Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's Time For A Quiz!

What key signature are you?

Battle of the Bands 2003 Reviewed

Here's an article about the Battle of the Bands 2003 event that was held to determine the opening act at this year's Chanukah concert at YU.

The essay concludes:
Not surprisingly, the best band of the night did not win the right to open at Yeshiva’s annual Hanukkah Concert.  Surprisingly, the worst band of the night did. This could be the case for a variety of reasons. Perhaps Emes took home the title because as one observer stated, “they looked most like the judges.” Or perhaps The Jason Caplan Quartet went home without the victory because in all honesty, can anyone see them opening for Yeedle? Or is it Schweky?
Thanks, E!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Sgt. Cello's Lonely Hearts Club Date Band

Audio clips of rock cello! Check out their version of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water."

Harmonica Virtuoso

Here's a great article on Harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy. Turns out he grew up going to an Orthodox shul. I heard him play with Rabih Abou Khalil's band a number of years ago. His playing is so, so beautiful. I never would have thought a harmonica could sound that good.

Xaphoon

Xaphoon a.k. "The Bamboo Sax"

Interesting choice of sound samples on the site. The three songs used are "El Condor Pasa", "The Pink Panther", and "Oifn Pripitshek".

Ancient Musician

According to BBC News:"Habib Miyan retired from his job as a clarinet player in Jaipur's royal band in 1938."

NR on Music

I found the opening of this National Review Online article on the top ten of 2003 interesting.

Notable 'graphs:
It has been said, quite correctly, that whereas the objective of an industry is to generate a product, the object of a business is to produce money. That has certainly proven true in the arts. In music, commercial concerns have been important since the rise of a middle class created an increasing market for songcraft in the 19th century, displacing to the margins the most important former patrons, most notably the wealthy and the churches. Commercial concerns have risen to a peak since the 1970s and '80s, when the world's most important music companies were acquired by large conglomerates, which cemented their transition into being strictly businesses.
This has been quite harmful to the art of music, though it has been a boon for the production of entertainment, as the industry hares after every social trend in the quest to find new ways to pry money out of people's pockets. It is why visual styles are so important in this TV age, and why MTV was inevitable. And it is why music follows and fosters social trends both good and bad, without any evident concern for aesthetics, ethics, taste, or sobriety, and indeed often seems actively hostile toward such things.
As the social wheel spins, so goes music. Trends come and go. Today, emotional intensity appears to be the most important thing, but even so, some waves are receding as audiences show a preference for more positive emotions. Rap, once all but ubiquitous, seems to be waning, slowly but surely; the broader category of hip-hop, though, with its rather more positive social aura, is still going strong.
I think that there are some emerging trends along these lines in the Jewish music world as well. The days when anyone with a big enough recording/promotional budget was guaranteed a hit seem to be gone. This past year there were many high-budget releases that simply disappeared. And, people seem to be more open to lesser-known artists then they have in the past.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I Write The Songs…

There's an interesting letter exchange in this month's edition of Country Yossi magazine.

A reader writes:
Dear Country Yossi,
I happen to be a very avid reader of your Family Magazine and I do enjoy it very much. However, I read your response to a letter you printed in the November issue, written to you by a reader who complimented Pinky Webber on the great job he did adapting your song of the 'Deaf Man'. I realize how even though you did acknowledge the beauty of his work, you felt you should have been credited for originating the storyline. I find this very odd, being that your whole success is owed to your talent of swiping tunes from the great secular artists of our time, and interestingly enough, I don't recall seeing you credit any of the males or females who worked extensively writing and performing their songs making them the success they are now. You then just conveniently came along and benefited from their work without even the smallest bit of recognition.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with adaptation, but as you say, give credit where credit is due.
Sincerely,
Yasha Zagu (via email)
Country Yossi responds:
Dear Yasha,
You make a good point, but let me explain. When I first wrote the songs for CY and the Shteeble-Hoppers in 1983 they were parodies of monster #1 hits that I assumed everybody knew and enjoyed. A big part of the charm of those songs was the cute re-working of lyrics to give them a Yiddishe message or slant. It never entered my mind that people would assume these were original works and I never claimed they were. It was only later when people started stopping me on the street to tell me Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash were stealing my songs that I realized I should set the record straight. Thus, when we reprinted our inserts we made sure to specify which songs were parodies (and of which songs) and which were original (yes, I do write some of those too). Today all of our lyrics sheets feature that information.
But all that aside, I would think there would be a different standard within the frum community between artists who are readily available to each other and who want to use each others material. A quick phone call is all it would take to do things right. I remember R' Shlomo Carlebach a"h complaining to me about people using his material without permission or accreditation.
By the way, back in '83 I did try to reach the original artists for permission but couldn't get to them and was subsequently told that parodies and satires were permitted in any case (especially religious oriented ones for a specific ethnic market).
Be that as it may, I still think that if someone is going to, in effect, translate my lyrics into Yiddish on a recording he should at least have the mentchlichkeit to give me a call or at least credit inside.
It's a good thing it doesn't bother me!
The issue of properly attributing and compensating artists for their songs is not new. Here's one presentation of the issue. There are two separate issues here. One is the proper attribution of songs to their rightful composers.

The second issue is the matter of compensation to the original artist when their song is used. I'll leave that lengthy discussion for another post.

With regard to the first issue, this example will illustrate the problem. In 1999 Michael Steinhardt wrote: (scroll down)
First off - Michoel Schnitzler has a new tape, called "Simcha Chassidit" (A Hasidic Simcha), on which he includes some original compositions, and quite a few covers. All the latest wedding tunes from MBD, Dedi, Dachs, Fried and the rest are jumbled into Schnitzler's medleys. He's entitled - Yochi Briskman (the producer of 'Simcha') has been doing similar work with Neginah Orchestras and the Project X series of albums. Needless to say, Briskman credits each composer on the album insert.
Except for one song. And the song is unmistakable. It is Ata Takum by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l. The album's producers credit "Traditional" with composing this tune. I find this extremely insulting and egregious. If they don't want to associate Reb Shlomo's name with the album - they shouldn't use the song. I think everyone with a shred of conscience should prevail upon Yochi Briskman and Michoel Schnitzler to rectify this mistake. It's not just stealing; it's stealing from the departed.
I find it hard to believe that they didn't know it was a Carlebach tune and agree that it should have been credited as such on that album. I think that all artists should acknowledge their sources whenever they use someone else's work. This should apply whether the tune they are covering has Jewish or secular origins.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Naomi Chana has a few Chanukah related music questions:
Should we turn down the TV [currently playing Yet Another Christmas Concert on PBS] before we light the menorah? Should we turn it off? Do we need to leave it down/off until the candles burn out? Does it matter if the music in question is "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" versus "O Come All Ye Faithful"? What if the music changes -- do we interrupt the lighting?
Why is there no Hanukkah sheet music for banjo? (Not that we can't figure it out -- "Mi Y'malel" sounds awesome with a clawhammer technique.)
Incidentally, is there some reason "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear" doesn't qualify as Hanukkah music (the more eschatologically oriented sort, of course)?
As they'd say in Yeshiva... She's asking good!"

Thursday, December 25, 2003

eBay item 2582879829

Only about 3 hrs. left and no bids yet.

Looks like someone's trying to unload his free promo CD.

Thanks, Peter!

Interesting article on the StandWithUs concert in LA in the Jewish Journal Of Greater Los Angeles.

Notable 'graph:
├╝ber-entertainer Peter Himmelman dedicated “Mission of My Soul” to the StandWithUs staff and called out the Jewish performers who sing about “giving flowers to the terrorists.
... and on their home turf, no less!

On Wagner (not Honus)

Here's an interesting article on the Wagner Barenboim controversy that gives a good summation of Wagner's antisemitism and how it differs from the antisemitism of many other famous artists like T.S.Elliot, Renoir, Degas, Liszt, and Brahms.

What's the point?

EphShap links to this Aderet release. I listened to the sound clips and just don't see the point. I do hope that the profits are going to the victim's families.

On JM Marketing

As I see it, the JM industry needs to reassess the way it has been marketing its products. I believe that it needs to do this on two levels.

The first is the fact that the methods used to market product to the community – whether it be an artist, a concert, or a recording – have devolved to a lowest common denominator approach of false or misleading advertising, half-truths, and misrepresentations. I believe that many in the business who conduct themselves in line with the current standards are simply going along with what everyone else is doing, without thinking too much about it. It's become viewed as the way to get the message out to the public. These practices are wrong and should be changed.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, it is possible to put the same message in the same medium and obtain the same effect, without resorting to the guile that has become commonplace. I cited Ari Goldwag's promo piece in Country Yossi magazine as an example. Ari chose to write an article describing his thoughts about his album and what was meaningful about it to him. The same audience was reached, and I'd bet that his sales were the same for that album as if he'd opted for the fictitious article that most artists have been using.

I think that for the most part, the producers and artists who are engaged in this sort of behavior simply haven't thought about this too deeply. They're just doing what everyone else is doing. But the notion that "everyone else does it" doesn't justify what's been going on. The status quo is unacceptable and needs to be changed.

