Monday, December 26, 2011

Behind The Story-No Matter Where You Roam + Giveaway

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The feedback on this post and this post motivated me to prepare another "Behind The Music" post tonight. We had a busy week filled with Chanukah parties and vacation time well spent but we'll get to that a little later. Right now, take a walk with me down memory lane to seven years ago, the Kinus Ha'Shluchos Melavah Malkah in Crown Heights. (This story has a nice Chanukah connection by the way so it's really perfect for right now) .

I vaguely remember the phone call I got with the invitation to come sing. Instead, all I can remember is the mix of fear, anxiety and full fledged panic I felt in the days leading up to the convention. A bonafide performer at this point, I had enough material, experience and courage to perform in front of such a large crowd. The problem was that I had not fully embraced my complete potential as a singer, and was seriously lacking in the 'speaking' department. The songs were beautiful, I knew. They moved people like they moved me. But I had trouble with the whole 'show business' aspect of my career and I believed that introducing the songs with bravado would create a distance between me and my audience. I know now, the complete opposite is true.
I will tell you that the most difficult part of being a singer, is having to sing when people in the audience are talking. And it's not because my voice is being drowned out by chatter, or that I feel uncomfortable baring my soul to a distracted few, but mostly because of the disappointment I feel for the song itself that is slowly losing its chance to make a proper presentation. A true music lover knows that a good song is all of its components. The lyrics, the melody, the music, the introduction, the middle and the ending, all play an active role in creating an emotional, visceral experience that is usually all of four minutes long! So when the introduction is missed and the first verses ignored, the entire song is compromised. A good singer becomes the song they sing and this can be a very devastating experience.
The secret is in the introduction of the song. The right introduction will rope in the audience and have them eager to hear the song that you speak of, the song so full of meaning and enlightenment, it can change their life. They just don't know it yet. 

At the Kinus Ha'Shluchos I truly experienced the power I held in my hands for the first time. 
The time slot I had been allotted allowed me three songs and one was called "No Matter Where You Roam" from the "The Crown of Creation" album. I had rewritten the words to an old camp 'alma matter' and never once investigated the story behind the song. Now tell me, would you want to hear a song from a singer who had no idea who and what she was singing about? I did some investigating and a few phone calls later I was hearing the real story behind the song.

I've shared this many-a-times since that night but the real short version goes something like this (as recounted by Mrs. Deren, Shlucha in Stamford Ct.)

In the college town of Amherst Massachusetts, a secular student became a regular Shabbos guest at the on- campus Shluchim. Over time he developed a close relationship with the Shliach and returned to his Jewish roots, becoming fully observant and eventually a Rabbi and Shliach in his own right. The song was written by a Yeshiva student who had witnessed this transformation while spending the summer at the Chabad House. Inspired by this student's journey he wrote the song "No Matter Where You Roam" which I, thirty years later, rewrote and extended. (Very short version of a very long story, but this is a blog not a book).

"I would tell you the name of this student cum Shliach but his wife will be attending the conference" Mrs. Deren concluded. 

Powerful stuff huh? I had almost sung a song inspired by the husband of one of the women in the room and had come to close to not knowing it. I shared this exact story and has the entire crowd up on their feet clapping hard and loud. It didn't come easy, I memorized the introductions word for word but today it comes naturally, b'h and I am thankful to the circumstances and people that helped me get get past this obstacle in my career.

The original song: 
In a small college town/There was a young man feeling down/His future was uncertain/"Oh, what will become of me?"/A Chabad house is nearby/The young man gives a try/"Maybe direction there I can find/And have peace of mind."/He discusses yiddishkeit/All through the night/But he cries, "I don't belong/I am too far gone."/The Shliach says, "Not true,/Hegam shechoto yisrael hu/No matter where you roam/you can always come back home".

My version you can get here. 

But the story doesn't end here. This story helped write another one. Or maybe this story just has two chapters. Either way here is the second part.

