Music & Simchas: Hiring A Band: What Are You Doing? Part 1

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  10/5/18)

By Gershon Veroba

It’s actually a fair question. I’ve watched parents, brides and grooms from all walks of life use all sorts of methods for hiring music for their event. The good, the bad and the confused, everything from do-it-yourself to “here’s the check, I don’t wanna know.”

There has never been a universally correct procedure to follow when planning an event, but the traditions have changed with time.The caterer, the band, the event planner, the hall and others have constantly traded places as the preferred “first stop” and they continue to change, but some that last for years never cease to amaze me. Everyone, it seems, has a better idea but what concerns me is they’re still trying to find a better way.

I found that certain underlying rules have always worked and that experience is the key, whether it’s that of the wedding professionals or the clients themselves. Now most clients are handing the decisions to the young bride and groom, rather than risk waking the conflict of taste and cultures they fear may occur if the parents take charge.

For many of these engaged optimists planning a new, exciting life on their own, high school was just a few years ago.

Of course, the event focuses on the young couple’s lives and they should ultimately be the final judges of how the event happens. The problems often come when they are left alone to a hiring process they know little about, while tempted with the cool possibilities of being given a 400 person capacity venue with their choice of food and music. After all, for many of these engaged optimists planning a new, exciting life on their own, high school was just a few years ago. Even their parents need guidance for this, but their decisions are based on different perspectives that come from a few years more.

If you’re panicking, you’re doing it wrong
No matter how old you are, keeping priorities in perspective is always the best remedy and yields the best events. Paranoia builds as deal with advice from friends, pressure from the future in-laws, general distrust of service providers to other factors that drive clients into a stressful “protective mode.”

Don’t forget…Personal trust is where you are already an expert. It’s where reputation and intuition come together. If you don’t hear it or feel it for yourself, then don’t hire them.

You have more choice and freedom than you may think, but you will need to follow a decisive path by selecting a trustworthy professional to guide your knowledge and decisions. The key word here, however, is “trustworthy,” which is the first thing your friends and family should help you find, before the actual party-specific decisions ever come into play. You need to plan for your event first and only an objective professional can guide you with this. To hire this pro, you need to understand “trust” and let them help you.

Two essential types of trust in hiring a band or any vendor:
1) Personal trust is where you genuinely feel the person you are speaking to respects your feelings, understands your concerns and will guide you with complete honesty. Do they sound like they’re more concerned with selling you something than determining what you genuinely need? Don’t ignore that. Feel free to move on.
2) Professional trust is determined by reputation and by demonstrating they know what they’re doing, even beyond the initial reason they’re hired… the detail behind the scenes behind that require so much more than pressing a button or playing a song, following a schedule as well as dealing with the unexpected. Constant teamwork between the professionals is essential and keeps the event moving forward smoothly. I found established relationships between vendors to be crucial to my entire business, before and after the event. That’s how so many of us know each other and are often good friends as well.

You may not be a big fan of trust,  but these two types should keep each other in check. Once reputation is established, you’ll agree we’re at least halfway there, but don’t forget…Personal trust is where you are already an expert. It’s where reputation and intuition come together. If you don’t hear it or feel it for yourself, then don’t hire them.

Here’s some money. Go make a wedding.
If spending thousands of dollars or more in one evening makes you nervous, then spending your parents’ money should certainly increase the pressure. The best step for you, if possible, is to include your parents in your support “team,” at least for the first stages, to find the professionals you consult with.  When that’s done, you can take full charge and discuss your wishes with someone who can apply valuable experience and foresight, while keeping you grounded. This can be a planner or even any of the vendors, who can recommend others trustworthy vendors to consult with separately. A planner will take you from the beginning to the end, eliminating many of those burdens and bring it all together by coordinating all involved and completing it with design and supervision.

Jewish music has some wonderfully-talented people, but they may not help your wedding plans if they aren’t hired with care and experience. 

If the experience and trust is there, the professional can lead you to other trustworthy vendors and soon you’ll have made a party completely unique to you. Your choices from then on will be strong and informed.

Brides & Grooms: Decide what it’s really all about.
Jewish music has some wonderfully-talented people, but they may not help your wedding plans if they aren’t hired with care and experience.  I find that many young couples apply their enthusiasm with entertainment to their weddings, inquiring into celebrities, flashy guitar soloists and drummers, all before they’ve even considered their budgets or discussed the band, who will be handling the music for the remaining 90% of the event.

One question they often miss is “where do you expect your guests to be when that person is performing during the dancing?” It is a sobering moment, as the bride and groom realize they will be left sitting in the middle of the dance floor while a large portion of their guests are distracted to the bandstand.  I’ve seen many enjoy this experience, having these artists perform to them as their guests look on, but many of my clients have strongly resisted this, fearing that after paying for this large event it will suddenly become unclear who the guests of honor actually are.