Also, people regularly go on the record in print and on the radio, decrying the pernicious effect of secular influences, while at the same time recording, promoting, or performing that very same music. The hypocrisy of pandering to the "frummies" by spouting platitudes about the evils of secular influences while at the same time producing music aimed at their market segment that uses those influences ought to stop.

If someone legitimately believes that secular influences are wrong, that's fine, but then it should be reflected in the music they release and promote. When in the context of promoting a new release, the producer or artist publicly makes statements about the negative effects of secular influences and such; sentiments that are contradicted by the music on the album being promoted -- as is regularly happening these days-- then it indicates that the sentiments are insincere and are simply being cynically used to lure people into accepting a false impression of what the artist/album is about. This needs to stop. And, such statements need to be publicly challenged.

The second is that the industry needs to reconsider what it markets to the community. For example, I've posted several times about Blue Fringe and my disapproval of the fact that they are being marketed to the "Yeshivish/Chassidish" community. I have nothing against the band, they do their thing well, and I think they would be a great band to book on college campuses and the like to increase Jewish awareness and pride. I just have problems with the aspect of their marketing that has been targeting the "heimish" community.

Here's a thought example to illustrate the problem as I see it. Firstly, let's set aside the fact that many in the "heimish" community –and many others as well – would have a problem with the concept of the song "Flippin' Out" or with the lyric "my parents will kick my 'tuches'." Is it reasonable to assume that a yeshiva kid who buys this CD in Eichler's, for example, might visit the band's website? If he did, a pop-up window informing him of the band's upcoming performance in a NYC bar could greet him. Is it reasonable to assume he might then go? For a teen from a sheltered background, going to such a venue and being introduced to the NYC nightlife scene could easily have a strong negative influence on his religious development, more so than on someone from a more "Modern" background who has the savvy to negotiate in such an environment. And, even if he didn't attend the concert, he would still be exposed to the cover versions of pop/rock tunes the band has on their sound clips page, something his community doesn't approve of. The current version of the website has the band's cover of "Rapper's Delight" from the fivetownsradio.com concert on it. In the past they've had covers of "Mrs. Jones", "I Will Survive", "White Room", and other secular songs on the site.

Artists, promoters, and especially distributors need to be sensitive to the values of the community they are marketing to!

There are many "Jewish" bands I haven't taken to task despite the fact that their material is much less suited for the 'Frum" community then groups like Blue Fringe and the Moshav Band. However, they aren't marketing themselves towards the frum community. In a similar vein, there are many Jewish groups who are clearly using secular influences, i.e. Metallish, whose music is marketed towards the Yeshiva community with whom I have no issue with (aside for questions of musical taste) because they aren't luring kids in to inappropriate venues.

Third, the industry also has to work hard to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

A recent "Live by Request" concert will illustrate this point. At the Avraham Fried concert at Queens College last month, there were eight requests made by a total of six requesters. Five of these requesting songs were music business insiders. At least one of the requesters has confirmed that his "request" was stage-managed and orchestrated by those in charge. Whether or not all of the requests were staged, the impression many have is that they were.

In the U.S. when a company runs a sweepstakes or contest, its employees are not eligible to win. The reason for this is to avoid any impropriety, or even the appearance of such. The JM industry should consider adopting similar rules and practices.

Also, frequently, promoters/producers go on the air to announce that either an upcoming concert was "sold out" or that the lower priced tickets to a given show have "sold out" even when this isn't true. Also, sometimes, after the fact, they'll make claims that a concert was "sold out" when in fact it wasn't. Such behavior is unethical and needs to be stopped.

Yiddish Fantasy

Interesting Klez/Jazz suite here.

They're looking for a balalaika player who can swing!


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Book Review

Here's an interesting review of Scott Benard's "Stars of David- Rock n' Roll's Jewish stories" by Seth Rogovoy.

Incidentally, Seth's book "The Essential Klezmer" is a great read for those who are into the neo-klez scene. It is somewhat outdated already, though.

Woody "Klezmer" Guthrie

Here's the NY Times review of last Saturday night's Klezmatics concert.

More from the Hashkafah.com Discussion Board

A concert goer has this to say on the Hashkafah.com Discussion Board about the recent Miami Boys Choir/Dedi event he attended.
"I thought Yerachmiel was arrogant, stole the spotlight and in general managed to turn off the audience. Dedi was great and the opening act which was twins who just came out with a tape was excellent, but MBC was very disappointing. And I was a big fan of MBC as a kid, but the song quality has gone downhill in a major way."

On the Hashkafah.com Discussion Board

A discussion on the Hashkafah.com Discussion Board shows that some people need to bone up on their "lomdus" terminology.

The "drash" was a nice try, though!

Chanuka gift advice

Don't buy your kids these!

Shwekey, watch out!

Avraham at Protocols warns that "Abodi is coming!"

Arnold dances the Hora!

Jewschool has a pic of CA Governor Arnold Scwartzenegger dancing the hora!
The caption:
"The 'repentant' Governor son of a Nazi SA guard dances the horah with San Diego Chabadniks..."

Monday, December 22, 2003

Update

Ari Boiangiu comments about this post on the recently released album Sameach @ The Wheel that he was featured on. He says that the album was not an in-house Neshoma project. Neshoma was hired to supply the music, but it wasn't "their" project. They were simply supplying what the client, in this case Sameach, wanted.

Chanukah Present

Free Chevra Sheet Music!

This is actually a good idea. (I've previously posted some of these links here, here, here.) I'm surprised that more people aren't doing this. Also, sometimes singers send their new CD's and the accompanying sheet music out so that the bands will add their songs to their repertoire. This is great because it's a lot easier to add a song to the playlist if one doesn't have to go to the trouble and expense of buying a CD, deciding which songs one would like to play, and then either buying or transcribing a lead sheet and/or arrangement.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Enter, Wal-Mart!

Wal-Mart joins the licensed music battle offering online music downloads for less than the competition.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Pro Tools, anyone?

This is interesting.
"They don't sell classical music like they used to. Back in the day, if piano titans such as Rudolf Serkin or Artur Rubinstein hit a rough note in the middle of a concerto, engineers would simply patch it up to make it sound perfect. It's called 'sweetening,' and the practice has become such a routine part of the music business that many performing musicians look down on recordings as artificial and illegitimate.
Now for the predictable retro backlash: it has become chic to put the wrong notes back in. The latest Vladimir Horowitz release is a 'cleaned up' version of his 1965 comeback concert in Carnegie Hall. In other words, it does away with all the fixes the original recording engineers patched in from rehearsal tapes. (Luckily, a second unedited tape of the concert was preserved.) For pianists and Horowitz aficionados, this new release boasts not only the quietest digital processing, but the original 'raw' performance without any audio band-aids."

Chanukah Rap!

Kid Kosher, the Hip Hop Hebrew is in tha' house!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Song Lyrics

From the Soulfarm website, here are the lyrics to "Oovnay" by Reb S. Carlebach (scroll down).
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
(Alternate with Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"
Thanks, guys.

Chanukah Party

When I criticize certain bands for luring "frum" kids into inappropriate places, and deliberately scheduling these performances for Chanukah, Purim, and other times when people in the "Yeshiva" community are looking for entertainment, this is what I have in mind.

Thanks E!

Lofty Goals

Here's an article about someone who is trying to start a local klezmer band in Roanoke.

They have the sheet music. They just need some more musicians.

This part is nice:
"If we did get a band together and and they got some gigs, we could go to nursing homes," she said. "They'd get off their rocking chairs."

Moshe Yess In The News!

This is surreal!

No comment needed!

Klezmer in Jail!

Interesting article:
"A younger band are taking klezmer further still. Members of She'Koyokh (which translates roughly as 'have strength') have brought it to the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs, and the group's accordionist, Jim Marcovitch, is planning to work with people who are at risk of becoming drug users."
Klezmer, the solution for the "kids at risk" in the frum community!

Update:

A reader emails:
So I know it's a punchline, but you are not far off the mark. One of the glaring deficiencies in Yeshiva education is the lack of real Music programs. And no, I don't mean Music appreciation or clubs with eight guitar players and the one loser whose parents made take violin lessons.I mean, in fourth grade, you choose an instrument, either brass, woodwind, string, or percussion, and learn to play in a band setting in a comprehensive school music program. It's not an automatic "cure" for kids at risk, but it is another way the Yeshiva day School becomes a hospitable place for all kids, whether they express themselves academically or not.
Did you notice, by the way, that as the Orthodox community becomes more obsessed with materialism and academic achievement as a means to wealth, that the "Kids at Risk" problem becomes bigger? its amazing that the Orthodox community responds so often by trying to fix the relationship the kids have with Yiddishkeit, instead of addressing the emptiness ofmodern life for all members of the family. Perhaps the people who need
the fixing aren't the kids, but their parents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Hip To Be Hebrew!

Here's an interesting Guardian article.
Notable 'graph:
"The Jewish influence in youth music is becoming huge. It ranges from popular Jewish rappers such as the Hip Hop Hoodios, whose music is winning black Americans fans, to the many Jews prominent on rap record labels, such as Lyor Cohen of Def Jam or Eminem's manager Paul Rosenberg. "
I wouldn't compare a manager to a producer or artist though.