When I was first married and living in Israel, I was invited to sing for a Chanukah party in Tel Aviv. I had to be persuaded because singing to an all Hebrew speaking crowd really limited my song selection. 
With Shlucha in Tel Aviv Mindi Schmerling
I reluctantly agreed and proceeded to sing every last Hebrew song I ever knew. The women enjoyed, singing a long and I was pretty impressed with my versatility. After an hour, I wrapped up the kumzitz with the song "No Matter Where You Roam". There was not much reaction from the Israelis but in any case I gave it my all.

The next day Mindi's mother Hindy Gorlitsky called and with much excitement thanked me for entertaining. She then told me that there had been a new face at the party, a young Australian traveler who had stopped in randomly to the Rechov Shenkin Chabad House hoping to find a place to hear Menorah lighting that night. She had slipped into the room just as I was singing "No Matter Where You Roam" and cried the whole song through. She didn't promise to return but "you never know" were Hindy's exact words. Clearly, the song has a life of it's own and unbeknownst to me it had quite possibly changed a life.  
And it was THIS story that inspired one of my most popular songs "Run Run Run Away" which if you've heard it, you know has a short throwback to the song "No Matter Where You Roam". Epic as my friend Tzurty always says. Or maybe just another Chanukah miracle. Either way, a song written over thirty years ago, touches so many people for years to come. Cuz a good song is more than just a song. So the next time you sit before a singer who has a song to sing, let it be heard because you never know. Maybe it it was written for you.
We have been having a wonderful Chanukah week. Shabbos brought our favorite friends as guests who in turn brought these gorgeous flowers I have been enjoying since.
The kids are home from school. Enter ipad.
We attended our Shul's annual children's Chanukah party and outdoor candle lighting event. We may or may not have been the first people there. It's a long day until 2:30 when you're all of two and four years old. 
Love how they shift from foot to foot while they wait for the light.
Busted. We  so were the first ones there.
My sister Shulamis and my niece Layla.
I love a good face paint and Hadassa knew exactly what she wanted for herself. She waited on line, considered her options and then pointed out what she chose. Now just for the record, when we were kids we had the one, the only "Mama Clown" at all our birthday parties. Mama Clown is the BEST face painter ever. She actually wrote a BOOK about face painting so when I tell you Penina is awesome, I know what I'm talking about.
She didn't disappoint.

 Yaffa didn't have her face painted. She had other things on her agenda.
 It was a blast. Friends, family, face paint, a hilarious magician and donuts galore. What more does a Chanukah party need?
Today we spent outdoors, breaking out the winter boots and bracing the chill. The kids loved it but this Florida girl resigned after an hour. 
So we headed home for an afternoon indoors that involved a recipe for spelt donuts and one little Chanukah related accident that forced me to wash the floors a few days early. Nisht geferlach.
 A little olive oil is good for a wood floor I say. And totally worth it for these babies. (That taste better than they look, promise). All in all it, like every Chanukah before it, it was a meaningful,  miraculous (that no one got hurt in the aftermath of this accident) time.
Congratulations to commentor Nechama who won the Rebbetzin Tap Videos and Marvelous Middos Machine. Please email me your contact info to
*All comments are added up and numbered, then entered in a random number generator.

Today's giveaway is sponsored by Dini's Bracelets.  These bracelets are gorgeous, luminescent and perfect for little girls. My kids got them as Chanukah presents this year. One random commentor on this post will win this beautiful bracelet. 
Have a great week.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Weekend In Miami With N'shei Chabad

* 'Join the Site' and leave a comment to be included in Giveaway Monday
Whenever I visit Miami, I return with a pillage of books from my childhood. This trip is no different. My girls were up at six this morning and we spend some time under the staircase stacking piles that we can squeeze into our suitcases. Slowly but surely I hope to reclaim the entire library. (*Note to self-buy more bookcases).
We wasted no time unpacking toys and getting dressed up. If it wasn't so early in the morning I would've been super adorable. But it was barely 7:45 before they demanded access to their dolls, carriages and scooters.
We've taken over my mother's house again. You know how it goes. The more space, the more mess. We're loving the opportunity to play in a kitchen that's the size of my entire New York apartment.

