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here’s nothing like a great band to launch a new couple into the future to build their bayis neeman., and so are the these top-line wedding band leaders — after a three-week break, they’re tuning up to bring joy to every chassan and kallah 

 

What was your most unusual wedding request?

Shloime Dachs:

Just recently, I got an e-mail asking if we were available for June 16th, which was a Shabbos. I thought that someone had mistaken the date, until I realized it was a non-Jew who had just looked up wedding orchestras and found my name. He was really ready to book us.

Another time, a client with little Jewish background asked me if I could also officiate at the chuppah. I guess they thought a singer is like a chazzan, which is like a rabbi. He had no idea whom to ask, so I found him someone to be mesader kiddushin. I did take brachah acharita for myself, though.

 

Yisroel Lamm (Aaron Teitelbaum Productions):

We once played at a simchah where the host insisted that everyone in the entire 12-piece band, regardless of religious background, wear a shtreimel and beketshe all evening. One of the musicians worked hard and managed to round up enough clothing.

Interestingly, a nonreligious guest liked the idea, and wanted to hire us for his upcoming event. Turned out it was on Saturday and was starting before Shabbos was out. The whole band told him, “Sorry, can’t do it — we don’t work on Shabbos.” He couldn’t believe we were turning him down — but who knows, maybe we left an impression on him.

 

Menachem Herman:

I once abided by a father’s condition that he be able to control the volume of the band for the entire night. Nobody could dance because they couldn’t even hear the music — the host had made it so low!

 

 

What was your most memorable wedding?

Avrumy Berko:

My brother Shea and I had the opportunity to play for Rav Malkiel Kotler’s child’s wedding. Besides the tremendous zechus of seeing all the participants so happy, the way the Rosh Yeshivah and the Rebbetzin took the time after the wedding to thank us for all the effort was astounding. The Rebbetzin also called my wife to convey her personal thanks.

 

Yisroel Lamm:

In the late ’70s, we were asked to play the chasunah of the holy Ribnitzer Rebbe zy”a. It was in the Lido Beach Hotel in Long Beach, New York, and we were invited to play by Mordechai Ben David, who was close to the Rebbe at the time. Of course, all the musicians were thrilled to be asked, and would not have missed it for the world. There were maybe 200 guests. The chuppah didn’t start until midnight because the Rebbe was davening with the neshamos of his zeides, and after the chuppah, the Rebbe spent the rest of the simchah giving brachos to his guests.

If the general public had known the location of the wedding, there would have been a mob scene there, so the venue was kept secret. The guests were directed to buses, without being told the destination. The band was told only a couple of hours before, to give us time to travel, and we were sworn to secrecy. The public phones at the hotel were disabled, so once there, guests couldn’t make any outgoing calls — remember, there were no cell phones yet. The wedding was beautiful with a special ruach, and certainly no one in attendance could ever forget it.

 

Shloime Dachs:

That would be the wedding of the son of Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky from the Five Towns. I recall going to sing for him in the hospital during his illness, and we were crying together. The doctor told him he didn’t have long to live and should spend what time he had left in Hawaii.

Five years later, I got a call out of the blue. “I’m getting married in two months. You promised you would sing.” I’ll never forget that chuppah. It was a true miracle — not that we should take the miracle of any marriage for granted.

 

Menachem Herman:

The day after 9/11, we played a wedding in Jerusalem. The kallah’s family had arrived in Israel the week before, but her father was to arrive on the day of the wedding. By a string of miracles, he drove nonstop from Miami to New York to board the only aircraft that was granted to leave US airspace — an El Al plane with Israeli diplomats.

The chuppah was called for 7 p.m. However, her father’s plane would only be landing at 10 p.m. Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg ztz”l said that they should eat the meal, dance, and celebrate... all before the chuppah, but insisted that for the chuppah, they must wait for the father. We played and played and the crowd kept dancing. Finally, at 11:30 p.m. the father made it! They put him on their shoulders and danced with him. So, the chuppah was at midnight, dessert was served, we bentshed, made sheva brachos, and danced until 1 a.m.

 

Which songs do non-Jewish musicians love?

Avrumi Berko:

They tend to like the more complex songs — the opposite of what most of us like. Most of the famous Jewish hits earn their popularity because of the significance of the words, not the complexity of the melody. There are exceptions, of course, but the most popular wedding songs are the simpler tunes.

 

Yitzy Schwartz (A Team Orchestra):

Non-Jewish musicians will love to play the hit song of that year — this year it was “Ve’uhavtu” by Meilech Kohn. Whenever the biggest hits are being played, there is an immediate energy felt in the room, and that makes everyone excited, including the band, waiters, and photographers.

 

Mendy Hershkowitz:

There are certain songs — I think “Kah Echsof” is one of them — that no matter who the musicians are, they somehow get fully into it.

 

What’s your most requested song these days?

Menachem Herman:

At the chuppah, the Chabad “Arba Bavos.” For dancing, that would be the Chabad “Tzemach Tzedek” niggun.

