent for the group and an undeclared freshman, explained the closeness between everyone.
“You get to do something you love with people you love,” she said. “It’s hard not to become close with these people.”
The group continues to grow each year. They have toured extensively around the country and hope to travel abroad one day, according to Buckler.
Kaskeset’s ambitious spirit is complimented by a down-to-earth energy and love for singing anywhere from a synagogue to a lecture hall, according to Buckler.
“I can’t wait to come back for the 20th anniversary show and sing with the fresh-faced college students when I’m out in the real world — I mean teal world,” Buckler said, referring to the group’s colors of teal and black, which they wear to most shows.
“It’s important to keep it going because the experiences that we get from doing it is something you want to see other people get to experience,” he said.
The doors open at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Osterhout Concert Theater. Tickets are $4 at the door.