Friday, December 29, 2017

In Review: Joey Weisenberg "The Torah of Music" & Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble Nigunim Vol. VI: “By the Waters of Babylon”

I first came to know Joey Weisenberg when I heard him play a CD release event for klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd. He played a beautiful mandolin improvisation that showed his deep roots in Klezmer and traditional Jewish modalities. So, a few years back, when I heard that Joey was writing and recording his own nigunim, I kind of expected to hear neo-klezmer melodies/arrangements. A YouTube search revealed that I was wrong. And so, I've checked in with Joey's output from time to time and followed along with his prolific output.

I am just home from a remarkable evening with Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble. The event -- performance would be the wrong word -- was beautiful. The room was set up in circles, with the ensemble in the middle and rows of chairs circling around them. And, rather than perform, Joey led the room in singing (and listening) together. I was impressed and moved. Joey has the remarkable ability to get 300 or so people singing together in a way that is inclusive, respectful, and powerful. Rather than the "look at me" approach so many Jewish music presenters have, Joey graciously shares the spotlight with the members of the Hadar Ensemble, and brings everyone in the room along for the ride. Of course, I'm sure it helps that 150 of the people there were participants in Machon Hadar's spiritual singing seminar which took place this week in NYC, and so were familiar with his nigunim. However, the feeling I had was that this would work pretty much the same if no one in the room, apart from the ensemble, knew his songs. It was that powerful.

This event, as well as Joey's book and recordings, all share a purpose. That is, they all seek to bring people in through music, to encourage group singing and listening, and connection with Judaism through music. It'd be a mistake to review one of these things separately, as they are all part of the same organic whole.

I wound up at this event when I received an invite to review Joey's new book "The Torah of Music" and attend this event marking its release. The sweetener was the copy of the latest Hadar Ensemble album "By The Waters of Babylon", which includes "Shochein Ad", a tune that I've been singing/playing since I first heard it. In fact, I wound up singing an acapella Bar Mitzvah in the city, and when the cantor broke into this melody, I was the only one in the "frum" group who knew it. The entire congregation, on the other hand, joined along immediately.

A little about the music. I mentioned that it wasn't klezmer. However, it is deeply Jewish. I'd describe it as American Jewish music, deeply rooted in Jewish and American folk traditions. If Stephen Foster wrote Jewish music, it might have sounded like this. Bits of Americana, Chassidus, and even some slight Carlebach influences blend together in an organic new yet mature sound that sounds much older than it is. The albums -- this is the sixth in the series -- are all recorded live in an old shul in Brooklyn where Joey served as Baal Tefilah for seven years. Buy the album to support the artist, but then watch the album on YouTube to see how involved everyone is as these tracks were laid down. Highlights include the afore-mentioned "Shochein Ad" which begins with a beautiful vocal taksim by Rabbi Yosef Goldman. I'm also partial to "Keil Adon" which features Deborah Saks Mintz, as well as Yigdal, which in Joey's setting is a six-minute-plus Americana-infused melody that really gets at the meaning of the words. In general, Joey's songs do that, and if there weren't words repeated in the song, I'd be using "Shochen Ad" in my shul. The whole album is excellent and well worth getting. It's worth checking out the earlier ones as well. Amazon has the album here:

Which brings me to the book... As with his recordings, Joey seeks to empower the kahal to come along with him on his musical journey. The book is his attempt to do just that, sharing Torah thoughts about song, the power of music, the importance of listening, and more. Especially notable is that Joey includes a large open library of texts with translations -- roughly half the book -- so that the reader can join in the process of exploring what Judaism has to say about music and personally engage with them. The 179 texts range include pesukim from Tanach, quotes from Mishna, Gemara, and Midrash, to writings by Rishonim, Mystical and Halachik Writings, Chassidic Torah, and more.

Before getting to the open library though, Joey discusses the connection between music and prophecy, the power of music, the importance of silence, and perhaps most importantly, the importance of listening and of joining together through song. In a gentle self-effacing way, through use of sources and personal vignettes, Joey shares his understanding of and belief in the power of music. The book is a useful resource for anyone interested in the power of music and Judaism.

Amazon has the book here: Joey's approach serves as a model that anyone interested in creating serious, deep Jewish music should be aware of and be inspired by. He unites intellect and emotion to create warm, deep, and friendly inclusive Jewish music, and that's something we can use a lot more of.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Stop Saying I Can't Sing Because It Distracts Orthodox Men | Lilith Magazine

Over at Lilith, Cantor Deborah Katchko Gray writes on Kol Isha... Stop Saying I Can't Sing Because It Distracts Orthodox Men.