Money is no object, even for you.
My general rule for all event planning and hiring is to decide what you want and need, without regard to budget limitations. That’s right. This way, you’ll be starting off with the first priority, the dream you aspire to. If budget reality doesn’t allow it later, then you can carefully trim it all down, step-by-step, to the bottom line. The bandleader or representative can help you do this while maintaining as much musical quality as possible. Anything you eliminate will now be something you consciously decided on, rather than immediately taking the discount plan and discovering forgotten details later.

It works both ways, in fact. I’ve often planned bands for clients that had, for example, 7 pieces and, when they saw there was still plenty of room in the budget, we added as many as 4 or 5 pieces, ranging from grouping horns or strings to percussion or harp.

No matter how simple or elaborate, our vision is the one we reach for, so that’s the best place to start.

When you plan a personal event that means so much to you personally, you are passionate about getting the most for less. Why? Well, there’s a reason we say it in that order, 1) “most” and 2) “less.”   Those are our priorities. I want my daughter’s wedding to have the “most” of what we want as possible. There’s no question about that, no matter how simple or elaborate, our vision is the one we reach for, so that’s the best place to start.

If you trust the person guiding you, make them your “point man” and run everything by them. Have them explain things to you so you can plan together with more knowledge and less stress. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and I still defer to my event planner and my vendors because they are specialists. Use the privileges you paid for and let them help you.

The Crystal Ball
Working with the right professionals (see my previous article, “Hiring A Pro…”), will always get the job done right plus they’ll help you predict and deal with the unexpected.

From the perspective of a band owner, there’s nothing like the customer who trusts your judgement. We will ask each other questions and never stop until we’re all sure everyone’s happy. Yes, everyone, including the band. A happy and involved band works hard for you, delivers heartfelt performances and will look out for you at every turn. It’s a relationship that the client should fully take advantage of.

Similarly, great relationships between the vendors is a huge advantage for the client. The days of competing purposes, caterer vs. band vs. photographer are long gone. We’re war-torn veterans of the wedding business and, as such, we’ve grown closer and work together for everybody’s benefit.

It makes picking up the phone and talking, for instance, to the caterer, that much easier and it gives us a chance to come up with more solutions for the client. By the time we all arrive and set up, the pros feel welcome and are confident we will have another smooth and successful event together.

Next time, “Hiring A Band: What’re You Doing? Part 2”

Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for over 30 years. A composer, producer, musician and singer since childhood,  Gershon has been featured by most most major wedding bands since 1980. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with virtually all popular Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own, in concerts and festivals in around the world. His company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp., provides music and video production services worldwide, now featuring G-Major Events, an orchestra and personal event planning service.

Gershon is also a public speaker, a former copy editor and now a contributing writer for 5TJT.   Visit gmajorevents.com for information, videos & SM links.

Also posted on 5TJT.com and facebook.com/gmajorevents, where you can catch up, comment and share. 

Music & Simchas: The Evolution – What Happened To Jewish Music?

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  9/21/18)

by Gershon Veroba

I grew up in an atmosphere of musical extremes. Both my parents were career wedding performers, my mother specializing in opera & Yiddish, while my father was a chazzan, working with Yossele Rosenblatt until he was 16. Dad’s experience and knowledge in Jewish music very difficult to question.

Ironically, the talent he had that I tried to emulate and became a unique characteristic of my music actually contributed to our artistic differences.  His ability to improvise in his davening, keeping it constantly fresh from week to week while perfectly maintaining the nusach, inspired me to develop a broad flexibility in musical taste that Dad would not approve of.  Years later, similar conflicts in style would irreversibly change both Jewish music and shul davening in the decades to follow.   

Having little choice in being born into the era of TV, Broadway, pop and rock, I came to believe that the immense influence these musical extremes had on me was a rare occurrence in religious Jewish life.

A few decades before, Chazzanus, a genre based on minyanim and mass participation, would eventually watch its audiences turn to newer genres fed by individual experience, styles from the diaspora and eventually the new land of Israel.

On the lower end of the ticket-price spectrum, the poor Jewish musicians developed Klezmer street music from the chulent of Jewish influences and moods, creating a sound also uniquely similar to it’s geographic origins but appropriate to us.  Add to that the role of chazzanus and nusach as a weekly reminder of the sound of tefila. In the end, it all fit into our self-identification.   

Is Jewish Music Jewish Music?
The fact that many of the Chassidic zemiros from previous centuries were often based on secular music of the time has always been debated, but the result actually created great Jewish music.  The “blood money” of goyishe music from those regions was frequently “laundered” in liturgy, emotion, history and hope by the talented ears of so many chassidic teams like those in Modzitz, Lubavitch, Munkatch, Ger, Vishnitz, etc. 

