Friday, August 31, 2012

A "Chazaka" in Monroe.

Three times I've sung for the women of Woodridge, Monroe now. First time (I can't find the pictures this minute, probably on a hard drive, certainly in a photo book somewhere), second time and now again this summer. I told them straight up that it's officially a "chazaka" and I am stuck with them forever and ever. Luckily they didn't seem too concerned about that which is good, cuz I love them all too. Some pictures and a little video.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rockin' The Boat!

I haven't been updating the blog, pretty busy with some other projects (one that may or may not be a 100 page photo book of my 2011-2012) but the last few concerts have been too good not to share. This week was a the ATime Fundraiser on the Cornucopia Princess. The ship was taken out to sea (ok, ok to RIVER) to host 250 women from all corners of Monroe, Williamsburg and Boro Park. It was a gorgeous night on the water and while the women were seltzered and dined, I had a change to take a mini vacation on the top deck of the boat. It was glorious! Too bad bedtime for my little 'uns falls right bout the same time as sunset every night. 
The fundraiser was hosted by a fabulous group of women who while I do bedtime, are arranging Gemilus Chasadim for countless grateful Jewish women going through infertility. One woman shared her story, and the the letter she wrote to her premie baby, that had all of us in tears before the main course was even served. All I can think was "Mi K'Amcha Yisroel" who care for one another like we do!  Then there was a comedienne that jumped in to get everyone back in the mood and then I took over and got the ladies singing and dancing. I don't think I can adequately describe what it feels like to sing to so many elegant ladies (think pearls and scarves) so upclose and personally. There was not much space for a "stage" but the Chasidishe crowd is always super warm and excited and I feel right at home with them. It was a great time and before I knew it we were docked and it was all over. I got a few blurry pics of on my ipad I can share but otherwise, you really had to be there to experience the magic of the night. 

 We moved a lot of cds to say the least...
After debarking there was a line to get cds. I was inside but a friend emailed me this awesome picture.
Last night I got an invitation to sing in Monroe next week. What can I say, these women know how to have a good time;-). A great way to wrap up a peaceful New York summer. (I have mentioned once or twice how obsessed I am with summer in Brooklyn right?). I leave you with a video clip and a picture of me a "sister and a favorite friend".

Monday, August 20, 2012

From Moscow to Manhattan

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Quick Catch Up

The music never stops.

Mazal Tov to my Bas Mitzvah girls this month! Every party was beautiful, with gorgeous tables and centerpieces, and festivities that were not limited to pink feathers, a musical birthday cake, purim mask painting, endless sushi and pretty, pretty party dresses!!) At each party I was touched by the adorable slide shows and perfectly poised Bas Mitzvah girls delivering their speeches with confidence. And for that reason, Bas Mitzvah parties are my favorite venues these days...

Thank you for having me,

Toby Leverton

Sara Lazar
Estie Greenbaum
Nana Zarchi

Rivky Taichman
(Rivky, send me the pictures so I can post them here!)

There were also Purim Parties with spirited high school girls,
Singing Sisters,
Double 3rd Birthday Parties,

and casting for the new Mitzvah Boulevard video.

Hadassa and Yaffa, seasoned actresses by now!!
All in all it's been busy and wonderful.

This week I'm headed to Detroit for the Jewish Women's Circle Gala hosted by Zeesy Silberberg. I always look forward to making new friends in new towns, so see you soon in West Bloomfield.

I'll be back with some more top ten lists, and a full review of "A Jewish Star" concert later this week.
Enjoy the gorgeous weather. My tree should be in full bloom any day now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Ten Albums Every Jewish Music Collection Must Have

This list contains some of my favorite Jewish music from the 80s and 90s. I hope to compile a list that contains some more recent material so if you have suggestions please free to leave a comment.

Tzlil V'zemer "Let Us Grow"

In the last ten years, auto-tune has become a staple in every recording studio, turning mediocre singers into great ones and resulting in dozens of "singers", that live on stage, couldn't sing their way out of a paper bag. In my opinion, auto-tune's biggest victim has been the boys choir. Once upon a time, London School, Miami Boys, and Tlil V'zemer were made up of raw talent. I discovered everything beautiful about Jewish music in these albums from the gorgeous harmonies, meaningful songs and mostly from the soloist whose sweet voices sang about Torah and Yiddishkeit honestly and innocently. Voices were distinguishable and personalities were developed, resulting in an obsession with the superstar singers.  (Who can forget Ari Goldwag and Nachum Stark in "Meheira"). Today, in my opinion, every boys choir album, while steller in production, composition and arrangement, is mostly interchangeable and sound exactly the same. Boy's voices are tuned to virtually unattainable notes until they become robots singing in keys often impossible for a human ear to hear. If not for the music videos, I don't thing we would recognize one child's voice from the next. (There are a few exceptions but very very few.) "Let Us Grow" and "Together Again" are real examples of the Jewish Boys Choir and two of my favorite albums of all time.