With God's Help, We'll Release a Disc

Here's an interesting article comparing Christian rock and Jewish rock.
I think the concluding sentences are telling.
"Christian rockers perform mainly in the United States, where religion is marketed almost like a commercial product. They look outside and want to become full-fledged rock stars, and sometimes succeed. The Jewish rockers are still looking inward, looking for spiritual content, and have modest material demands."

Wow!

Here's one way to ensure you won't get the call for next year's gig!

Watch Your Backs, Chevra!

Here comes Khevre.

Thanks to Jewschool.

Someone's Listening!

Here's a post on Protocols commenting on the song selection at a recent wedding.

Monday, December 15, 2003

We're Back!

As I noted in my previous post, last week was an interesting one. A number of events converged at the same time all of which required my attention. The first and most important one was a misunderstanding with friends that had been occurring over my attempt to preserve my anonymity. That issue has been resolved – it was a major miscommunication -- and is off my plate.

The next issue was that the blog was "noticed" by people in the industry and I began receiving numerous emails about the blog. Through the course of a number of emails and conversations, I realized that some of the posts were being taken in ways other then I had intended. I noted one such example in my previous post.

Additionally, at the about the same time that I was commenting on a new album – incidentally, it will probably sell well for the exact reasons that I didn't like it – someone else posted an extremely negative post on the Yahoo Jewish music board about that album urging people not to buy it. I was made aware that there were some who were speculating that I was behind the post. Needless to say, I wasn't.

And, of course, this all occurred as I was swamped with work.

The awareness that this was all going on at about the same time made me decide to temporarily remove the posts while I considered how to address these issues. I didn't remove them to try to hide them -- something that is impossible to do in practical terms anyhow; I removed them because some of them were being taken in ways other than I'd intended, and, I wanted to consider what --if anything -- I should do about it. I should note that it was only a few posts that were at issue, but lacking the time to go through and edit them properly then, I decided to remove them for the moment.

I've decided that the best way to address those issues at this point is simply to offer to publish correspondence with regard to any of these posts. If you feel I was unfair, please let me know and I will be glad to post your comments. All of these posts are archived here:

July '03
August '03
September '03
October '03
November '03

They should appear back in the sidebar soon too!

In general, though, I stand behind what I've written and hope that those of you in the industry who are now reading this blog will do what you can to help change things. Of course, I would like to express my regret if anyone was hurt in a way that I did not intend.

I am also considering having guest bloggers posting periodically. Please let me know if you have any interest in participating.

In closing, I'd like to thank all who emailed their thoughts and support. I received many such emails, but this one really summed it up.
You are the true voice in JM critiquing. It is so important to have that kind of voice in the industry to keep it honest. People need to toughen up if they're going to put things out to the public (I'm talking about the musicians who can't take professional criticism). Some people will like it and some people won't. You support all your opinions with specific examples. It's very hard to find such a good reviewer in any industry.
Maybe find a good Rabbi and get some help with this decision. You are providing an excellent service to the public. I don't think its loshon hora or denying someone a living. Musicians should be held responsible for what they promote, perform or publish.
There is nothing that exists like your blog anywhere. There is no critical voice for JM. I hope you find the strength to put back all your old posts and to continue.
It is clear to me that many of us feel the same way about a lot of these issues. Let's join forces and make a difference!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

About This Blog

The last few days have been interesting. I've been receiving emails from many people in the JM business. Some of them were supportive and positive, some demanded to know who I am, and some asserted that they knew who I was.

Among these people were some close friends who have been hurt by the fact that I wouldn't/didn't identify myself to them. Those friendships are important to me and are more important than preserving my anonymity – something I expected would only be short term. As such, I have decided to acknowledge myself to them.

I am also putting the blog on hiatus while I rethink its role. I have decided to remove the posts while I consider all of this.

In the last 24 hours, I have reread all of my posts and I feel that the points I raised are ones that I hope the industry will address, but I can see how people may have taken some of them personally even though this was not my intent. For example, in one post where I referenced unsuccessful albums, I can see how people could have inferred a criticism of the singers themselves, rather than simply the material on the album. The reality is, that in most of those cases, I have no knowledge of or opinion about the singer's talents. The one case where I have met the vocalist, I know that he is extremely talented. Upon rereading that post I can see how others would have thought I was saying he had no talent, which was never my intent.

I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by anything I wrote. And, as always, I will be glad to post a response to anything I've written.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

TUBACHRISTMAS 2003

Attention, tuba players! Looking for a gig?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Rejected!

The anti-Semitic Greek composer tries to "apologize", but is rejected!

Friday, November 28, 2003

The Rabbi and the Rock Opera

Here's a Forward article about a recent CLAL event.
Best 'graph:
"Kudish admitted that he was unsure what the story of Galileo had to do with the very real and pressing problems facing the Jewish community, but he dropped the subject when he became wrapped up in a discussion with Turner about Bertold Brecht."
So there is life after Deep Purple after all!

Bad Review

Here's a story about neighbors calling 911 on a singing teen!
A teenage girl whose opera-like singing was mistaken for screaming found herself face to face with police responding to her neighbour's 911 call.
It was "the most embarrassing night of her life" said Caroline Pors, the mother of 14-year-old Stephanie Pors. "She'd rather not talk about it."
"I know my voice is bad and I'm just assuming she has my genes," Ms. Pors said.

Got Rhythm?

Here's a fascinating article by Greg Sandow on rhythm:
But classical musicians often don't hear the groove at all! One reason for this is that -- especially in romantic classical music -- rhythms are stretchable. Imagine a melodic phrase that arches up toward a climax. Most classical musicians will push the beat faster as they surge toward that peak. They'll literally change the beats, pressing them closer together. Then, as they come down from the climax, they'll slow down. They may not know they're doing this; it's so much a part of classical performance that it's practically unconscious. And they may not be able to avoid doing it, even if they're suddenly thrust into a non-classical context where pulling and pushing the beats in this way isn't appropriate.
Here's a real-life example. I won't name names, but I know a terrific musician who works both in classical and pop. He's done some crossover projects, using pop musicians and classical musicians together, including some very big classical names. He told me once that one of the big classical names couldn't feel the groove. He'd push the beat forward when he reached toward the climax of a melody -- not really hearing the other players, who were grooving along, each in his own way inflecting what they infallibly felt as a steady pulse. What the classical soloist did in this case would be reasonable, if he knew he was leaving the groove, and came back to it after he'd pushed the phrase to its climax. But he couldn't do this, because he didn't feel the groove, or at least didn't feel it with the tight precision that the pop musicians had. He'd come back to a very slightly different tempo, which for the pop musicians was like not feeling any tempo at all.
One result of this -- some people, for whom classical music is home base, can't always hear what's going on in pop music. A classical musician might hear a rock song, and say, "Yuck! Those rhythms are just juvenile! The same pounding 4/4 in every measure." While a rock musician will say, "Listen to how tight they are!" -- meaning we should listen to how well they play their groove. Each good band has a groove of its own. Those different grooves help give different songs their identities -- something classical music people may not hear, because they're listening for structural things that just may not happen in rock. Meanwhile the groove is developing in ways they don't get at all.
To put this in another way (crudely stating an intriguing philosophical difference) -- classical music gets involved with thought, rock gets involved with body language. I'd say both are needed for a full view of life. But remember that this really is quite crudely stated; rock music in fact has thought, and classical music does have body langauge. It's just that the relative importance of thought and body language differs.
Interesting! I'd use his distinction in that last paragraph to explain the difference between the "classic" styles of Jewish music that I love and the "contemporary" JM styles I find banal. The new stuff is all about beat -- the melody is almost an afterthought.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Holiday Klezmer

Protocols points out an ad for a Klezmer Christmas album, "Oy to the World!" by the Klezmonauts (not The Klezmatics) on Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

I haven't heard the Klezmonauts release, but if you're looking for a great holiday klezmer album, I'd recommend the Klezmer Nutcracker.

Antitrust Exemption

Slashdot reports that Senator Orrin Hatch is supporting an antitrust exemption in the Copyright Act [for] record companies and music publishers" Why? Because of 'market realities.'

The good Senator's opinion on the bill -- a dumb idea-- wouldn't have anything to do with this, would it?

Instapundit thinks an antitrust/RICO investigation is warranted.

Singing Mushrooms???

Read about it here.

Via Dave Barry's Blog

Adam Sandler's Hannukah Song

Meryl Yourish want to know if Adam Sandler plans on revising his "Chanukah Song" to include the line "Michael Jackson: not Jewish!"

Give Your Turkeys Back Their Confidence!

"Britain's farming union has released a chill-out album to help turkeys keep calm in the understandably stressful run-up to Christmas" CNN reports.

Thanks, Dave

Not Secure After All

CNN reports that a Norwegian hacker has cracked the iTunes code.