As years went passed and the past got foggier, it became more difficult to trace what kind of music is considered “inherently Jewish” and yet people still felt it was necessary to question it. The religiously-protective became suspicious as styles began to sound familiar, but still there was dignity in that music and it came to blend well with the Jewish experience. It blesses simchas and the shabbos table, with crowds singing together and making unquestionable mental connections with their eyes closed, unaware that 19th Century composers like Julius Fučík, probably influenced that nigun. 

When the phonograph came into vogue, supplying the world with new melodies, it was only a matter of time before the influence of secular structures affected Jews, zemiros and prayer. Classical music was now even more available to the rabbonim, depending on whether or not they owned a Victrola. With it, they could maintain the 19th century in the 20th. Chazzanus started to become immortalized on 78rpm records and, in the late 40’s Israel would eventually follow. Next decade, Carlebach, next, Rabbi’s Sons, etc. Now we’re cooking.

By the time I was born, songs with an emphasis on melody, simplicity and often a certain level of adherence to a style had evolved from from so many places, yet based on our common faith. We defined the music as “Jewish,” but the reasons were gray varied, often undefined and often inconsistent from person to person, from chassidic to non-affiliated. This gray area would last for generations and, while it still exists, is on shaky ground. Today’s world doesn’t like gray areas.

We’re The Ones That Changed It
Even the ingeniously simplistic melodies of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z”l, that suddenly refilled our repertoire in over 40 years ago were based on these limitations. People objected more to Shlomo’s and his free thinking than his songs, which were too simple to truly criticize. For Shlomo, that was fine, since he didn’t like complexity.

Why do these things change? New musical influences in the street? Lack of interest in learning musical instruments or reading notes at home? Avoiding word repetition? One definite problem had always been the centuries-old problem of Judaica shops, the only source for physical Jewish recordings and located only in cities of major population. Today, even online, shops that even bother to carry CDs know that high cost of manufacturing for so few buyers promises little profit, so only top sellers are favored on shelves and the public gets to see only a fraction of the music actually created.

Another interesting problem inherent to religious Jewish life can be that we hear harmony at the shabbos table, which is the only other accompanying music, since there’s no guitar or band. Hear it enough and you can forget which was the harmony and which was the melody. Over a few years in school, weddings, camp and other homes, the composer hears hundreds of people singing his song…but wrong.  What can he do? I’ve experienced it myself and heard other composers say, “oh, well…At least people are singing my song, even though that’s not how I wanted them to sing it. I’ll just put that kind of thing in my next song.”

Reb Shlomo did not think this way because he felt Hashem gave him these melodies to care for and share properly, just like children, which is literally what they were to him. “They were given to me by the ribonoi shel oilam,” he said to me. “Please tell them not to sing it like this, Gershon, they’re mamish killing my babies.” Changing even a note or two, interrupted the original flow of that melody, so he watched the destined purpose get interrupted, breaking the trance like the snap of a hypnotist’s finger.  The simple and often circular nature of his songs were part of the magic, often getting stronger the more you repeat it, chanting you into that holy zone so powerful, the experience has changed people’s lives. 

We can’t even blame the people who sing those songs incorrectly today, it’s how they learned it. They’re shocked when I show them the original, but many do recognize what’s been missing and they feel it’s affect when they try it, without any need for understanding music.

The Evolution Today
Jewish music has has always varied in entertainment quality, but more recently we have seen some great, unprecedented changes. To attract the younger audiences as strongly as before, the music needed to freshen up.   New songs are now reflecting more open minds, more developed talent and great technologies to make them more accessible. The current Jewish hits have broader music influences, but the composers still take lessons learned from old Jewish songs we still use today.

As the 1970’s rolled along, rock and disco styles permeated Jewish music into the 90’s. Now, Jewish music has finally won its freedom to lyricize lyric and accept broader musical influences, especially since CD sales have fallen and adults are less keen than their children to attempt the “complicated” process of downloading.

Original lyrics in Yiddish have always been accepted as a kosher alternative, but now the holy language of Hebrew has been given more rabbinical room. This allows the music to be composed freely as the words can be changed, something you can’t really do as easily with Tanach.

People have actually changed the old songs, anyway, due to changing tastes. They can’t help it… Moshe Shur’s cheerful “Sameach T’samach”, our standard “Od Yishoma,” Shlomo’s “Nigun Neshama,” “Shifchi” and “Mileyim Ziv,” the Gerer “Lecha Dodi,” Ohr Chodosh’s “Bilvovi”… We could be here all day.  None of these songs are being sung the same, because you are not the same.

