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When the Floodgates of Song Open, You’re Never Too Old

Riki Goldstein

Chazzan Pinchas Wolf was unknown until three years ago

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A

lthough Pinchas Wolf has been composing songs for over 60 years and has hundreds of niggunim to his credit, most people had never heard of the Detroit chazzan until three years ago, when, at close to age 70, he decided to release an all-star album of his original songs, sung by some of the most prominent names in modern Jewish music. That was Shirei Pinchas 1; he’s already up to Shirei Pinchas 4, and this newest release is even more special because Reb Pinchas himself decided to sing on it. The album features returning star vocalists Shlomo Simcha, Micha Gamerman, Tzvi Silberstein, and Dovid Lowy, and Reb Pinchas — singing five of his own compositions.

While Wolf — who was born in a DP camp and grew up in Montreal, where he studied in Klausenberger and Lubavitch mosdos — has been composing for most of his life, he made a commitment as a teenager not to publicize his songs after one of his niggunim spread to the public and was then recorded under someone else’s name. But after undergoing major surgery a few years back, the surgeon told him he was humming a tune while sedated with general anaesthesia — and that made him realize the time had come: His music could no longer be ignored. Once the floodgates opened, album followed album, and the Shirei Pinchas series took off.

The new album, on which listeners can finally hear Reb Pinchas singing his own compositions, marks a major comeback of his voice. “I was intubated after that surgery nine years ago, and that scratched my left vocal cord. My voice was not fully back for a long time, but baruch Hashem I think it’s returned.”

Two songs released as singles in advance of the album highlight the versatility of his style. “Baruch Hashem Yom Yom” is both an up-to-date track and music video featuring Dovid Lowy, which has garnered enthusiastic reviews — and plenty of requests from high school seniors to use the catchy music for their own theme songs. The English lyrics were added by Chayala Neuhaus, giving the song a contemporary bounce.

“Shalom Aleichem,” on the other hand, is a warm, heimish composition with a touch of chazzanus, sung by Pinchas Wolf himself. In fact, Reb Pinchas says that he still practices the minhag he began as a bochur, composing a new niggun every single week in honor of Shabbos.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 748)

 

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