Monday, November 24, 2003

A Dilemma

Ever since I heard about the following story, I've been debating with myself whether or not to blog about this. I have never agonized over a post the way I have thought about this. Here's the background. On September 26th the Jerusalem Post reported:
Two haredi men, one the singer son of a prominent American haredi performer, were arrested Friday afternoon in Jerusalem for enticing girls, some of whom were below the age of 16, to take dangerous drugs and then to have sexual relations with them.
In addition, police said the two men photographed the girls in intimate positions in the bathroom and having sexual relations with other men. The suspects would later show the pictures to their friends. A search of the downtown apartment of one of the suspects turned up the miniature camera that was used.
When the singer was arrested, he tried to swallow the memory disc of his computer, breaking the chip as he chewed it. "We think he had good reason to do so," the police told the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge.
The victims were all harediot, and police said the suspects took advantage of the girls' innocence and lack of sex education.
Investigation of the case began based on complaints filed by some of the girls as well as on additional sources, said police.
The police description of one of the suspects as the son of a prominent haredi personality led to wild speculation in the haredi community. Radio reports noted that Israeli Internet sites carried the full names of the suspects.
The judge ordered the police to allow friends of the two suspects to supply them with strictly kosher food with Eda Haredit certification.
I'm not going to name the singer here because he is presumed innocent with regard to the particulars of this accusation until proven guilty. I will say that at the very least the drug part of this has been an open secret for years. And sadly, my point here isn't just with regard to one individual. There are several others as well who are known to indulge in alchohol/drugs. The big question here is how will the industry respond. Will business continue as usual, or will the others see this as a wake-up call?

The industry's response to this scandal is even more important than the individual artists. To date, there has been no public response by the industry, and perhaps there shouldn't be, but privately there should be some deep introspection on the part of those who produce and promote Jewish music.

I believe that the producers and distributors have an obligation to stop promoting these artists. Their responsibility to the community should prevent them from promoting inappropriate role models to our youth. Unfortunately, their track record isn't good. Recent years have seen many unsuitable artists and groups promoted to our community. These include a bar-band, Soulfarm, whose logo is a psychedelic mushroom, as well as other suposedly "frum" singers whose private lives are anything but "frum".

Over the past few months, this blog has achieved a following among many in the Jewish music industry. I've received emails from producers, musicians, and the like, and I've been "blogrolled" and linked to by several Jewish blogs and forums. I think that one of the things I've been able to accomplish –and I'm assessing this in large part on the basis of the private correspondence I've received – is to increase the awareness of the importance of providing proper role-models for the community. I've posted many times about inappropriate acts that are being marketed to our community. I've also blogged often about the importance of honesty, whether in advertising, or in a singer's public actions or comments. And I believe that I've made people reconsider on that front as well. There's still a long way to go, though.

I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant – that if people know that the public is aware of what is going on, then they will be less likely to try to cover up or be associated with wrongdoing. The OU/Lanner scandal is a good illustration of this. Abuse that went on for years, and was ignored by NCSY leadership, was addressed immediately upon publication of the accusations in The Jewish Week. Here too, I believe that if people in the industry realize that this word is out here in the U.S.A. too, (it is widely known in Israel) then they will refrain from associating with this artist and others similar to him.

It is my hope that people in the industry take this message to heart, rise to the challenge, and help to make our community better. If not, know this… people are watching and the truth will out!

A final thought:

The singer who was arrested makes a living singing Torah. The total disconnect between his music and his lifestyle is shocking and I think that it demonstrates that he didn't/doesn't mean what he sings. This is a feeling that one gets from much of the Jewish music being marketed today. The trend of late has been for vocalists to buy songs from composers. Anyone with enough money can buy these songs, hire Yisroel Lamm, Moshe Laufer, or one of a few others to arrange the music, and put out an album. The only criterion appears to be the person's voice. (Well, that or the fact that he's willing to pay Yochi Briskman, Gideon Levine, or another producer a lot of money.)

The community has been programmed to listen to music for the quality of the singer's voice alone, instead of for the emotional content of the lyrics. I hope that the producers and distributors once again begin focusing on artists who are performing inspirational music that comes from their souls. (It goes without saying that singing ability should also be factored in.) I believe that it is possible to have heartfelt, Jewish music in most any music style so long as the artist means and genuinely feels what he's singing.

Different Dei'ah V'dibbur

Here's a Dei'ah V'dibbur article on wedding planning.

These 'graphs are interesting:
The location of the band is critical. "The musicians need a place to play that will honor the guests," explains Gedaliah Shofnos, a popular orchestra leader for more than twenty years, originally from America. "If they're stuck in a corner or put under a low ceiling off to the side, you get sound that's accentuated and louder than it should be -- not to mention disinterested musicians. The band also needs to have eye contact with the dancers." For these reasons, a central location in the hall, close to the center of the room, is crucial.
People should be aware of these issues when deciding where the band should set up at their affair.

I hate it when this happens:
For example, at rabbonishe weddings, the entrance of every new rosh yeshiva invariably brings someone over to the orchestra to demand another round of "Yomim al yemei melech..."
"We can play Yomim for ten minutes until the guests have it coming out of their ears, but each time we start to play another song, someone comes over to tell us to play it again," Shofnos recalls. "The hosts should trust the band's judgment, and also assign someone as an intermediary, to tactfully say `no' to unreasonable requests."
This usually happens on Purim as each Rebbi/Rov enters the room. It sometimes happens at weddings too.
Surprisingly, the catering can slow down the momentum of the band and the dancers... or extinguish it altogether. By serving the courses too quickly, too much time is freed up for dancing, which overtaxes the guests.
This is something that many people don't realize. Often, the dance set will be either longer or shorter than necessary and people will naturally assume that this is the bands fault. The reality usually is that the caterer either needs more time to get the main course ready, or else, is trying to rush the event to keep it on schedule. In the NYC area, it's usually the caterer who decides the length of the dance sets and not the bandleader.

More Silly Music

Goys and Dolls!

Say Oy Vey

A Tale of Bridge, Romance, and a Nice Prune Danish!

Safam Songwriter

I think I just found the guy who wrote Dodi Li, B'nei Safam, and other sappy songs for Safam.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Sameach @ the Wheel

So I just heard some of the new Sameach at the Wheel release. What are these guys thinking? The drums sound terrible and the guitar is way overprocessed. The album concept seems silly too... Jewish driving music???

Also, the Neshoma office seems to have a schizophrenic approach. One day they decry the secularization of Jewish music…
This album has been recorded with one purpose in mind. That purpose, simply stated, is to return Jewish Music to its former glory and splendor. It is our hope that we have captured the Neshoma of a Heimishe Simcha in its most pure and basic expression. That is, we have attempted to let the Niggunim and the words speak directly to the heart and soul of a Jew-without the extraneous influences that unfortunately have begun to corrupt many of our meaningful and most treasured Niggunim. We pray that you, the listener, will discern the emes amiti of the music included on this album and will allow it to elevate your Neshoma to an even higher plane(From the liner notes to Neshoma Orchestra's "A Heimishe Simcha" )
...while the next they're releasing this sort of rock/pop album. The album even includes The Axel F. theme from the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

Look Out, Chevra!

Here come the singing pickles!

Friday, November 21, 2003

Oy Baby!

The The yada, yada, yada blog has a post about an new video for Jewish babies titled "Oy Baby!"
One of the vocalists, Kim Palumbis, recorded vocals for "OyBaby" only days before giving birth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Concert or Wedding?

From the Jewish Press letters section: "Where Am I?

In defense of those whose behavior Beth Schindelman (Letters, Nov.7) found deplorable at a Sukkos concert: Perhaps they mistakenly thought theywere at a wedding. At a number of weddings I`ve attended in the last few years, I mistakenly thought I was at a concert.
Mark Sodden
(Via E-Mail)

Ha!

Guess who's in trouble!

Fox News reports about Michael Jackson's latest troubles. This 'graph is interesting:
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Jackson decried all the self-appointed friends and spokesmen who took to the airwaves today in his defense. Some of those friends, as with most celebrity cases, are turning into paid consultants to various TV shows. Among those who’ve suddenly bobbed up on the air: Shmuley Boteach, the shamed rabbi who ran a shady charity with Jackson for a short time. The two have actually not been on any terms for more than a year. A Jackson insider, hearing that Boteach had started giving interviews, literally shrieked with horror: “I hate that guy. He’s not Michael’s friend. Someone should tell him to shut up, already.”
Remember when Boteach made headlines in the Jewish media for bringing Jackson to the Carlebach Shul for Friday night davening?

Again With The Horses!

Meredith discovers the singing horses.

Blog in Dm was there long ago.

Public Service Announcement

Don't confuse Shalshelet: Original Jewish Music with Shalsheles.

Thoughts on the Dei'ah V'dibbur Article - 5

The article also contains a list of rules about music:
1. The Songs. Songs of goyim and chillonim are not to be played, even with holy words. Similarly, songs of a rebellious nature are not to be played, even if they were written by chareidi people, such as all the songs that are made in the style of cheap street music.