I'm very sympathetic to Cantor Gray and feel that she should be able to sing at an egalitarian event. I also think that if an Orthodox group doesn't want to co-sponsor because of her singing, that's their prerogative.

That said, there's an awful lot of either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation in this piece. I'd like to assume it's the former.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Monday, December 04, 2017

New Yonatan Razel Tape Out

Over at VosIzNeias... Popular Orthodox Singer Sticks Tape Over Eyes To Avoid Seeing Women At Concert

Recent Peeps from Da Hood

It's been a while... "The Negotiator" This peep is very wealthy, but can't help lowballing anyway. They'll call for a small gig and when you quote a very fair price, they'll offer your mitzvah gig rate and claiming that that's the budget they can offer and that even that will be split between both families making the simcha. IOW, they're willing to pay half of that total. We just turn them down. Naturally, the negotiator will call back offering more. We turn them down again. In the end, relatively last minute, we take the gig at a small discount that is still within the range we usually get, and well above their offers. Naturally, when we get to the gig, it's quite the affair, with fine cigars, expensive hot catering, etc. After the gig, the negotiator makes sure to ostentatiously pay us, and then adds a tip, bringing it back to $20 less than the initial quote. $20 to create a negative impression. Well negotiated. "I'll Never Use You" This peep is a real charmer. Over the course of the event, he'll respond positively to numerous song selections, coming over to sing loudly along demonstrating his approval, giving us smiles and thumbs up signals and saying nice things about the music when we take a break. At the end of the gig though, he'll come over, introduce himself, and say: "just so you know, I'll never hire you." That's because he's a die-hard Soulfarm fan and there is simply no alternative, as far as he is concerned. He just had to make sure we knew that. Um, ok.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Monday, August 07, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Nikki Haley Fan Song

It's been a while since we've posted one of Dovid Kerner's songs. He's a fan of US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

Her support for Israel --and her non-apologetic public expression of it too -- is quite a refreshing change.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Poper Rebbe

Over at the aptly named Cross-Currents... Jammin' with the Pope

What's The Catholic Version of a Carlebach Minyan?

So these guys met with the Pope and brought along Pumpedisa to sing/dance along with. They played Carlebach's Orech Yamim. Some are very upset about this.

Me? I see the humor in it. They also missed the opportunity for much better song selection like perhaps "Yoshke Fort Avek".

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Mah Nishtana: You're All Singing It Wrong!

Nice article. Four Melodies for Four Questions  The comparison between the composer's version of Mah Nishtana avoiding the minor (mostly) vs. the way we all sing it is fascinating.

Chag sameach!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

From the mailbag...

From Simple Man... "Simple Man is a new Jewish multi-genre band from Highland Park, New Jersey with innovative sound fusion including hip-hop, rock, funk, reggae and more. Lead singer/songwriter Yaakov Kafka was just featured as the rap lyricist on Beri Weber's new hit, One Heart.

Simple Man's unique flow is bolstered by Kafka's empathetic lyrical style. Band guitarists Tamir Tusia, Eli Weiss and bassist Clayton McIntyre blend rock, blues, classical guitar, and other styles together.

Simple Man's first video, "Hydroplane", from their debut EP is now available. You can check out links to their entire EP at and upcoming shows will be announced in New Jersey and New York City.

Please let us know the best way we can support your blog and be a partner in music."

Here's the link: Simple Man

From Chillent... "I'm from Chillent, a Pittsburgh based Jewish funk/blues/jazz band ( We just released an alternate mix of a song from our upcoming album "Jewish Soul Stew" which will be out around Shavuot. Single available for free streaming here: Universe in Miniature (Brian Fitzy Mix) | Chillent

Sunday, March 26, 2017

That moment when....

... the Ba'al Tefilah chooses a melody for Birkas Hacjodesh that no one in shul knows, and then sings "chayim she'ein bahem busha uchlimah" badly off-key.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BD'E - Eli Lipsker Z"L

COL reports on the passing of Eli Lipsker, 76, OBM.

I remember attending weddings as a kid that Eli played at with his band. Very spirited Chassidic music with feeling. (Andy Statman was playing with his band those times). Yehei zichro baruch!

Friday, February 10, 2017