Avraham Fried-Bracha V'Hatzlacha

Although I don't count on my memory on a general basis, I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Avraham Fried's song "Don't Hide From Me". I remember stopping in my tracks and taking in the unique melody. The tune was original, the concept creative and the chord changes fresh and exciting. The entire album marked a turning point in Chasidic music and was groundbreaking in its 'modern meets traditional' sound. I sing "Yerushalayim" at Bas Mitzvahs and it gets me happy every time. With not one filler, this album contains hit after hit and should be a reference point for everyone there creating Chasidic music.

Mordechai Bed David-Tamid B'Simcha

Mordechai Ben David reminds me of the actor who is nominated so often for an Oscar that is simply doesn't matter whether he wins or not. He is that good, and while there are many imitators, there is no competition. Tamid B'Simcha brought us one of the most lyrically satisfying English songs of our time, cramming decades of history into a English song (and Hebrew version) called simply "Yerushalayim". You would think learning the words would be a challenge but when this cd came out everyone knew them by heart. The bright trumpets at the intro of the song announced you were in for a good time which is exactly what this entire album brings to the table. A good time, unadulterated and authentic.


Those of you who know the know infamous Yalili song by heart, you know the lyric "Yossi Avi, Hu Sefardi, Yom Ha'Shmini, Ashkenazi". Now with all due respect, comparing The Piamentas to the Marcus Brothers is like comparing Jimmy Hendrix to the Osmonds. Both talented but in totally different leagues. Combining hard rock and traditional sefardic music the Piamenta brothers proved to be the most talented, authentic, raw and unbridled musicians (and performers) in Jewish music history. The sounds of their flute and electric guitar solos are instantly recognizable and the songs "Ashar Bara" and "Siman Tov" are as original today as they were when they came out (Granted Ashar Bara was a remake of a secular song, the Piamentas delivery completely changed the feeling and purpose of the melody).

Michoel Streicher 

Mentioning Micheol Streicher today and you will be met with mostly a blank face. For whatever reason, when we were kids Streicher was all the rage and "The Whole Truth" played over and over in our house. I even remember going to his concert when he came to Miami. And he was great. Listening over to some clips today I realize what the excitement was about.  I suppose back in the day when mostly Avraham Fried and MBD represented Chasidic music, Streicher's music managed to make its mark by carving out it's own niche that leaned over to the Yeshivish market. Secondly and more importantly, his voice is just beautiful on this album.  On the  "Chazanus" track (and I am not a Chazanus person) he sings like an angel. One more thing that makes this album so great. It's a total throw back to the eighties with synths and pads all through out the songs. Beautiful songs, great trip down memory lane for anyone in their 30s.

Sholom Simcha 

The only time I ever interacted with Shlomo Simcha was a few years when he got in touch with me regarding one of my songs "Esa Aini" that he was considering for his new album. I am not sure if that album ever came out or not but I can tell you that if he was only to put out one album in his career (he didn't)"That Special Melody" would suffice. With a stunning, super sweet voice, his album showcases his pure voice and he rolls his "rayshes" like a pro. Mostly slow, Hebrew songs, the songs are piano driven, rich and melodic. He is great on the fast songs as well and you will be surprised to learn that "Visamachta" and "Eliyahu Hanavi" on this album are his. "That Special Melody" is a great English song, simple, uncomplicated and to the point.


In my mother's house, in the piano bench there is a Dveykus songbook. As a kid I played them all and today know that there is not a song in there that is not absolutely epic. Lev Tahor, Kol B'rama, In A Vinkale (also known as Tateh Tateh, Shwekey's version), Na'ar Hayisi, the list goes on and on. Granted this production and singing style on the album is very dated, the songs have been thoroughly incorporated into the index of Jewish music and are still sung in camps, schools and choirs around the world. A remake of these works would be incredible and long overdue.