A few sources might be useful here: See Rambam in his Perush Hamishnayos to Avos 1:16 where he describes as foolishness those people who protest if they hear songs sung in a foreign language even if the subject matter is quite proper. We see from here that the Rambam knew of secular songs that were mutar, or even recommended. The Chida (Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 560) quotes the Sefer Chassidim that says one shouldn't sing "pritzus" songs, but there is nothing wrong with using the melodies. Also see Teshuvos Yechave Da'as 2:5 where he rules that it's mutar (and perhaps even a mitzvah min hamuvchar) to sing kedusha to arabic love songs.
2. The Style. Even the traditional songs must be played in a Jewish style and in a respectable manner fitting to the holy words, and it is not at all permissible to play in the style of the porkei ol.
See my comments above for a small selection of sources that would disagree.
3. The Instruments. The quality of the music is influenced by the instruments that are used. Unfortunately, most bands use instruments that are especially made to play wild music, and have no place in respectable music. It is recommended to play only with respectable instruments, or at least to take care to play respectfully, that is, not to distort the sound of the electric guitar, and to refrain from playing wild abnormal rhythms on the drums.
Agin with the intolerant language. A rhythm may not be to the listener's satisfaction, but that doesn't make it "abnormal."
4. The Drums. It is necessary to take care that: 1] The sound level of the drums should be less than the main melody; 2] Not to play wild rhythms.
This is a meaningless statement. What constitutes a "wild rhythm? I agree with the point about the volume level of the drums though.
5. The Volume. It is forbidden to play at a volume above 90 decibels, and any band that plays louder should be rebuked. It is advisable to demand that the musicians not use ear plugs.
I agree that the volume should be kept low and have said so in the past (here and here), but the assertion that the band should play without earplugs is foolish. Anyone who is regularly exposed to even 90 decibels as part of their job should wear hearing protection. There is a difference between attending an affair once in a while where the volume is at 90decibels, and spending five hours at a time, night after night, exposed to such levels.
6. It should be stressed that only the person who pays the band has the right and the responsibility to decide what or how to play, and nobody else has the right to request anything else without the permission of baalei hasimchah.
I actually agree with this one to an extent…especially, when the guy with the "good voice" who invariably is present comes over to ask if he can sing with the band.
The following details were added by the members of the committee to explain the above guidelines:
1. The Songs. Recently songs have been taken from the non-religious media and "converted" by changing the words to pesukim etc. These songs creep in by means of the "religious" radio and by demand of irresponsible youth. They find their way to the weddings of bnei Torah, together with other wild rebellious songs written by "religious" singers. Regarding the songs of the chareidi pop stars that are generally songs of chutzpah and rebellion, the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner wrote: "We are obligated to distance ourselves from this, as they mix the posul with the kosher and the kosher is also profaned."
As I mentioned earlier, the songs using actual secular melodies are rarely played at affairs here.
2. The Style. In order to understand how a band can change a pure Jewish song into a pop song, one should pay attention to the way they play the song before the chuppa and note the difference in the way it is played by the band and the way the guests sing it outside. By adding a few small changes to "jazz up" the melody, it is transformed into a different song and is now unsuitable to accompany the chosson and kallah to the chuppah. This is how most kosher songs are played today in order to adapt them to the modern style and by doing so they lose all of their spiritual content. Therefore it is extremely important to choose a kosher band whose musicians can play according to these rules.
The tradition of playing embellishments of the melodies goes all the way back to the beginnings of Chassidic music. The earliest recordings contain ornamentations and embellishments of the melodies.
I do think that the musicians selected should have a strong background in – and experience with – Jewish music.
3. The Instruments. The electric guitar is made only for use in rock and pop music and it has no place in any form of kosher music. It is possible to play it in a respectable way and there are a few avreichim who do so, but the musicians who play this instrument in the way it is really made to be played spoil the whole kedushah of the wedding.

The same problem exists with the saxophone, referred to 80 years ago as "the devil's flute." Everything depends on the musician. It is possible to play it in a respectable manner or in a coarse vulgar manner. Therefore it is preferable to request that the clarinet should be used instead of the saxophone. (The baalei simchah should know that it is their privilege to decide which instruments they want to be used.)
Almost every musical innovation has been criticized by some as inappropriate when it is first introduced. The waltz rhythm was banned in the Prussian courts as inherently indecent. Are we going to ban all those Chassidic waltzes?
Other points that should be mentioned: not to amplify the low bass tones more than normal, and not to use weird electronic sounds or distortion.
I think that it should depend on how the distortion is used. Not all distortion is bad, although some of the players on the local wedding band scene here in NY do overuse it.
4. The Drums. Also, the modern set of drums was created for playing non-kosher music. Therefore it is important to avoid drummers who do not understand how to play in a suitable style. It should be known that the definition of rock music is when the rhythm is the dominant factor over the melody. Therefore the drums and all percussion instruments should not be as loud as the other instruments. And especially at weddings in Yerushalayim, they must be careful not to make the rhythm of the drums louder than the singer. [It should be noted that the function of the drums is only to accompany dancing, as is mentioned by the Malbim, Yeshayohu, 24:8].
Interesting definition of rock music there. I disagree, though.
5. The Volume. Medical experts say that prolonged exposure to noise levels over 90 decibels damages hearing and general health. The noise problem can be solved, bezras Hashem if every wedding hall will be required by law to install a noise meter that will disconnect the electricity when the noise exceeds this limit. The noise level should be measured from the place where the people dancing come closest to the speakers. Where it is not possible to measure the sound level, the band should be told that they are to fix the volume according to the judgment of the baal hasimchah, and they should be warned that if they do not listen when told to reduce the volume, they will not be paid.
An interesting approach that could help solve the problem. The method suggested feels quite repressive though.
6. The Singer. The status of the singer at weddings today is very problematic since most of them try to imitate the frum rock idols both in the way they sing and in the way they move and dance while singing and in the way they pronounce the words. If they do this it is better to ask them not to sing. All of these guidelines certainly apply when playing inside a beis hamedrash at a Hachnosas Sefer Torah or Simchas Beis Hashoeva.
Frankly, I've worked with many of these singers, and in general, I don't find that they move around at weddings the same way they do on stage at concerts.