What Inspires Us To Join In
Whether we wish to believe it or not, our uses for music have changed as much as our sources. Sure, shabbos and yom tov still forces us to rely on songs with a definitive, attractive melody, but simple enough so we can all sing along. There is no sheet music at the shabbos table to keep it consistently correct and not everyone is a musician, so who’s going to point out mistakes? Sure there’s always “that one guy,” but we tell him to chill out.

Group singing is our band. Even when the band plays at the wedding, the guys singing are off on their own anyway. And why? It’s not just a song, it’s what we’re singing about. In the case of Jewish music, it usually goes hand-in-hand with the words that have great, established ancient value that addresses our core, the reason we’re singing at the moment to begin with…Torah, Tfilah and life itself.

Over the years, there were periods I was quite worried. Still am in some ways, but I believe the new artists and composers have learned from many aspects of the older music, past audiences, their responses and their habits in listening and singing.

As a musician and performer, it’s a constant, exciting challenge to keep up with the material and standards of the dozens of bands and artists the are out there. These great bands have helped so many of us grow musically, honed our instrumental skill, responsibly expanded our listening with less fear and have provided invaluable lessons in compassion, patience, courtesy, reality and professionalism. 

Keeping It Israel
An interesting punchline to this interesting timeline is that, no matter how gray the area has been for what makes songs or music Jewish, if musicians have the right experience and sense of balance from the past, then fusing the old and the new works while still keeping it Jewish. If your product sounded Jewish before, then you can use that same vibe inside you to blend it with the new songs.

I like to think of it as an accent from the old country. If you’re not a speech therapist or a linguistic anthropologist, you can’t easily explain your accent or expressive nuances, but you can still tell it’s coming from you and your home. New Yorkers alone can certainly attest to that, but it applies all over, different countries, different generations…It comes across when they speak to you. Just like you can tell when you hear your favorite singer, there’s that “something” that makes that same song just right for you.

I spent many years recording and singing revised copies of songs from secular and Jewish worlds and I’ve been given songs I regret singing because they didn’t serve a purpose stronger than “hey, these words can fit.”  Just because the words were from tehillim, or said something shabbos, torah or mashiach, doesn’t magically make it useful.

I found one thing to be true: If the music and the words have a good reason to be matched, the song will work because it gave you something you didn’t have before. If, on the other hand, you force incompatible elements together, providing nothing appropriate or constructive as Jewish-related entertainment, then I don’t see the point. If you did it because the original song was cool and it goes nowhere in Yiddish, you might as well just buy the original, since it has little or no Jewish value.  The same goes for the wrong Jewish song for the wrong part of davening. If the music from “that song” doesn’t work with Kel Adon, then you’re singing a different song during Kel Adon, which brings up halachic issues as well, but I digress…

Jewish music contains a purpose, which to promote or reflect something in Jewish life, whether it’s prayer, comedy, dancing, history, profound issues in our lives or communities, something definitively Jewish. It’s for this reason that I believe people are waking up to the fact that it’s shouldn’t simply be the exact music, notes, instruments or even underlying musical influences that define this song as Jewish or not. It’s the treatment, phrasing, playing, arrangement and timing when it’s presented to you. Very simply, what comes out is more definitive than what goes in. If the message of the lyric — it could be Hebrew, English, Yiddish holy or not— is appropriate to the purpose of Jewish life, meaning, inspiration and spirit, then you’re doing fine.

Next time: “Hiring A Band: Keep The Right Priorities”


Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for over 30 years. A composer, producer, musician and singer since childhood,  Gershon has been featured by most most major wedding bands since 1980. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with the most popular Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own, in concerts and festivals in around the world, including the annual Rockami shows in Jerusalem until 2012. His company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp., provides music and video production services worldwide, now featuring G-Major Events, an orchestra and event planning company for weddings and other personal occasions.

He was the owner & editor-in-chief of the original Jewish Community Magazine until 1995 and is now a contributing writer for 5TJT.   Visit gmajorevents.com for information, videos & social media. For more on Gershon, visit www.veroba.net.