 

Avrumi Berko:

“L’shanah Haba’ah,” my all-time favorite! Also a popular request is “Kah Echsof,” requested at almost every heimish chuppah.

 

Mendy Hershowitz:

This changes every couple of years. Recently it went from “Eit Rekod” to “Ve’uhavtu,” but the most-played song, I’ll admit, is still “Od Yishama.”

 

Shloime Dachs:

Ohad’s “Birchas Habanim.” It’s an amazing song, mostly requested at chuppahs.

 

Yisroel Lamm:

“Im Eshkocheich.” Yaakov Shwekey’s version is the most popular.

 



 
What has changed over time, and what has stayed the same?

Yitzy Schwartz:

I got my start in the music business when I was 16, working as a keyboard player/band leader for Neginah Orchestrah. Back then, a sound company only made an appearance at a major concert like HASC. Even for an upscale wedding, the band leader would arrive an hour or two early, put up two speakers on poles, and bam, there was your sound. Often, the drummer wouldn’t even be amplified through those speakers. Today it’s almost unheard of for a big wedding not to have a sound company with a full setup and engineer to monitor and record the sound.

You know, every so often someone comes over to the band and says “Oh, remember the old bands? Boy, were they leibedig. Things were much simpler and even better then.” I completely disagree. Would you watch a video on a black-and-white screen? But the truth is that the older halls had better acoustics, with more carpet all around, so you were able to get away with not having the most amazing sound system. Today, many halls have terrible acoustics, and there is an increasing demand for high-quality sound. So sound companies step in.

 

Avrumi Berko:

All songs change constantly, besides the first — “Od Yishama,” and the last — “L’shana Haba’ah.”

 

Shloime Dachs:

Technology has upgraded the sound immensely. For 25 years, there were two regular speakers on poles, and now everyone uses a sound company with an engineer, iPads for the sheet music — no more loose-leafs or books, and sometimes lighting and colors, creating a whole production. But baruch Hashem, we’re still singing all the heimishe niggunim and the taam is still there

 

Yisroel Lamm:

Certainly, the style of the music has changed. There is also so much more of it, and it’s much more intense than years ago. The presentations are also getting more sophisticated, so the ability to read music is more important than ever. But what hasn’t changed is the love for a good song and good music. The interest is as strong as ever.

 

What’s the difference between playing “in town” and “out of town”?

Mendy Hershkowitz:

Out of town means we get less sleep! On the plus side, I love getting to see different places and meet different people, and our music is more appreciated in a place that has less of it.

 

Shloime Dachs:

Out of town will always have place cards for the musicians among the guests and a table ready for them. We bring all our musicians and technicians along from New York.

 

Avrumi Berko:

Out-of-town weddings usually mean lower volume and songs that bring back old memories.

 

Yitzy Schwartz:

Out-of-town weddings are a whole different ballgame. In New York there are thousands of weddings each year, and in the busy seasons people might attend as many as three or four weddings in one night. Out of town, there are fewer weddings, so people are actually more excited — it’s much more special for them. Plus, they’re quiet at the chuppah.

 

Any near-disasters that turned around for the best?

Yisroel Lamm:

We were once at a wedding in Europe, where the chuppah is often at a different venue than the dinner. We took taxis from the chuppah hall to the dinner hall, and upon arrival, realized that we had left all our equipment and passports in the trunk of one of the taxis, which had just driven off! Fortunately, after quite a bit of panic, we were able to track down the taxi, and all the equipment arrived in time to play the dinner.

 

Mendy Hershkowitz:

A few years ago, there was a major blizzard and the halls had to reuse the flowers and change the menu. We came to the hall for the second night in a row, and people had actually slept over there — but like always, we just played the best wedding possible.

 

Shloime Dachs

Wedding hall names can start to sound pretty similar after a while. Once, I drove to Ateres Avrohom in Williamsburg for a wedding. When I got there, I realized that the booking was for Ateres Chaya in Boro Park. Baruch Hashem, I made it in time, just as the chassan was walking down the aisle. I was out of breath as I started singing the chuppah — and I had parked by a water hydrant.

 

Menachem Herman:

At one wedding, just as the chassan and kallah came in for the first dance, there was a power failure around the entire neighborhood. The drummer continued drumming and all us musicians just sang as loud as we could to lead the crowd. And everyone in the crowd knew that he was now a member of the band. Each voice was now another musical instrument, and each one counted. The atmosphere was contagious. It was one of the most leibedig weddings we ever did.

After the first dance, the main course was eaten in the dark. There were a few emergency lights and lighted exit signs, but the hall was basically dark. After bentshing and sheva brachos, we had an entire hour to fill up with vocal music and dancing, and everyone stayed to the very end to give it their all, both vocally and physically, dancing with all their energy until the end so as not to diminish in any way the joy of the event. It was an electrified atmosphere without electricity. When we finally came to the last song of “L’shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim,” everyone was praying for the light of Geulah. The Jewish People know how to turn darkness into light!

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 720)