Thoughts on the Dei'ah V'dibbur Article - 4

The Dei'ah V'dibbur article continues with:
An Interview with Reb Abish Brodt, Ba'al Menagein
"It is a Dance of Corruption of the Feet, not a Song of the Heart"
Reb Abish Brodt's pleasant voice is well-known to lovers of authentic Jewish music. His songs are the highlight of the American Agudas Yisroel's annual convention, where he conducts hundreds of participants in stirring song at the communal melaveh malkoh. His voice and songs pierce our hearts.
"As a matter of principle, Reb Abish keeps the number of his performances to a bare minimum. This modest individual feels honored to praise Hashem through song.
One who does not ordinarily listen to music should, nevertheless, take heed of Reb Abish's pertinent words. His message is most significant. Reb Abish is deeply worried by the current trend of imitating foreign cultures and the resulting dangers.
Note the need to build "Reb Abish's" chareidi bonafides up first by mentioning his singing at the Agudah convention Melave Malka, a fact that is totally irrelevant to his ability to speak to the issues here.
"What is the danger of today's "Chassidic music"?
I heard from one of this generation's great talmidei chachomim that the golus of our generation is the golus of "Let's be like all the nations."
In each generation, our nation has faced spiritual danger. There were generations of avodoh zorah in all types of disguises. There were generations that had other problems. The problem of our generation, nehiyeh kechol ho'amim, is the poison of the Maskilim that still lingers. They wanted to appear like gentiles. Be a Jew at home and a man on the street, was their motto. Even the assimilated Jew's temple attempted to mimic the appearance of a church, R"l.
It has expressed itself in each generation in different forms. In the past, they tried looking like a non-Jewish intellectual, a man of the West. They produced the pioneers of Western `culture' in all areas of the entertainment industry. Jews!
In other words, the reason for the problem with the music at these affairs is because we "want to be like the other nations." He fleshes out his argument:
However, Jews with yir'as Shomayim do not try to appear as non-Jews.
True, but it certainly has had an impact. The street's evil influences, unfortunately, have infiltrated our camp. Every foreign object is trying to make itself kosher by donning a yarmulke. This is especially prominent in today's music. It is alien music, even if one attaches words from the mekoros.
I must be missing something, but why is this unique to this generation? Wasn't this the issue with the Hellenists, Maskilim, and Reform Judaism in their days? I think the assertion that this generation – as opposed to others – is one that is unsupported by history.
How has today's pop-music succeeded in infiltrating?
There are many musical compositions that have influenced Chassidic music via the secular world. Their ear gets used to raucous noises. As a result, they produce the compositions that they produce.
He's only referring to the "contemporary" Jewish music here, but the reality is that Chassidic music has always been influenced by secular music.
About them, we cannot complain. However, how could this pass through the sensitive ear and the fragile regesh of a tzibbur yireh Shomayim? How could the tzibbur not reject this? Some of them are yeshiva-educated, yet they make alien music. The damage is enormous.
Can you give an example of the damage?
Certainly. At the shul where I daven in the United States, we do kiruv for groups of kids that have gone off the derech. They need lots of compassion, so we give them support. They asked me to sing a bit for them.
Which song did they request? Tashmi'a lonu es Ovinu Malkeinu -- with the familiar, old and gentle tune. This music speaks to the heart.
Of course they asked for a Jewish song. They were talking to Abish Brodt, not James Hetfield.
When I spoke with these teenagers, I became interested in how they fell to where they were. I heard a variety of reasons. However, one of the things that kept repeating itself was surprising--even if it didn't personally surprise me: It started with "Chassidic" music!
They attended concerts. Practically speaking, it is impossible to maintain rules of separation at such events. And the music itself, the street music, was their first push into the street.
I find this assertion quite unbelievable. I can't imagine that there are that many kids who went off of the derech because of "The Chevra" or M.B.D. I think there is quite a bit of exaggeration/simplification going on here.
We're talking about bochurim who had no previous connection with the outside world. This music connected them to the street. Their ears got adjusted to its noises. Afterwards, they discarded the pesukim and they started listening to the original. From there, they fell rapidly. This music simply broke the barrier between the chareidi public and the street, and choliloh, many became its tragic victims!
I think that this is a simplistic way out of accepting any responsibility for the fact that there are so many "at-risk" youth. After all, it's not the way the community treats them, their sense of alienation, frustration, or whatever issues at home that inspire this rebellion. It's all the fault of that "goyish" sounding Jewish music.
How does it break the barrier?
Once upon a time, when a bochur entered a record and tape store, there was a clear difference between kodesh and chol. Whatever belonged to us was Jewish.
I actually agree with his point here. Why are seforim stores selling rock CD's and Yanni? (Not that I have any religious objections to Yanni, only musical ones. But, I digress.)
Today the distinction is broken. There are melodies that have been taken from the worst places, from sources of tumoh. In Moscow for example, I met a baal teshuvoh who worked at the American Consulate. He said about a particular song, "This is a song of a neo-Nazi group!" Their music is steeped in hatred and soils one's soul.
I believe that he's referring to Yidden here. I don't know how he knows they are anti-Semitic though.
Nevertheless, didn't previous generations of gedolei Torah and Admorim take melodies from non-Jews?
True. We aren't on the level to be able to analyze the positive aspects of their songs. But one does not need an especially musical ear to identify songs of prikas ol. Such a song moves the body, causing a person to dance in an alien way for bnei Torah.
This is the standard cop out answer. They did, because they were able to tell which melodies were appropriate, but we, not being on so high a level, yadda, yadda, yadda…. The fact is that many Chassidic songs are taken from, or influenced by secular songs, and they didn't take the "art songs" either. They took their inspiration from the peasant drinking songs, and, in many cases, took the songs themselves. On Purim in Chaim Berlin the band plays a march called Toska for a half hour or so as R'Aharon Schechter and the "oilam" sing it over and over. The song is actually a Russian/Ukrainian folk song called "Longing for Home."
When a song is from the innermost chamber of our souls, it moves the body in a swaying of gentle deveikus, of the beis medrish. People close their eyes, they see that this raises them spiritually.
At chasunas for example, when the song is alien and not from our circles even if the song's words contain pesukim, you see all the adults disappearing from the dance circle. It's impossible to participate in it. That says it all.
This may be true to an extent, but my experience is that much of the time the adults disappear from the dance floor for the second dance set regardless of whether the band is playing newer "rock" songs, or older Chassidic "freilach" style songs.
It's a dance of corruption of the feet, not a dance of the heart. One sees that it originates from the outside, not from the beis medrish. Let's not allow it to invade our sheltered communities.
Are the negative influences attributed only to the music, itself?
No! Everything surrounding it also has influence. You could see how the so-called necessity for a "star performer" has developed. This is a need for something that came from the outside, that has entered the walls of the beis medrish. That, in its own right, is very serious. How much more so when the need for them is based upon something negative.
Unfortunately, religious `pop-idols' are gaining recognition. Young kids who are not appropriately inoculated against this are trying to imitate these same images and their actions. Sometimes, there are concert goers who act in a despicable manner. We must put an end to this.
He does have a point about the performers as I've mentioned many times (like here, and here.)
This is definitely nehiyeh kechol ho'amim, even if they try to disguise it with a yarmulke. Afterwards, you see its effects upon the bochurim. Their souls are drowning from the consequences. We see it from how they walk, and in their singing. They forgot the true song, the melodies of the heart.
What's your opinion regarding children performing in choirs?
Once a father came to me with his son who had sung in such a framework. He boasted of his son who "possesses an incredible voice." When I saw the child, I didn't stop praying that this child should not become damaged from it, choliloh. I feared that after his period of singing, nisim will be required for him.
I actually agree with him on this one. I don't have a problem with kids singing in a school choir, but I think that the Miami Boys Choir (and other similar choirs) are not good for the kids in them. The kids – and their parents, BTW – are exploited.
What damage does this cause?
On stage, it's impossible to sing like an ehrliche Yid. The children who sing, impersonate the so-called star performers. Even after the song has finished, you see children bloated with ga'avoh. This accompanies them throughout the day. But in what does he pride himself? Ga'avoh is always forbidden, but this particular ga'avoh stems from something posul
You generally see a child who has become conditioned to act for external responses: for the applause, for the praise, for instant gratification. Later, when his voice changes, the adolescent will be left in an empty vacuum. His spiritual world will be lacking because of this. Nothing will remain, even from his deceptive praises. It clearly endangers his physical well-being, not just his spiritual well-being.
Reb Abish, what do you consider to be Jewish music?
Jewish music is something that arouses the neshomoh and not the body. Even shirim of simchoh need to fit this definition. Many of these songs are appropriate. I try to visualize for myself the nigun in the Beis Hamikdosh, as much as I am able, according to my level.
In other words, its wholly subjective. Different people are moved by different kinds of music.
Imagine a man surrounded in fear, for he needs to bring a korbon chattos. He comes to the Mikdosh, knowing that he must do teshuvoh. He hears the song of the levi'im, which touches a sensitive nerve. This penetrates his soul, which arouses him. He begins to cry, to be awakened, to return.
Afterwards the shechitoh, kabboloh, zerikoh, and teshuvo and kaporoh. He then hears the sound of a happy shir. His soul is gladdened by the fact that he has atoned, that he has merited to do teshuvoh. The melody helps him keep in step with proper spiritual feelings. We aren't on this madreigoh, but when a person sings, closing one's eyes and concentrating on the words, he feels a longing, a yearning. Thus he arouses himself.
One can only feel this if the melody is not alien and disturbing. If one were to think and have kavonoh. This should be the feeling, like a shaliach tzibur, like a person who is over lifnei he'amud. "Know before Whom you are standing." Know before Whom you are singing!
So essentially, we get a non-answer; it's all about a feeling.

Thoughts on the Dei'ah V'dibbur Article - 3

The Dei'ah V'dibbur article includes the following letter written by Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in 5748:
The Rambam writes (Hilchos Lulav 8:14): [The Simchas Beis Hashoeva on Succos] "was not celebrated by ignoramuses or by anyone who wanted, but by gedolei chachmei Yisroel and Roshei Hayeshivos and the Sanhedrin and the Chassidim and the elders and men of good deeds. These were the people who danced and clapped and played [the music] and rejoiced in the Mikdosh during the festival of Succos. But all of the people came to see and to listen."
We learn from this that seeing and hearing a simcha shel mitzvah means to see and hear the simchah of gedolei Yisroel and the chassidim and elders that is all kedushoh, and this arouses a spirit of holiness that comes from a simcha shel mitzvah.
And from this we should understand how careful we must be to avoid the opposite of this, that is, to see and listen to the music of reshoim even at a simcha shel mitzvah. But we must make sure that the whole execution of the simchah should be from a holy source, and even if they change slightly the words or the music, tumah should not be acquired by changing it to kedushah, and we should distance ourselves from these songs.
The hosts of simchos must request and make conditions with the musicians that they play only songs and tunes from holy sources and not chas vesholom the opposite.
May it be that we will merit speedily to an everlasting simcha from the building of the Beis Hamikdash,
Nissim Karelitz
(The letter was also signed by HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, and HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg.)
The letter isn't exactly on point here. The issue as Dei'ah V'dibbur explains it is not just the use of secular songs, but even Jewish music that is composed or played in a secular style. Rav Karelitz's letter, on the other hand, only addresses the use of secular songs, which generally isn't such a big problem at simchos. I've posted previously here and here about the plagiarism of secular songs in Jewish music, but few of these songs are typically played at affairs. The ones that are are Yidden, Asher Bara (Piamenta), and Turkish Kiss (also Piamenta), other than that the pop/rock music played at a typical "frum" affair is the various classic rock riffs (i.e. Cream's Sunshine of Your Love, Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water, the Rolling Stones "Jumping Jack Flash") that are often played during "Keitzad Merakdin", and the fanfare for the chosson and kallah which frequently is a riff or theme from a pop tune like Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" or Europe's "Final Countdown." In other words, the problem of secular songs is one that is much smaller than the (alleged) problem of secular influences.