Journeys II

Moshe Yess and Abi Rottenberg, in my opinion are the Simon and Garfunkel of Jewish music. Although they don't sing together, they are both natural story tellers that don't over sing the material and let the story do the talking. This masterpiece shows off some of their best writing in this album on works such as the stirring "Neshomale" heart-wrenching"Memories" and deliciously moving "Teardrops". Every song is a treat that children and adults can enjoy.

Shlomo Carlbach-Songs Of My Soul

No jewish song list would be complete without at least one album of Shlomo Carlbach. Although I don't play his music often his older songs are a Kumzitz staple and like I like to say "With 3 chords and the truth, you can play anything." "Songs of My Soul" is a great place to start if you are a Shlomo newbie.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Voices of Eternity" Bais Rivkah Production Review

Last night I went with my daughter to see the Bais Rivkah play "Voices For Eternity". At almost 5 years old and quick as a whip, I knew she would absorb every moment and digest it thoroughly. What I didn't know is how much I would enjoy the show, but lo and behold, an unexpected lump in my throat rose at the first scene where it stayed until the incredible finale.

An out of towner, I spent my high school years in Bais Rivkah Montreal as well as many summers in Camp Emunah in the Catskills and let me tell you, nothing establishes  a student's long-term positive feelings towards an establishment than a supportive staff that encourages the girls creativity and unique contributions in the arts and theater department (phew). I have written scripts, sung and conducted choirs, composed songs, medleys and even choreographed a few dances in my days.The experience is always the same. It starts with an enthusiastic "let's make a show" and ends with an intense, tear inducing, drama-filled (backstage that is) bank-draining, friendship bonding, memory-making experience that culminates in a spiritual and physical high that is the finale (phew again).

Years ago, I worked on a choir for the Bais Rivkah Crown Heights production, a medley of past years' finales. At the time it was a challenge for me to combine all the different songs into one flowing piece and manage the harmony and rhythm changes. But I worked it out (with the help of Chaim Fogelman who created the musical playbacks) and the result was incredible (not to toot my own horn, but that night many claimed it was the highlight of the show). A few girls have even approached me recently to tell me they remember being part of that choir. I can't say I remember the rest of the production but the experience working with the girls was wonderful and made me feel young and exuberant again.

Last night I yearned for that feeling again.

We had 2nd row seats for the 6pm show and came early enough to watch the hall fill rapidly up to it's capacity of 1500 seats. Now keep in mind, the play went on 4 times in the last 4 days. So you do the math. It's not easy to fill every seat in such a large hall 4 times in a row so that in itself proves an awesome point. But more on that later.

I admit I was slightly dreading the drama parts of the play. I love me a good musical, but the acting usually brings out the ADD in me so I was thrilled to discover that the entire play consisted of singing and dancing, song after song, dance after dance. Thanks to the 2 large screens that portrayed the lyrics and filmed scene fillers, the story was clear, easy to follow and thoroughly engaging. Rosa leaves war-ravaged Europe for America and remains conflicted between her parent's traditions and the new world's promises. She takes a job at a sweat-shop where her rigid boss (yay Liba!) refuses her a day off for Shabbos. Through song and dance, she struggles with her faith and ultimately admits to her self that the Frideker Rebbe's words are her final reality: "America is nisht andersh". The sweat-shop burns down and her physical and spiritual life are saved.

The storyline was simple but the lyrics were rich, the dances adorable, the costumes vibrant and creative. Amazingly the entire show was set to Nigunei Chabad and thanks to the incredible patience and talents of Chony Milecki and Benshimon Studios, never stepped over into the cliched territory I disdain so much.

Like every other Chabad peulah, the play had a clear and fundamental lesson for each and every one of us to take away. As the entire school sang together in the finale: "No America is nit andersh, Torah for all times, yes it is through Yiddishkeit that freedom we will find! March the streets with pride, Menorah's light outside, Heads held high, Geon Yaakov..." The girls sang it loud and proud, like they meant it and understood the message perfectly.  And I am sure they did because I felt that proud too.

Granted the choirs and soloists were pre-recorded (a nightmare to orchestrate by the way), the timing was impeccable, not one girl missed her cue, took a misstep or forgot her lines. Now is a good time to mention there were 500 girls in the show. FIVE HUNDRED. I recognized girls from my choir club, babysitters and cousins children, each one beautiful and confident in their role. I cryed, I laughed and I mostly kvelled.

Bais Rivkah you outdid yourself and like I whispered in Hadassa's ear during the show "I am so happy that you are a Bais Rivkah girl, cuz one day you will be up there too!"

Amazing, amazing, amazing!!
Bais Rivkah Montreal Production 1996