Music & Simchas: Becoming A Team Player By Hiring One

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  8/31/18)
by Gershon Veroba
Like anyone else working the in the same field for a long time, I’ve learned a lot and I am still learning more than I could ever share in a space like this, but it’s worth a try, so thank you for “tuning in.”
Experience can be good for many things, like anecdotes and on-the-job training, but it also provides perspective. Approaching a task while recalling the results from the many times you tried it gives you the chance to maximize your success by making better decisions. If you have limited experience in building a house, running a political campaign or (gasp) making a wedding, wouldn’t you be best advised to consult with professionals to get it right?
When I consult and perform for a wedding client or when I direct a performer in the studio, the first thing I turn to is my past experience to achieve the most success. After all, the person or group I’m working with came to me because of that experience so not using it just doesn’t make sense. They know I’ve seen what works and what fails. This is the reason we all hire experts, to benefit from something they specialize in… The event a client considers “once in a lifetime” is something the professional has done many times.
A person does not have to be a musician, a caterer, a planner or photographer to understand the joy of benefiting from those services performed well. When the client becomes more familiar with the services they’re receiving, they can define more precisely what they want to the experts they hired. With this stress reduced, the client is comfortable knowing they will get the most value for their money and that “it’s all taken care of.”
Whether or not you understand music on any technical level, there are still a few key insights that anyone can understand when it comes to music and sound, but many don’t know. After explaining, they are clearly more relaxed and agreeable because they are now more confident to ask questions and are more familiar with the service they’re paying for.
I actually enjoy educating the people I work with. The “teacher” in many of us gets a great sense of satisfaction sharing your experience with people and seeing them succeed when they use it. Appreciation can be the ultimate reward. Some don’t need that, but I’m in showbiz, so that makes me an applause kind of guy. Entertainers love appreciation, so I try to invest a little more to get it. I personally thrown in a few extra insights, if I have them, because I find it often becomes useful later in the project.
This has come in handy while working with vocal students, for example. I often cite the scenario of “landing a plane” while singing in order to land on a note gently and on key. Once I plant that thought, I can easily refer back to it by saying “ok…now land the plane…” to remind them at moment’s notice, without the need to to distract from the moment by introducing a new concept. Let’s call it “advance training.”
To me, an event client is no different. I was always a big fan of Sy Syms, a”h, who was famous for the slogan, “an educated consumer is our best customer.” Offering some super-basic advance training on what makes a great band or helping them ask the right questions can only make my job easier and the client happier. Many clients, for instance, benefit from knowing why I’m recommending to include the sax to their band before adding a violin or how a sound company can make the music better, not louder. If I have the proper experience, I can explain these things briefly and clearly.
Whether talking to friends on the sidewalk or responding to strangers from a podium, it’s always refreshing when people express an interest in my views of the business I’m in. I like making sense of the entertainment they get from the car radio, the bandstand or in videos. Almost everyone has something to ask or contribute when discussing entertainment. For me, it not only makes great conversation, but it gives me a chance to finally share the lessons I’ve learned in a career to which I’ve dedicated my life.
I can honestly say with whatever authority I’ve earned over time that the industries of Jewish entertainment and hospitality have all advanced more in the last 10 years than I ever witnessed in at least the previous 30. Musicians, singers, planners, caterers, photo and video pros have opened their eyes more than ever, embraced new styles and technologies, pushed the boundaries and have been enjoying unprecedented acceptance from the new generations in the Jewish communities here and around the world. Knowing how to benefit from these advancements, however, often requires professional guidance, probably more today than ever before.
“Expertise” is specifically the result of “experience” and it’s ultimately what makes an “expert.” All you torah scholars will recognize the common shoresh (root) in those three words. It’s a source of pride to have gone through the experiences I’ve had in my career and to connect with great professionals I can rely on for their own accumulated lines of specialty. I can’t think of any life besides entertainment that provides more excitement and drama, except working undercover for the CIA or perhaps interstate trucking. For good and bad, I’ve worked with the best and worst, learned from success and mistakes and played a part in people’s happiness.
I’ve learned a lot about getting attention and how to please an audience. Just give them a carefully-crafted combination of what they want and what you’re good at. Sure, I know… entertainers are show-offs. I’m one of them. But even caterers, planners and all those other vendors at the event are entertainers, too so why not take advantage of their expertise as well and let them show off for you? They been practicing a long time for it.
Find that professional you are convinced will work hard to please you and they can save you money, trouble and time. They call it a simcha for a reason, so stay happy!
Please feel free to email me at gershon@gmajorevents.com to comment or suggest topics. You can also post comments on facebook.com/gmajorevents, where this article is also posted. Thank you for listening!

Next time: “The Evolution: What Happened To Jewish Music?”
Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for over 30 years. A composer, producer, musician and singer since childhood, Gershon has been featured by most most major wedding bands since 1980. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with the most popular Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own, in concerts and festivals in around the world, including the annual Rockami shows in Jerusalem until 2012. His company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp., provides music and video production services worldwide, now featuring G-Major Events, an orchestra and event planning company for weddings and other personal occasions.
He was the owner & editor-in-chief of the first Jewish Community Magazine until 1995 and is now a contributing writer for 5TJT. Visit gmajorevents.com for information, videos & social media. For more on Gershon, visit www.veroba.net.

