I know this is supposed to be a consumer column, but let’s face it. We have all just spent the last few weeks preparing, cleaning and shopping until our credit cards begged for mercy and our family members have started wondering if Windex is our new signature scent. The last thing anyone wants to be thinking about right now is buying more stuff, making home improvements or otherwise planning ahead. It is Pesach, the celebration of our exodus from bondage, and just as our forefathers emerged from the slavery of Egypt into freedom, this is a great opportunity to relax after weeks of effort and planning. Put your feet up, enjoy the fruits of your labor and possibly even a tall glass of lemonade (adorned, of course, by a frilly paper umbrella) while we relax, unwind and contemplate one of the greatest treasures ever bequeathed to mankind: the gift of music.
Over the years we have been privileged to enjoy some incredibly wonderful songs, which have woven their way into the fabric of our lives. Some are special to us for personal reasons, others become popular hits, but oddly enough, while we may know the songs and possibly even the names of the singers who popularized them, few of us know little if anything about the many people who are responsible for the music we know and love.
It is hard to believe how many hundreds of hours it takes to produce a single song and how many talented people are involved in each and every note. The composer, who literally gives birth to the song. The arranger who further refines the song, deciding its mood, the best instruments to enhance it, also composes an introduction, practically a song within a song. The skilled musicians whose talents provide the orchestration. The vocalist who is the “face” of the song. The producer, who hand picks every person involved in the process in order to make the most out of every second. The engineer who puts the entire package together and produces the finished product. Throw in a lyricist if there are original words involved and choirs, if they are being used, and a single song can involve dozens of participants, each of whom uses their considerable talents to produce the music that fills our iTunes. Yet for most of us, other than the singer, the many people who are an integral part of each song are, for the most part, nameless and faceless.
All that is about to change as a few of the best and the brightest in the Jewish music business share their thoughts on what goes on behind the scene.
For composer Yitzy Waldner, there is no way to define the process of creating a song.
“People have asked me to tell them how I compose a song, but I don’t have an answer,” explained Waldner. “You just try, although I suppose it helps to have some sort of musical ability. Many, many times things just fall into place, like Yaakov Shwekey’s Ma Ma Ma, which wrote itself in thirty seconds. There are others that I worked on for a long time, like Shwekey’s Eishes Chayil, which all in all took about seven months to finalize.”
Waldner finds that the lyrics help inspire the creative process.
“The first song I ever wrote for Shwekey was Shema Yisroel,” said Waldner. “He had an idea for the song and had a low part that he liked but needed a high part to go with it. He started describing to me someone who was going around to monasteries, collecting Jewish children after the war. I went down to my basement, turned off all the lights and I envisioned this young boy and the song wrote itself in about twenty five minutes. It was literally divine inspiration.”
You never know when inspiration will strike, reports composer Elimelech Blumstein, who composed his first song in fourth grade and since that time has written thousands of songs.
“I can remember where I was and what I was doing for every song I wrote,” confided Blumstein. “I could be anywhere, working to walk or on a train. Someone once texted me lyrics and asked me to set them to music just as I was going into the subway. It was a great opportunity, no one to interrupt me with emails or phone calls. I recorded the song on my phone while on the train and sent it out as soon as I came out of the subway. Yes, there were people on the train giving me funny looks, but that was fine. There was one guy playing guitar, another chewing gum and blowing bubbles. Why can’t I sing to myself?”