Sound checks and rehearsals are a necessary part of the performing process that I generally have little patience for. Friday, Rivkah and I met at the Eden Rock for a quick run through. I had yet to prepare my song set and the mood in the hall was frantic as the staff worked quickly to set up for the bruncheon. My guitar was completely out of tune and the sound system was boomy and grating. I attempted to get though a song or two before I wrapped it up. "I'm just not feeling it." I told Rafael. "I'm not even sure what I am singing yet!". After 6 years in the "Chanale business" Rafael knows the dynamics of a perfect concert and as long as the acoustics in the room are under control he knows when to leave well enough alone.
Don't take it personally guys. 
But sometimes I just need to see the crowd so that I can snap into it. 
That's better.

Rivkah started the concert with a performance accompanied by Mirele Rosenberger. In her Australian accent she sang like a bird, her sweet voice filling the hall and getting the high school girls up to the front of the room and singing. Rivkah's album "In Your Hands" is on our top ten list and it was such a breath of fresh air for me to see her perform. I honestly love her songs and it was a nice change of pace for me to be on the receiving end of the stage. She totally delivered and I was almost reluctant to switch from audience member to performer.
Some weeks are busier than others and last night followed a series of singing engagements that kept my entire week booked solid. But not all concerts are created equal. As the night unfolded I become more and more aware that this one was to go down in the books.
It was perfection. 
This is the kind of night I dream about. Actually, this is the kinda night all performers dream about. It all came full circle for me last night. A proud Florida girl, the crowd was full to the brim with familiar faces a myriad of cousins, aunts, and extended family. My mother and grandmother beamed from the table closest to the stage, and my kid sister clapped and cheered from the 'teen section' along with all her classmates and friends.
 I recognized many of my elementary school teachers and principals, spotted a few camp counselors, and was amazed at how many friends and classmates were staring back at me. I made a joke about 'not being the slightest bit intimidated' but between me and you I was nothing less than overwhelmed, overjoyed and possibly even a little shell-shocked that less than a week prior to this moment I had no idea I would even be in Miami for Shabbos. Hashem planned this one out because there was no other place I belonged at that moment and I felt the love in return.
It was a finger-snapping, hand-clapping, sheitel-flippin', grand ol' time.
Alison and Chani! Love you girls!
 When Rivkah and I took the stage together, Mirele kvelled.
I should mention that by this time, it was close to midnight on a Motzei Shabbos following an absolutely jam packed schedule of entertainment for these women. But they danced the night away, resulting in one of the latest shows I've ever had. They wouldn't quit and we farbrenged, in song and dance till well after one a.m. But who's watching the clock when history is being made.
 Fifty years of N'shei Chabad. Singing with Rivkah. In Miami. Enough said.
Congratulations to commentors Leora who won the Cutco knife and Sheva who won the "Touch and Feel Books"Please email me your contact info to
*All comments are added up and numbered, then entered in a random number generator.
And now, I am ecstatic to share with you one of my favorite Jewish blogs. In the last few months I have developed some true friendships with other writers, speakers and musicians through my blog and theirs. One of my regular stops is Life In The Married Lane by Rivkie Silver. A trained musician, Ba'alas Chesed and brilliant mother and wife, she is the entire package and I'm looking forward to meeting her in the near future. She has so much to share and I am getting under her umbrella. She also hooked you gals up with a "Taking Over My Heart" review and GIVEAWAY. Head over to her page and tell her why you love listening to music to enter. Wait until the house is quiet, you're gonna want to read it all in one sitting.

This week I am headed to the West Coast to shoot a promotional video with my sponsor Milano Wigs. I am  beyond excited. Drop me a line if you're in LA this week. We'll have coffee.

Now for our Monday Giveaway.
I am sure I have mentioned our obsession with Rebbetzin Tap. 
I'm not gonna lie. One of the best parts of being away is getting a break from the constant stream of RT in our house. My girls watch it every single day. If you have girls under 10, nieces or siblings, this is an adorable video set that has GREAT music. Plus I'm gonna throw in the new Marvelous Middos Machine. Great media package. Just JOIN THIS SITE and leave me a comment. What's going on by you this weekend?

I'll be back Thursday with a Chanukah in California post!