Racism VS. Stupidity: Getting Nothing Done

Why can’t we see the stupidity from both sides in this picture?
These idiots came to the protest looking for trouble, ready to pick a fight with the other idiots and turning a potential statement opportunity into a hateful, murderous mess by intentionally pushing their buttons.

Charlottesville Morons Fighting Each Other

I defy the “Black Lives Matter” people to fold their banner so it reads “Lives Matter.” They won’t do it, because it’s a BLM opportunity to make hatred and racism all about them…It’s not.

White Supremacists claim the country for themselves & want ALL minorities dead. Hamas is exactly the same, but IMAGINE how the world would scream if Israel handled Hamas this way! Why is no one screaming now and why is it defended?

Just because one side is wrong, doesn’t mean the other side is right. In fact, I’d like to know where the “Black Lives Matter” people come off taking this cause for themselves and not simply teaming up with other minorities and anti-hate groups to declare the truly right thing. Hating any race, creed or religion is wrong, not just “us.”

IMAGINE how the world would scream if Israel handled Hamas this way! Why is no one screaming now and why is it defended?

You want my support? You want to know why I don’t stand up for you when the time comes? Who are you representing when you go out in public and on international media to do what you do? Not me…

Check this out…

The State of the Music – Reflecting on last few months & the last few years…

So, now that times have changed (and they really have), I see that people have become more receptive to musical styles and influences I was criticized for years ago. What happened?

The real question may be “what didn’t happen.” Jewish music has frequently been caught standing still and, in many ways it still is. Either they can’t “up their game” or, in some case, may not be interested in change. I’ve watched many take the easy way out, pay arrangers, composers and producers to create the illusion of more talent than there is and hope for a hit. I’ve watched many great songs and productions crash and burn and I’ve watched great talent go to waste with second rate productions.

For good or bad, many productions have gone from elaborate large orchestras to hip programming and digital synthesis, sometimes a mix of both.  My last album included both and, while I’m proud I applied the right choices for each individual song, whether 12-piece string section, 3 French Horns (“2-hoo turtle doves…”) and flutes with acoustic bass, piano, guitar and drums, or 100% computerized with voice sampling and R&B Marvin Gaye-inspired rhythms, the album felt like a journey with different textures and colors.

I’ll be forever glad I did it. I question whether the majority of the buying audience truly cares, but they may simply not have the ability. I do, though.

Lyrics! Where do I begin? Hebrew lyrics in a song for a religious audience? Unheard of! Today, original Hebrew lyrics have become as accepted as Yiddish. Hebrew is considered the holy language, so it was avoided in common lyric. Yiddish? Not so holy, so go ahead.

Original lyrics make it possible to form melody and words more freely in order to fit, pronounce comfortably, express more colorfully and make a higher quality song that’s more attractive, intuitive and enjoyable. Unheard of years ago.

Watch GV’s video of Megama’s “Up To Jerusalem” (separate window)

Moshe Yess and Shalom Levine formed Megama, touring as bearded curiosities with amazing talent from a past life. Moshe’s folk, rock & country talent from his non-religious days as a studio guitarist allowed him to combine his ingenious Chet Atkins level playing with his bluegrass lyric cleverness. Shalom, a student of viola legend Pablo Casals, kept the music arrangement simple but on point, along with their comic ability… The act had such impact that Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, encouraged Megama to perform concerts even during the omer & 3 weeks periods.

He felt they were inspiring others around the world to journey as far as they had to Orthodoxy. They were also pretty inexpensive, certainly cheaper than Diaspora Yeshiva Band. They were just 2 guys, 2 instruments, they came with their own PA system and they were rehearsed to perfection.

I became friends with Shalom & Moshe and they stayed at my place when in town. We identified with each other’s music, but I was considered simply a rebel, going in the wrong direction, since I was already born orthodox. I didn’t have the beard (not that large, anyway), I wasn’t considered a baal tshuvah, so what business did I have peddling with this kind of stuff? I became the “goy of Jewish Music.” It was cool for the goyish guy to sing frum songs, but not for the frum kid to sing goyish songs. What the audience was grabbing and what I was doing was fun, skilled and natural, but I was shunned for it.
What was “goyish?” An interesting discussion we had a while ago. Check it out.

GV’s Music Page  (separate window)

More times than I could count, I was told that my reputation of composing and performing English words, secular melodies and allowing mainstream influences to drive my music kept me from being booked on the frum stage and selling in the sforim stores.

Mean and nasty? Sure. But unfortunately, they spoke the truth. The biggest composers, producers and performers quoted the Jewish music rule book: “You put more than one English song on an album, it won’t sell.”