Thoughts on the Dei'ah V'dibbur Article - 2

The Pied Pipers of Brooklyn
Of all the things that the yetzer hora has managed to smuggle into the chareidi public, probably his greatest success is modern "chassidic" music. After all, many people think, what harm can there be in a song?
Maybe after all that has been said here, people will realize that these songs can do a lot of harm. The kosher singer Abish Brodt (in an interview that appears here, and originally in the Hebrew Yated, Tammuz, 5761) said that it is this music that opens the door for many young people to leave the Torah world. Parents and educators must be aware of the great influence that modern music has on children, and protect them from hearing those songs that are far more dangerous than songs that our rabbis warned against hundreds of years ago.
Abish Brodt is well known for his work with Regesh. When Regesh first came out, it was marketed with the fact that it was "appropriate" Jewish music. The arrangements only used acoustic instruments, and I remember an interview (ad, really) in the now defunct "Good Fortune" magazine that described how the album used only soft sounds like French horn and not the sharper, aggressive, more powerful brass or sax sounds.

If you listen to the series in order, though, you can hear a clear evolution of the music on the Regesh recordings. They slowly added more brass, electonic instruments, and the like, to the point where there is a pounding '50s Rock piano groove used in the arrangement of "Borei Olam" (it's after the instrumental break, for those who are interested) and Yossi Piamenta was brought in to add his unique rock guitar sound to "Adir Bamarom." In short, the Dei'ah V'dibbur characterization of him as "Kosher" seems to indicate that use of secular influences is acceptable, it's just a matter of how they are used. This is a fair approach, but it's inconsistent with their blanket rejection of secular styles.
The power of the chareidi pop stars and the respect that they receive from young people is also a very serious problem. Cheap entertainers who make themselves look like bnei Torah in order to sell their songs to a naive public are being advertised on every street corner, and many young people are led to look up to them as much as we look up to gedolei hador, Rachmono litzlan.
I agree with this. I've been agonizing a post relating to this for a while, with regard to a recent scandal. I do think the assertion that people "look up to them as much as we look up to gedolei hador" is an extreme over exaggeration.
We must realize that they are not our people. Anybody who has a feeling for music can sense in their songs that they are immoral people. This is not surprising if one knows who they take as their examples and what low types of people they work with in the corrupt world of rock music. The non- Jewish and Israeli papers have already compared the most famous chareidi singers to the likes of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and other immoral personalities. To them that is a compliment, but to us the opposite.
What low types of people do they work with in the "corrupt world of rock music"?
The success of the Committee for Jewish Music depends on the response of the public. We have already received much support and encouragement from many important rabbis and roshei yeshivos, but the public must also take this matter seriously and stand up for the honor of Hashem Yisborach and the honor of the Torah, in order to ensure the spiritual welfare of the next generation.
There seems to be some confusion here. One the one hand, the burden is placed on the public, but the main emphasis here seems to be to legislate rather than educate.
Parents and teachers must be careful to guard their children from a young age from all the bad influences with which we are being bombarded, and they must take care what kind of music they are exposed to. Anyone who cannot distinguish between kosher music and treife music should take advice from people who do understand the difference.
I'm curious, would these "experts" have a problem with the secular influences on the Regesh recordings I pointed out above? Will they ban them? Is there a different standard for full-fledged members of the "Agudah" community?

Thoughts on the Dei'ah V'dibuur Article - 1

Since the article is so long, I'll be breaking it, and my comments, into several posts.
After the compilation of the rules for weddings, it was decided to bring them to the attention of the kosher band leaders in order to receive their agreement and approval. A meeting was set up in Bnei Brak on the 8th of Av between the bandleaders and the members of the Committee for Jewish Music as well as a number of important askonim. The decisions were clear and unanimous.
The bandleaders all said that they were capable and wanted to play according to the rules that had been made, but they were in danger of losing a lot of business if they did so. They explained clearly the present situation, that the bochurim reserve for themselves the right to choose the band, and any band that does not play in the modern style is not popular in the yeshivos. They claim that this is the reason why we are forced to suffer at weddings, to hear unbearably loud and coarse music.
The article is correlating two issues, volume and style, that need not be related. It's quite possible to have a low volume rock or pop influenced band and a high volume band playing old-style "yeshivish" music.
The band leaders requested to bring this information to the roshei yeshivos. They said that only if the roshei yeshivos demand that the chassonim choose a band that plays according to the new rules will it be possible to improve the situation.
I've been saying this for a long time (Here's one example.) Given the level of respect accorded to the Roshei Yeshiva on a personal level by the bochurim, I find it hard to believe that a concerted effort by the Roshei Yeseshiva to positively influence their talmidim on the choice of a wedding band wouldn't be effective. They could begin by coming over to the bochurim who are standing in front of the band egging the drummer and guitar player on and, in a friendly manner, bringing them back into the dance circle. I believe that if the a given Rosh Yeshivah told his talmidim not to patronize a certain band – or insist that they ask that certain musicians not be in the band – that they can have a tremendous positive impact on the volume level (and quality of music) that people are exposed to at simchos.

Dei'ah V'dibbur - Part Deux

Here's Part 2 of the Dei'ah veDibur series on Jewish music. I blogged about earlier here and here.

I'll post my comments soon, but thought that this "critique" of Avraham Fried's song "Mi Ma" by a Rabbi D. Blaser raised some good points.
An Example
"Mi Ma" begins with a typical big band concert intro. In the body of "Mi Ma," every device is cleverly used to create a full use of the two brief snatches of actual tune. The composer and arranger is trapped because this style of music really has very few options. Pop music has no scope.
Sections of Mi-Ma
In "Mi Ma", we first hear the lower melody. Now, to build up to a semi-climax, we have a bridge section using answering phrases. The first time this appears, it is soloist and chorus. On later repetitions, it is solo and brass, trumpets and saxes, rhythm and chorus etc. The notes go up as do our expectations and pulses.
The reason for this buildup is that the "big sell" of this number is the "Mi Ma" bit, the second section: high, impassioned and catchy. Now both the arranger and the singer do their utmost to make the most of the situation. The soloist puts enormous energy and effort into enlivening the melodic line. He slides dramatically into new sections, and swells and molds the shape of notes in the best traditions of the pop singer. Much thought has gone into this performance, as into, I am sure, all his work.
The Accompaniment
The arranger uses every attempt to expand his brief. He has the chorus singing a short counter melody; answering with a slightly risque "Wo-ho-ho"; using a hint of "teeny-bop" voice affectation in the "NA-na-na-na-NAH-na" build up sections; he alternates the use of instrumentation as far as possible.
In summary, within their genre, the Mi-Ma performers have done a really professional job for a pop tape. They would not pretend, I feel, that they are creating masterpieces, but rather good value for money entertainment.
The Jungle Beat
"Mi Ma" relies very heavily on its persistent, rock beat. Imagine it without the drums. Impossible! Without drums the tape would sound utterly empty. Thus rather than adding to and supporting the melody, we find that the percussion is a crutch. In this "Mi Ma" is no different from thousands of similar pop tunes.
He does have a point about much of this music. The part of "Mi Ma" that most irritates me is the insertion of the schoolyard taunting "Na, na, na, na,na" into the bridge. I've always thought it sounded silly.

Eulogy for an Internet Merger

Read "Death of a Friend", Glen Reynolds' "hesped" for MP3.com.

A search on MP3.com for Jewish music will turn up pages and pages of music by artists you've never heard of. Some of them are quite worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Jungle Music!

I've heard the song V'eirastich off of the new Ohad release on Nachum Segal's radio show and am finding it irritating. The background vocals are by Yossi Green, who composed the songs and produced the album, and they are so annoying. It sounds to me like he recorded multiple tracks of himself hooting. And, altough I'm sure that he didn't intend this, he sounds like a gorilla in heat.. whooo, whoo, whoo! In general, I've been noticing a trend towards more annoying backup vocals on these albums over the last few years. This is just one of the more egregious ones.

Most of the producers are using the same guys (who never sounded good) and have been trying to outdo the other recordings by having the vocals do more shtick. It rarely works, as we all can hear.

Another peeve of mine with regard to these vocalists is that it has become standard for arrangers to have the vocals sing the intro or interlude theme, even when these lines are clearly instrumental parts like horn hits or guitar solos and not vocal lines.

Finally, once I've mentioned the Ohad song, the auto-tune effect he uses on part of the vocals is so lame. Plus, it's been used before (excepting Cher and numerous pop stars) by many other Jewish artists on their recent albums. Hmm.... cheesy and unoriginal... let's put this one to rest guys.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Video Clip

"Dancing Jews with Wacky Shoes"

More anti-Semitism

Here's a Baltimore Jewish Times story about Russian conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev, the conductor of the prestigious Vienna Symphony Orchestra, allegedly firing all the Jewish musicians in the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1977-1978.

One witness says that: "after musicians began applying to leave the country, the Soviet minister of culture summoned the orchestra's conductor, Ghennady Rozhdestvensky, and demanded that he discharge all Jewish musicians from the orchestra. Rozhdestvensky refused to do so and resigned his position as conductor instead."

