Wednesday, November 16, 2005

From The Mailbag... Extended Edition

Lots of email of late.

Several readers emailed in response to All or Nothing At All".

Avremi G. writes:
It’s very simple. A one man band sounds full (if not musical) alone. A band needs at least 5 musicians to achieve same. Therefore a one man band is way more preferable to a 3 or 4 piece band IMO. My most popular product is my 3 piece band consisting of keyboard (one man band style), drums and sax (The drummer has headphones to sync up to my drum machine – works great)
Shmuel B. writes:
In my opinion a 4 piece band is a great camp concert band or a great Purim/simchas Beis Hashoeva band but for a wedding you can only pass if one of the players sing also. I personally wouldn't hire for a wedding less than six pieces(trombone), but if the musicians are really good and not lazy than I guess a 4 piece can do it. Also to musicians a one man band will NEVER be as good as a band, but believe it or not the 90% of people dont know to care.
I asked a friend who played by a certain wedding last week and he did not know if it was a band or a one man band!! I know not everybody will agree with me but you need a bigger band than four.
Psachya Septimus writes:
About the "all or nothing at all" thing - I think I know where it came from. When the "takanas" first came out, they wanted to restrict the bands to four players plus a singer. Many in the business started spreading the word that four pieces just wouldn't cut it for a regular, full-size wedding. (Actually, think about if all the takana jobs now were four pieces instead of five - a scary thought.) Some of us might have said, "Hey - if you're getting four pieces, you might as well chintz all the way and get a one-man-band!" (I myself, ahem, may have said something like that a few times.) In a way, we succeeded - the takana was changed to five men and a singer. But in a way, I guess we also shot ourselves in the foot. Oh, well...
All three of these writers seem to grant the premise that a full sound is possible with less than five musicians. In Avremi G.'s scenario, the keyboard player is playing a one man band style keyboard, but with an additional two musicians. Shmuel grants that a four-piece could be good if one of the members sing. Psachya says that this is/was hype spread by some in the industry in response to the takanos.

My question was about the premise that it is an all or nothing proposition. I can envision many possible scenarios where four musicians could provide a full sound. One option would be an approach like Avremi's. Another would be to have a rhythm section band -- Drums, Bass, Guitar, and Keys. If the alternative is a one-man-band, than you don't lose having the horns escort the Choson to the badekin, because that option doesn't exist in either case. If some of the members sang and the guitarist and keyboardist were strong soloists, the band could have a very full sound -- especially if they wrote arrangements and rehearsed.

I also think that a smaller group can sound good playing the current simcha repertoire. The reason some groups don't sound so full, at least those I've seen at simchos, is because they sound like eight-piece bands missing four or five pieces. In those cases, rather than adapting to the needs of a combo, trio, or quartet, the musicians play the job the same way they would if there were many more players in the band.

In short, to me, the premise that a wedding band for a typical Orthodox wedding has to be five pieces, or else the ONLY option is a one-man-band is based on either misinformation or disinformation.

I'd like to be clear here. There is definitely a difference based on the size of the band, and many affairs do call for larger bands. For instance, if there is secular music at the event, a bassist is usually needed for certain styles to "work" (i.e. R&B basslines). If classical music is desired, additional instruments like violin, cello, or harp may be needed. I'm not advocating that everybody use three or four-piece bands; but I do just challenge the assumption that they can't carry a typical takana-compliant affair. Remember, the takanos also limit the number of guests.

A hypothetical question: If the takanos had limited band size to four musicians, do you really think that there would be no bands hired as everyone made the obvious choice of "fuller" one-man-bands?

Arlene Assness wrote about Country (Y.) Music:
Whoever knocked the album Visions after only hearing one cut ( the only cover) should not be permitted to post his/her ignorant & biased opinion.

I was lucky enough to get a copy as a present...........WOW!

What a refreshing and innovative approach to the genre. Great lyrics both serious and humorous that generally stay out of the trite and boring stuff normally dished out.........

Super arrangements using more modern elements with the more trad. stuff it almost sounds goyish ( in the positive sense!)
Check out Rainbow Nation & Absolutely Live.............

Please get someone who does not have a hearing impediment (or a major chip on the shoulder) to review one of the sweetest cds of the year
My response:

You missed the point. There was no criticism of Visions or Nachman Seltzer (either direct or implicit) in that post.

The criticism was of the trend in the NY Jewish Music industry to disingenuously represent albums as “traditional” when they are not. This has nothing to do with Nachman, but with marketing decisions made by the distributor here in NY. Personally, I happen to think such marketing is foolish.

To illustrate my point, contrast the following two “quotes” about the album. (The first is from the ad I critiqued and the second is from your email.)

1) With the release of his first two musical productions, he is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of seeing Jewish music return to its pure and classic roots.

2) A refreshing and innovative approach to the genre. Great lyrics both serious and humorous that generally stay out of the trite and boring stuff normally dished out......... Super arrangements using more modern elements with the more trad. stuff it almost sounds goyish ( in the positive sense! ) Check out Rainbow Nation & Absolutely Live.............

What impression does each give about the album?
Which do you think is more accurate?
Which gives more information about the album?
If a buyer bought the album because they were looking for music like that described in the quote, do you think that those who had bought it on the basis of the first description would be satisfied? (Not musically, but as far as getting what they’d expected.)
Do you think it’s ethical to misrepresent what an album is in order to achieve sales?

Personally, I’d think that your description, which specifically mentions what you find unique about the album, is more likely to draw attention (and increase sales) as opposed generic and untrue advertising that represents the album as the return of Jewish music to its “pure and classical roots.” As you acknowledge in your email, that description is inaccurate.

If you read my blog, you’d know that I support creative Jewish music, and have no problem with secular influences per se. I see nothing wrong with someone covering a classic rock song (as long as its acknowledged). My point is simple; I’d like to see more honesty in JM marketing.

Rhondda writes:
Just saw this fabulous film [Ushpizin]. Missed, in the credits, who was the artist for the song based on Kol haolam kulo of rebbe nachman that was played at the end. Have you seen this film? Know the chart/artist??

Re a comment on your website about the non-Chabad boy reciting the ma'amer at his bar mitzvah: we have seen this out here in asian golut as well, and I second your opinion. No point in adding something disconnected and perilously close to meaningless (to the kid, anyway) at a time where there's enough danger of the kid missing the whole point. But then, we've seen a time when our modern orthodox day school's head of jewish studies had boys who didn't live in kosher homes wearing tzitzit...
I haven't seen the film yet. If anyone can ID the artist for her, we'll pass the info on.

As far as boys from not kosher homes being taught to wear tzitzit.... I would distinguish between mitzvot (commandments) on the one hand and minhagim (customs) on the other. Judaism is not an all or nothing proposition. Each mitzvah can be taken on its own. And, although tzitzit might not seem to you to be high on the priority list with regard to Jewish education in situations where the parents don't even keep a kosher home, Judaism believes that there is value in every mitzvah act. As a result, I think it's not an apt comparision to the Rebbe's Ma'amar example I used. In teaching kids from non-observant homes about Judaism, there will always be those things that -- taken on their own -- might seem less important, or not worthy of focus, but there is no way to teach Judaism without teaching those too. Also, to address your specific example, tzitzit is something the child can do on their own, while keeping a kosher home requires a commitment from both parents too.