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Endnote: Motti Steinmetz Helps the Crowd Cut through the Opulence

Riki Goldstein

Motti Steinmetz, Vizhnitzer chassid from Bnei Brak, says that feeling the songs to the max is part of his job, but not always an easy one

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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M

ic Drop

Motti Steinmetz helps the crowd cut through the opulence

If the singer doesn’t feel the words he’s singing, his audience won’t feel them either. Motti Steinmetz, the Vizhnitzer chassid from Bnei Brak with the distinctive voice that’s all heart, says that feeling the songs to the max is part of his job, but not always an easy one.

“For example, sometimes I’m invited to sing at an over-the-top opulent event. My job is to block it all out, and think about the words, ‘Ka’ayal taarog,’ that our aspiration is to stand in front of the Ribbono shel Olam and yearn for him with every fiber of our beings. Complicated.”

He remembers a particular childhood incident that prepared him for this kind of detachment. “When I was 14, a relative of the family settled in Eretz Yisrael. He was a Holocaust survivor who lived in Antwerp after the war. He had a very hard life. Eventually, he moved here, elderly and ill. I suppose his war traumas affected him — he used to shout at children in the street.

“My parents asked me to help him. I used to go with him to shul, to the beis medrash, almost everywhere. I was like his gabbai. The whole community knew about the old man who used to shout and get angry, and in some ways, he turned into a spectacle for the local children. Children would come to provoke him, and then they would all laugh. This caused me a lot of pain. It hurt me to see this man, whom I knew in different situations, become the neighborhood laughingstock. I eventually blocked myself off emotionally. I stopped responding to their laughter and taunts, and just concentrated on doing my job. That’s how I learned how to immerse myself in a song, and to tune out the outside ‘noise.’ ” 







Feel the Dance

A Moshe Laufer composition can come in a variety of styles, but one signature of the composer/arranger’s fast-beat niggunim — songs like “Samcheim” (on MBD’s The Double Album), “Shehecheyanu” (on Yaakov Shwekey’s Shomati album), “Kol Zeman” (on Ohad! II), and the classic “Keitzad Merakdim” (on Avraham

 

 Fried’s Aderaba), to name just a few — is that along with their energy and dance beat, there is something for the soul too.

Laufer says that’s really his aim all along. “People think that only a slow song needs to have a neshamah. It does, but the truth is that a fast song needs that pnimiyus even more. If the song has regesh — real feeling — then that feeling goes over to the listeners and they’ll keep dancing because the energy has penetrated. If not, the song disappears very quickly.” 

 

ENDINGS AND NEW BEGINNINGS

It was a chuppah MENACHEM HERMAN will never forget

Chuppahs are often a time for overflowing emotions, even for the hired musicians. Guitarist Menachem Herman remembers one particular wedding overlooking the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, where both the musicians and the guests were affected when the kallah’s grandfather spoke under the chuppah — and broke down in tears.

 

“I was in the concentration camps,” the elderly man said. “Death loomed large. It seemed to be the end of the Jewish People. If someone would have told me that 70 years later I would be standing in the Old City of Jerusalem, looking at these holy walls, I would have thought they had gone insane. But here I am. 

At my granddaughter’s wedding. And may everything else that we are all hoping for come true in our days.”

 

 
Rewind

If you could press a button and redo one thing in your musical career, what would you change before hitting Play?


Singer Shloime Gertner
“If I could rewind and do something differently, I think I would have wanted to study music more intensely and understand it better. I play music, and I keep going to guitar and music lessons, but I don’t ‘own’ any musical instrument.
” Instead of an instrument, Gertner invested in his voice; he’s been taking regular voice lessons since age 15. “Voice training has always been important to me. When I was in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael I sold my keyboard — which I had schlepped along from London — for 1,200 shekel, in order to pay for 12 more voice lessons. I was learning to play piano at that time, but I thought that the voice training came first.” It was a difficult dilemma, and a decision which Gertner wonders about until today. 
“Perhaps it was the wrong choice, because there’s nothing like really ‘owning’ an instrument. I think a deeper grasp of music theory could make my own compositions better. Then again, maybe I would never have achieved that dedication to practicing an instrument anyway. At this stage of the game, between my nature and my travels and my household, I think it’s not going to happen.”


SingerYisroel Werdyger
Choosing songs for an album is a risky game, says Werdyger. “Hindsight is always 20/20, but when a song you reject becomes a huge hit, you think to yourself, ‘Hey, why did I say no?’ You have to remember that, our machinations aside, every song has its intended address from Hashem.
The song I’m specifically talking about is Pinchas Breier’s ‘Ribbon Haolamim,’ which Avraham Fried made famous. I rejected it.”

 


Singer Yumi Lowy
“Yaaleh Veyavo,” on Lowy’s Ahavas Hashem debut album, was composed by Yossi Green and it’s fine, neo-classical musical arrangements were written by Leib Yaakov Rigler. Listeners would never notice, but the singer says that every time he hears it, he feels that something is missing. “The melody of ‘Yaaleh’ goes up a whole key in between Parts A and B, and Leib Yaakov indicated that I should sing along with the modulation. But when we recorded the vocals, that part just got omitted. Every time I listen to the song, the missing vocal strikes me.”



Producer Sheya Mendlowitz
The technological side of music has changed unrecognizably in the digital age. So is everything better now? “Not necessarily,” says Sheya Mendlowitz. The veteran producer says that he would rewind some of that progress if he could. “In my humble, personal opinion, there are downsides to the way we do things today. Today, you record the whole cycle of a song with the choir, and then, in layman’s terms, you ‘cut and paste’ it onto the track, Once with harmony, once without, etc. In the olden days you had to actually sing the full song. I think that was more real. Also, it gave more chance for creativity because every time you sang the song it made you more creative. Today’s method can lead to a robotic feel.” 
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 694)

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