This story deserves wider coverage.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Thanks for the compliment, I think!

So Arye Dworkin is reminiscing about how he once recorded himself singing an Extreme song "More Than Words" and played it for his GF whose priceless response was "That was really great, Arye. My mom really loves that song."

Apology not accepted!

Amish Tech Support isn't satisfied with Greek composer Mikis Theodarkis' "apology" for saying the Jews are the root of all evil.

Via Meryl Yourish

This isn't me - Part XII

Not me!

More De'ah V'dibbur

More De'ah V'dibbur

Avraham over at Protocols posts a letter to the editor about the Deah V'dibbur article I commented on
here and here.

The editor's response is quite week though…
"Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Racism is certainly not Jewish. For example, anyone can become a Jew regardless of race, as long as he or she meets the requirements. Africa was chosen and referred to as it was not because its residents are unequivocally black -- which of course they are -- but because they are unequivocally primitive. Africa and the savages who live there were chosen as symbols of primitivism not as symbols of a race. Thus, I do not think that the comments are racist."
It's really a shame that "goy-bashing" has become so acceptable in the "Chareidi" world that otherwise tolerant people -- I'm giving the editor the benefit of the doubt here-- will justify it.

Friday, November 14, 2003

This Isn't Me - Part XI

Turn your speakers down before clicking on this link.

Via Dave Barry's Blog

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Reforming reform?

Here's an interesting report on changes in Reform Judaism.
Sample 'graph:

A similar mix flavors the rituals at Nashville´s Temple Congregation Ohabei Shalom. Once a month, some 200 people typically gather there for "Blue Jean Shabbat," featuring a five-piece band playing music by the likes of the renowned Debbie Friedman. The cantor, Bernard Gutcheon, strums guitar.
"Blue Jean Shabbat" sounds interesting, but I'll bet the draw is still "kiddush after services."

That'll Show Them!

Here's one way for a singer to respond to an anti-Semetic audience.

Zorba HaYevani

The Jerusalem Post reports about anti-Semetic hate being spewed by composer Mikis Theodrakis who is best known for composing the music for "Zorba the Greek."

Meryl Yourish comments:
"Let's compare: The Jews have given the world a vaccine for polio (Jonas Salk), relativity theory (Einstein), instant messaging (Israel), agricultural drip technology (Israel). The Greeks have given us: Michael Dukakis. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And the man who epitomizes the New Age music industry probably even more than John Tesh: Yanni."
I couldn't have put it better myself!

Update:
Here's the idiot's website.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Fix Is In

Yesterday, Adam Melzer, the producer of last Motzei Shabbos' Menucha/Chaim Dovid/Fried "Live by Request" concert posted this message to the Yahoo Jewish Music group.

I'll address his post shortly, but first, a little about the Jewish music board. I've been reading the posts to this board on and off since its inception. It has been a good way to find out what the fans were thinking of the artists and recordings coming out of the "Brooklyn" Jewish music scene. The quality of the posts fluctuates wildly –- the board could benefit from some self-editing by some of the regulars as well as better moderation – but it is often a useful barometer for what is/will be popular.

Over time, many others in the industry began monitoring the group's posts. Some of these people openly joined the group. These include vocalists Nochum Stark and Ari Goldwag, members of Lev Tahor, Beat'achon, Shabbatones, Az Yashir, Diaspora, Gideon's Sword/Hamsa Boys, Emes, and producers including Sruly Nachfolger (Baruch Aboud) and Abe Kopolovitch (Shabbas Comes Alive), and more.

Some others joined anonymously and tried to push their own albums by pretending to be fans of their own group. I'm not going to "out" them here, but I find the behavior dishonest, to say the least.

Others in the business, I believe, simply read the posts online without participating in the discussion.

In any event many people in the industry are now regularly reading this board and I'm not surprised that some of them would have forwarded posts to Adam.

Now on to Adam's post…
"Hi there. A number of people have been e-mailing me messages posted to this site so with a couple of minutes that I have, I figured I would let you all in on this show and other shows as well."
He's apparently referring to posts on this new Yahoo group that were critical of the concert. Many appear to have the perception that the "Live by Request" segment of the show was fixed.
"The reception to Sat night's show has been overwhelmingly positive. As the producer, or whatever I was called, I am harder on the show and myself more than anyone. First, the live by request segment was a nice segment and I knew maybe one person other than myself who were up there (and no, it wasn't Yossi Scharf-that guy can move!). Fried and Steve Bill had a general idea of what could be requested (this means that for the most part, they knew what the possibilities were)."
"I'd say there were about 40 requests and about 15-20 of those were doubles (mostly Chazak-predictable). Of those-I figured we would have time for 10 (we actually did 8). My 2 requests- 1 was off the cuff- the other I think he had a lead sheet to it because it was his 1st hit."
Let me see if I understand… there were forty requests submitted in total? That number seems awfully low for an event whose draw is a "request" segment -- especially when you factor in "ballot box stuffing" as Adam acknowledges happened. Either this number is incorrect, or else the method of requesting – in advance via website – wasn't made clear to the ticket buyers.

At any event, lets concede that there were only twenty unique requests (excluding the duplicates) and that only eight of them were performed. Something doesn't seem right here. The fact that those eight included two by the producer and at least another two by music industry people, vocalist Dovid Nachman of The Chevra and Yossi Sharf who does the Chevra's choreography and is also involved in an as yet unreleased new Gerstner project(both part of one of Eli Gerstner's Productions – whose group, Menucha, performed that night) seems to indicate that the selection process was fixed.

It's not clear if Fried, or for that matter Melzer, were aware of it, but somewhere along the line, the deck appears to have been stacked. I've received email from people involved with the show who seemed to feel that the choice of "requesters" was anything but random.
"I wish that more requests came in with older or remote stuff. That wasn't the case so I tested him myself."
Two out of eight requests being made by the producer appears to be a tad excessive for an event sold to the public as one where the audience gets to make requests. And, if the audience doesn't want to hear older stuff… well, those that pay the piper call the tune. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).
"I also saw that there was a Carlebach selection- V'hayu Limshiso which I knew he didn't have the music for and would have probably have done it with Steve and that's it."
You're saying that you removed a request because you knew Fried didn't have music for the band? Why not let him sing it with Steve? [He's referring to Steve Bill, the guitarist/conductor.] Incidentally, Fried did record a V'hayu Limshiso himself. It's a fast freilach that has been popular at weddings in Israel for years.
"The people called up were random. I didn't know the guy dancing in the aisles or the YIKGH person who entered numerous requests (yes, people stuffed the ballot box)As a whole, I thought it was a fun segment that needs some refining."
I believe that you didn't know everyone that was called up, but at the very least you'd have to grant that the perception that things were fixed is reasonable.
"I thought for a 1st show, Menucha did a great job. When they sang together and were in front of the monitors, they had it. I think that as soloists, they wander a bit away from the monitors but that will improve."
I'll translate this…"They frequently didn't "have it" and sang off key."
"Chaim Dovid is a flavor that if you like him, you love him. If not, you have what else to see."
I'll translate this too… "I don't like Chaim Dovid.
"The hall didn't open the doors until much later than what was required which caused the show to run late. Overtime = $ = organization losing $ (every 15 min costs more). Therefore, Chaim Dovid closes with Yamamami."
I'll translate this too. "Since we had to cut someone's set short and I don't like Chaim Dovid's music, we cut his set short." The fact that the show started late doesn't mean that the organization has the right to cut a performer's act short. The concert was widely perceived (and promoted) as having two headliners. (There was even a separate promotional effort aimed at bringing in the Chaim Dovid fans.) It's simply unethical to give the audience less than they were reasonably entitled to expect.

Adam then lists some upcoming shows:
"Upcoming- YU- Dec. 18- Fried, Shwekey, Diaspora is the way it looks now.
Feb. 29 in jersey- Fried and Blue Fringe"
I'm surprised that Fried would participate in a double bill with Blue Fringe. As I've posted before here and here, I don't think that what they are doing is positive for the "heimish" community, and I do think that Fried is a responsible performer who is, generally speaking, a positive role model.
"I'm thinking of putting a refined live by request segment into each show."
That's great, only this time make sure that the people who pay for tickets are the ones who get to have their requests performed. Alternatively, let the people in the Jewish music industry make the requests, just don't sell it as "Live by Request."
"For the record, I think Jewish music is great although it is a tough industry to crack."
Huh?

In summation, at the very least, there is a strong perception that last Motzei Shabos' concert was not up to par. Many people feel that the "Live by Request" segment was stage-managed, Chaim Dovid was cut short, and Menucha was disappointing. All who were in involved in this production ought to reflect upon the mistakes that were made and make sure they don't happen again.

Update: The moderator of the Yahoo Jewish music group emails to say: "the criticism on the fixing of the live by request went on my Yahoo group, not his, but I deleted the messages bcz they were very insulting to Yossi." I knew that I hadn't seen any such criticisms posted on that board. I think that they were on the other board too, though, and I received email to that effect as I note above.