English has increased now on religious albums, even in multiple tracks. I still see a problem in the use of decent poetic imagery and language flow, an inherent struggle for religious writers whose upbringing avoided mainstream song writing…Perhaps we’ll talk about that another day.

I can now take my own experience and judge from there. I’m walking the walk.

Yitzy Berry in Sach Hakol Studios, Jerusalem, conducting the orchestra on “Bayom Hahu”

I look back on how Yitzy Berry & Eli Klein did such an amazing job on the album version of Simcha Kranczer’s “Bayom Hahu,” working the orchestra exactly as I wanted it immortalized on the album. Interestingly, when I made the á capella version of that song to please the people who wanted that kind of production during sefiras ha’omer and the 3 weeks approaching Tish’a B’Av, it was received better than I had ever imagined. It was fun to make and I did it all on my own in a couple of days (thanks also to Ari Goldwag’s appearance by phone video). Basing the arrangement on the original, I just sang track-on-track until it worked.

The question is, what does it say, that the cheap version did so well? I think the answer isn’t technical, it’s statistical. Great song at the right time in the right form, not artistically as much as halachically…at least according to those who consider á capella to be an acceptable musical form for those “no instrumental music” periods.  Me? I just love making chords and building vocals.

I am constantly asked (no, really…I am…) if I’m happy with what I’ve done.

The past 15 years brought about a great shift in my quality and I had been patiently waiting for the audience to come out of their shells. Today, what I was criticized for years before has now become the norm and I’ve become “old school.” I’ll take that, I guess. It’s better than pretending I’m something I’m not. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.

That being said, as far as today’s audiences…Could I have put less effort and money into the “Ani Yisrael” album and few, if any would have seen or heard the difference?

Maybe, but it would not have been the same album, it’s a difference I would have seen and I wouldn’t feel the same about it as I do.

Returning to the Blog

Once upon a time, 10 years ago to be exact, the “Blog People” had permeated the kingdom of the web and were soon spread all over the land. I had no choice.

So, in 2007, I created a “blog,” not really knowing the full value of it, but hoping it would attract responses and gather audience and friends.  As it turned out, I got a few things off my chest and I got some fantastic responses, but I soon turned to other priorities… The website, YouTube, producing 3 albums, which all sent me to Israel. I also needed a new video camera or two. What else would I use…my phone?!

Pursuing internet marketing had to wait. Besides, MySpace was over and Facebook might be next. Who knew?

Today, the entertainment business depends on social media products like YouTube and blogs and vlogs (everyone say, “oh, my!”) in order to succeed in todays world. I now have Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter…I even have Snapchat. I’m not sure why yet, but the adventure continues.

This is all part of my new direction, which keeps evolving. My Website, YouTube & Facebook are crushing it (in a good way) and now I’ve got plenty of entertainment to share in so many forms!  Please enjoy these conversations and jump in as you see fit.

I only had a few back then, so catching up will be easy! Start from 2007! Most of the subjects still work and I’ll post a couple more very soon.

Just Received From the Governor’s Office…

I’VE BEEN ASKED FOR THIS, SINCE MANY OF US NEVER SAW THE COURT SUMMARY OF THE FACTS INVOLVED.
This following letter concerns the case of convicted murderer, Martin Grossman’s and his execution. It is presented, however, with all due respect for the loss of Mr. Grossman, a”h, a human being and a fellow Jew who sadly had to pay the ultimate price for his life choices.

A Message from Governor Charlie Crist regarding Martin Grossman:

Thank you for contacting me and sharing your concerns about the execution of Martin Grossman.

On December 13, 1984,  Mr. Grossman violated the terms of his probation by leaving Pasco County and having a stolen firearm in his possession. In a routine stop, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Margaret Park found the weapon. When she reached for the radio in her patrol car to report him, Mr. Grossman attacked her with her own large flashlight, beating her over the head and shoulders 20 to 30 times. When Officer Park tried to fight back, Mr. Grossman took her .357 Magnum revolver and shot her in the back of the head, killing her.

Mr. Grossman took several carefully planned steps to cover up this horrible crime. The weapon was buried, and Mr. Grossman attempted to burn his clothes and shoes, which were later disposed of in a nearby lake. The following day, Mr. Grossman thoroughly cleaned the van and changed its tires to mislead law enforcement.

Officer Park’s autopsy revealed lacerations on top of her head, hemorrhaging inside the scalp and extensive fracturing of the skull. All of these injuries resulted from Mr. Grossman’s attack. The facts of this crime clearly meet the definition of heinous, atrocious and cruel, and his actions afterward demonstrate his well-reasoned attempts to cover it up.

The courts have fully reviewed Mr. Grossman’s legal claims, and his conviction and sentence have been affirmed by both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. Based on the facts and exhaustion of legal proceedings, and in accordance with Florida law, I signed his death warrant on January 12, 2010.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Innocent Because He’s Jewish?

