Tofaah's Female Percussionists:
Jessie Shechter has been one of Tofaah's female percussionists for many years. A classically trained musician, Jesse studied drums and percussions. She moved to Israel in 1989 from Miami Beach, Florida, and when she's not drumming, Jesse is also a talented photographer and videographer.
Jessie in Her Own Words
When did you start studying music?
I started playing violin, very badly I may add, at age seven. I quit when I was nine, thank G-d, and realizing that I had been blessed with rhythm, asked my parents for drums. I got them two years later and started playing around age 11. These days, I play mostly percussion and a bit of guitar.
My first drum teacher was my cousin Joel, and then I learned from a great teacher, David Fine. His uncle was first percussion chair in the New York Philharmonic. He was a very talented percussionist, and I learned on a really intense level with him.
I had started performing comedy routines in school when I was eight or nine, and done lots of plays (my mother, a"h
, was a drama teacher) so performing music was also comfortable for me. I think I was thirteen when I first started performing music.
How did you meet up with Tofa'ah?
I first saw Tofaah play a few weeks after I made aliyah. It was such an amazing joy to dance the night away on the roof of the Israel Center in Jerusalem!
Later, I filmed the band for promotional videos, so I got to know everyone as a videographer first, not as a musician. When the band's regular percussionists went on vacation, Yona needed a sub, so she asked me. I guess Yona saw that I fit in - that I had the right amount of "zany" - so the percussion section expanded. That was in 1993.
Female percussionists are still such a rare thing among Jewish musicians and in the world of Jewish music; what is that like for you?
Why is the "female" part of "female percussionists" the most defining?
I remember when I was in junior high and high school - people would say to me, "You're the best girl drummer I know."
So, in my humility (oy!) I'd ask them, "Am I the best drummer you know?" and often the answer was yes, which then led to the question, "So, why do you call me a girl drummer - just call me a drummer!"
(It isn't just female percussionists or female drummers who get this. Same thing happens in photography - being called a "woman" photographer, instead of just a photographer.)
Of the hundreds of Tofaah concerts over the years, is there any particular one that sticks out in your mind as particularly memorable?
At the first concert I played with the band, Mindy
performed a song Yona had just written. None of us had heard it before. It was so beautiful, the entire percussion section couldn't play for a few minutes afterwards because we were all crying. The song was Returning
(It's on the For All Time album
How does your music integrate with your Yiddishkeit? What is the role of music in your life?
Praising Hashem through music, singing a prayer, connecting with the ultimate Jewish songwriter, King David, is so important.
What do you seek to do, or put into the world, through your music?
I just love to bring simchah to Jewish women, and when I see all those happy faces, and women dancing and singing and enjoying and laughing - that's everything!