TenLi Tunes provides AU students a sense of community centered around music and faith
Two years after its founding, the Jewish affinity a cappella group has retained its mission
When Itai Segev, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, decided to start a Jewish a cappella group his freshman year at American University, he could not have predicted how the coronavirus pandemic would complicate the next two years.
Segev established TenLi Tunes in 2019 during his sophomore year, but the idea came to him before his first official semester at AU had even begun.
“I came to visit during Eagle Summit the summer going into my freshman year,” Segev said. “There were a bunch of organizations tabling and one of them was Hillel.”
AU Hillel’s Executive Director Jason Benkendorf asked Segev how he wanted to get involved on campus. Segev said he loved to sing and wanted to join an a cappella group.
“One thing we’ve been missing is a Hillel a cappella group, and I was like, ‘oh my god, let’s create one,’” Segev said.
With the support of Hillel, Segev spent his freshman year building momentum for the group with his co-founder and current senior Elliott Gold.
“We started holding random jam sessions with people just to kind of see what the desire of the Jewish community was on campus if they wanted something musical or not,” Segev said.
TenLi Tunes debuted in fall 2019, at the annual fall preview concert hosted by AU a cappella group On a Sensual Note. Representatives announced the club’s name and its upcoming auditions, open to Jewish and non-Jewish students.
The name TenLi Tunes has a double meaning. The word Ten Li means “give me” in Hebrew and sounds similar to the pronunciation of AU neighborhood Tenleytown.
Segev said Hillel and the other a cappella groups on campus helped spread the word about TenLi Tunes, which grew to include more than 20 students at the peak of its membership. Most of the music TenLi Tunes performs is “group arranged” and the music scores are created using a software called Noteflight.
TenLi Tunes selects from a wide range of musical styles to perform; from prayer songs to more modernized tunes, as well as Israeli and American pop music.
Current President Ruby Coleman, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, told The Eagle some of her favorite songs to perform with TenLi Tunes.
“We sing a song called ‘Shnei Meshugaeim,’ which is an Israeli pop song,” Coleman said. “I really loved the energy of that song. As well as ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,’ which was actually the song that I soloed on so that has a special place for me.”
Coleman discovered the affinity ensemble through its Instagram page and was immediately interested. TenLi Tunes appealed to both her love of music and Jewish culture.
“I can honestly say that it really made my first semester,” Coleman said. “One of the best experiences I’ve ever had and now I’m actually president … so it’s come full circle.”
Segev said that TenLi Tunes, like many other student organizations, found it challenging to engage with its members remotely after AU transitioned to virtual instruction because of COVID-19.
TenLi Tunes released some remote content during the beginning of the pandemic, but Segev said they were not operational for the entirety of last year. The group is working to rebuild now that students have returned to campus.
TenLi Tunes recently held spring auditions, and Segev, now a second-semester senior, is hopeful that the new members will keep the group alive after he graduates.
“I want us to last past this year,” Segev said. “We’ve given people a platform to practice something that they would not have otherwise…it’s really important for students to be able to find their community, whatever it may be.”
Editor's Clarification: A previous version of this article referred to a cappella group OASN as an all-male group. The group accepts individuals who identify as male or non-binary.