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Fine Tuning

Gittel Chany Rosengarten

From his state-of-the-art studio overlooking ancient fertile valleys, Reb Shaya Guttman links himself to the musical masters of the past — chassidic rebbes whose rich, complex compositions have left an enduring legacy of niggun drawn down from ethereal spheres that still penetrate the Jewish soul.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Forty years ago, when Reb Shaya Guttman and his future wife discussed where they truly desired to live, they both said “Tzfas.” At the time, though, it just seemed “too romantic, too otherworldly.” But after four decades — following a winding journey from his childhood home in Minnesota to Monsey to Beit Shemesh, and finally an apartment in the Darom neighborhood in the City of the Kabbalists — he’s finally found the perfect harmony. It’s a synchronized setting for Reb Shaya, whose home studio is a side room with warm yellow light, two computers, a mixer, a violin, a keyboard, a microphone — and of course, a small window overlooking the verdant hills and rocky ravines to keep the mood serene, spiritual, and inspired. He seats himself on his swivel chair and rests a violin under his chin. The notes are smooth, the niggun complex and uplifting — a gift from the Baal HaTanya. “Authentic Jewish music is uplifting, nourishing the soul in a unique way. It’s hard to find that kind of inspiration today,” says Reb Shaya, who wishes contemporary Jewish music could refract more of what it was when chassidic masters composed complex, rich compositions. Rav Shaya’s audience — the fans who purchase his CDs — all have one thing in common: They love music that has retained its soul. “My audience is a mature crowd,” he says. “I don’t expect to attract many teenagers.” Reb Shaya is a DIYer, producing the CDs himself from start to finish. He chooses rich, intricate, nearly forgotten niggunim created by holy rebbes. In his home studio, he records himself singing and playing the violin, piano, and computerized virtual instruments before mixing them into a complete arrangement. A commercial graphic artist by profession, he even designs his own jacket covers. “This way I can do what I believe in, as opposed to what the market demands. I think there are some more serious, adventurous listeners out there who are interested in something that’s not so typical, that brings out aspects of Jewish music they may not have heard before. I also look at it as outreach — nonreligious music lovers who never took Jewish music seriously might take a second look at their heritage if they’d discover the richness of their musical tradition.”

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