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Springfield singer lands gig at Maccabi games
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Springfield singer lands gig at Maccabi games

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Rachel Millman just before her June 17 performance at Sullivan Hall. She will perform there again on Sept. 30. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg
Rachel Millman just before her June 17 performance at Sullivan Hall. She will perform there again on Sept. 30. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg

At 24, Rachel Millman is steadily making progress up the indie pop learning curve.

She released her first EP — extended play recording — “I Believe” in January. She’s had three gigs at New York City venues, and is scheduled for a repeat performance at one of them, Sullivan Hall, in September. On Aug. 19 she is slated to appear at the Gershwin Hotel in the city.

And Millman will sing before her largest single audience Aug. 1, when she performs during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 JCC Maccabi Games at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

In addition to performing her own songs at the opening of the “Jewish Olympiad” — in which thousands of Jewish teens from JCCs and YM-YWHAs from throughout North America compete — Millman will also lead the gathering in the singing of “America the Beautiful,” “O Canada,” and “Hatikva.”

“I think it’s going to be a crazy good experience. I can’t wait to perform in an arena before 7,500 people,” she said at an interview in her manager’s Morristown home studio.

To be sure, Millman, who lives with her parents in Springfield, is still learning the business, from the best ways to prep just before a performance to engaging her audience from the moment she steps on the stage. And she still can’t believe it when she gets a comment on her MySpace or Facebook page from a fan she’s never met.

“The whole thing is so funny,” she said.

Her melodic voice hushed the crowd on June 16 at Sullivan Hall when she shifted from the pop-type ballads she had been singing into the Kings of Leon rocker “Use Somebody.”

She likes singing ballads, she said, and she loves classic rock — including the Beatles, the Eagles, and Billy Joel.

“When my radio is on, it’s at 104.3,” a classic rock station. She prefers her iPod, and she’s been listening to Muse on it lately. Pop stars like Beyoncé and Céline Dion are also favorites, she said. “I’m currently infatuated with [singer/songwriter/pianist] Sara Bareilles.” Her main pop idol? Christina Aguilera.

‘It feels good’

Although she is not necessarily seeking a Jewish audience, and her music is secular, Judaism is at her core, and she embraces it. She grew up at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield; her grandparents on both sides were also members. Her paternal grandmother, Rosalie Millman, was the first woman president of the Conservative synagogue.

She has sung at events there, and loves to share her voice during Yizkor services on the High Holy Days. “It’s a great honor and a great feeling to give back to my community,” she said.

She believes she inherited her voice from her grandfather, Jacob Litman, a Holocaust survivor, who had Alzheimer’s disease and died six years ago. With tears in her eyes, she lamented, “I didn’t get to spend enough time with him” before he got sick. But, she said, “I’ll never forget singing with him.”

Her happiest memories of him are singing Kiddush on Friday evenings at his house. “We went there every Friday night,” she said. She also remembers dancing with her grandmother while her grandfather sang Hanukka songs. “He had such a distinctive voice,” she said.

Millman, a graduate of Jonathan Dayton High School and Penn State University, has been taking voice lessons since she was about 13. During her senior year of high school, she was invited to cut a demo recording by Brian Reeves, producer at Jungle Room Recording Studios in Glendale, Calif.

“It was so much fun. I felt free — it was such a creative space,” she said. “When I walked in and saw the professionalism, I got so excited, I couldn’t wait. I loved every second of it.” Reeves developed a few songs for her, and her manager has matched her with a few others. She’s tried her hand at writing, but so far, she said, isn’t satisfied with the results.

Performing is another story. “It feels good, like I’m supposed to be there. It’s natural. I love to sing and I can sing all day.” The only thing that makes her nervous? A small crowd. “I’d freak out if there were only 15 people in the audience.”

As for the Maccabi gig, she said, “Jewish audiences are not what I’m necessarily working toward — I want my music to reach whoever wants to take it in and love it up — but you can’t say no when an opportunity comes up, and being Jewish and getting to sing ‘Hatikva’ — it’s such a beautiful song,” she said.

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