I never heard of Martin Grossman until now. After being on death row for 25 years without a peep from anyone, people are suddenly scrambling to his defense.  Amnesty International says he had a rough life, some Jews say he’s sorry. Now, I’m getting emails to sign a petition protesting his sentence.

Martin Grossman

People have suddenly woken up and decided to protest the impending execution of Martin Grossman, the man who shot and killed police officer Margaret Park because she was arresting him for possessing and discharging a stolen firearm, as well as violating his parole as a previously-convicted felon. His appointment with G-d is scheduled for February 16th.

On the petition site, where they’re trying to gather 10,000 signatures, the story behind the murder has been carefully blurred and distorted into cyber-hoax that too many people believe, no matter how many clichés give it away.

He intentionally attacked a police officer and then shot her to death… specifically to avoid going back to jail. He told her so. Now they want me to sign the petition. Are you with me so far? The petition website throws a creative, flowery spin on the story, crafting a fairy tale that makes Grossman look more like an innocent bystander than a proven killer.

Among other travesties of the truth, throughout the revised story, the writer conspicuously avoids mentioning that the actual victim was a police officer. Being “taken aback by her sudden approach” and that he just “lost it” is not only false, it’s a laughable defense. He was caught playing with a stolen gun. If he was truly startled, he would have shot her on the spot. Instead, he just asked the officer not to send him back to jail, which is what ALL ex-cons say when they’re stupid enough to get arrested again.

He and his friend attacked Officer Park, beating her with her own flashlight. She shot his friend, but Grossman grabbed the gun and shot her with no regard to her life or to his Judaism. He knew what he was doing, which is why he was found guilty. There’s no grassy knoll in this story.

His sentence is no less deserved than any other cop-killer in a similar case…which brings up another point: Contrary to the petition’s claim, there’s nothing “unusual and arbitrary” about this death sentence. It also says that if Grossman were tried today, he wouldn’t get the death penalty, but that’s false as well. In fact, sentencing today is harsher. If Joel Steinberg was tried today (instead of 1987) for his 6 year-old daughter’s death, he would have been convicted of 2nd degree murder instead of manslaughter. David Berkowitz (Son Of Sam) would have gotten the chair if not for a plea down to life (though he does get released after 957 years). To this day, we never cared about their sicknesses, upbringing or bar mitzvah parshiot. They kill, they pay.

This is, unfortunately, a crime that has occurred many times before & since in a similar manner with similar motives. Jews wouldn’t think twice about putting him to death if it wasn’t for this bogus petition that validates itself by lying and hiding behind the killer’s birthright, which he tossed away years before. Beyond that, it just relies on the ridiculous, which is apparently acceptable to many.

“He didn’t mean it…” “He promises never to do it again…” and “He regrets it” are script lines normally recalled from a bad 1970’s courtroom TV show, but over 4,000 people have fallen for it so far. In actual fact, the goal of 10,000 signatures probably won’t change the governor’s mind, but I wish I didn’t have to watch this.

Posting his bar mitzvah picture and sobbing over his unfortunate upbringing doesn’t change the original truth. He stopped being that bar mitzvah long ago. Very sad teen years, a burglary conviction, then, at 19, a murder conviction. It’s easy to find G-d while on death row, but that doesn’t change the facts. Feel sorry for him, even mourn for him, but don’t pretend he’s innocent or that he’s changed. I should hope he has. Repentance before death is one privelige Officer Park wasn’t granted.

Suicide bombers often come from abused, tragic lives with no future, but that doesn’t make them innocent and defending them desecrates all that’s holy, especially the memories of the victims.

Unfortunately for Grossman, like any cop-killer, Jewish or not, he is being punished according to the law of the land and Jewish law as well. It’s a shame, but it’s not wrong.

If his name wasn’t “Grossman,” we wouldn’t be here, 25 years late, considering the manipulative, yet surprisingly flimsy revisionist story put across here. None of us even cared a month ago, because most of us never heard of him. Some now even refer to him by his Hebrew name. Tragically absurd.

I’d like to see what a petition in favor of his death sentence would yield. I also wonder what would have happened if Officer Park was Jewish. Martin Grossman murdered a police officer with full awareness of his actions and even admitting his motive as he did it. The punishment for that in Florida is death. Very sad, but simple and just.

Now THIS is “American-Jewish Music.”

 

A bit hokey and badly-pronounced, but a rare and joyous use of Jewish music in a mixed forum…their hearts are in the right place…I hope.

Funny part is, I can’t stand “Hava Nagila.”

(Hey… Aren’t “Pancho & Juan” the motorcycle cops from “CHiPs?”)