She was being given another chance at the conversation, and even though it was all music, this was her husband, her Shuey
"Here’s to second chances,” Henny thought, even though it was the most clichéd phrase ever and she would never actually articulate it. Shuey would look at her strangely and smile, not even sure what she meant.
Last night, he’d wanted to talk about the music in yeshivah and for whatever reason — her fault, his fault, their fault, whatever — the conversation had hit an early snag and they’d ended up sitting quietly for a bit and then talking about seminary options for Malka. It was still fall, but Henny wanted to know where to apply.
A conversation meant Shuey leaning forward, his eyes bright, his words tripping over each other. But last night’s seminary wasn’t a conversation, it was just words. Yes, Israel was much more expensive, but wasn’t it worth it? No, not just for shidduchim, the experience itself. This one sent, that one didn’t send, the third isn’t sure. Okay, whatever you think. Silence.
Normally when Shuey came home for the night, he was out before dawn, eager to be back in yeshivah, but this time he davened down the block, then came home and asked her if she wanted to go out for breakfast. She wasn’t due at work until eleven, and even though she’d been planning to run to Target, she said sure.
She was being given another chance at the conversation, and even though it was all music, this was her husband, her Shuey.
So they sat in Toasted, Shuey with his traditional bagel and eggs — he had no use for sourdough bread and avocado toast — she with just a coffee. Henny had never been good at ordering when meals were sprung on her as last-minute surprises; she needed time to ask around and think. So she sipped contentedly, watching Shuey, his shoulders relaxed, yarmulke sliding forward as he spoke and spoke and spoke.
“So Shlomo Bass? He’s this really quiet kid, a broken home matzav.” He pursed his lips for a moment. “Anyhow, so we finally got the song down pat, I told you all about the back and forth, I taught them my ‘Aromimcha,’ you know it, and I was getting all into it. It would be nice to get that song out there, and it woke up good memories for me, you know?”
Good morning. Did she know? Ha.
“So the song was sort of flat, like we had some okay harmonies, and some of the guys play instruments, but it wasn’t alive. Nothing that Benjy or Hirsch or one of these super arrangers can’t dress up, but we have zero budget, we’re not investing a penny in this, right? Anyhow, I was trying to make the best of it, even though the whole thing is bedieved.”
She knew this. He was testing the waters. He still dreamed of a comeback.
“So the guys told me that it was kedai to not just bring in Bass, but really get him to care. They tainehed that he’s a major talent, that he could make a difference. First I thought, why not, more of a chinuch thing, be mechazek a bochur and all that.”
Oh, she thought, you’re on the chinuch staff now? Of course, she said nothing. She was getting good at it.
“Okay, so I play Bass the song alone, and he asks me if he can think about it overnight, listen a bit, and I’m like, ‘Relax, all of a sudden you’re Moish Macher?’ But okay, whatever.”
He reached for his phone, eager to play something. She looked around to make sure there was no one she knew there and hoped the volume wasn’t all the way up.
“You know what?” he said. “Let’s go to the car, where you can really appreciate it, let’s pay and get out of here.”
She wasn’t going to go there, the memories of a different time when he would bring her to the car to hear a demo, the file before it was mixed, and then the final. Not in the house. The kids might come in. The phone might ring.
She smiled vaguely at a woman she recognized — the nurse from Dr. Foxman’s — and followed him to the car.
Before pressing play, Shuey needed to give her a little intro.
“So this Bass kid, listen to what he did for me. Even before the music or intro, he had the idea of starting out with just one voice singing as a solo, la-la, dum-dum, you know, we used Harari for it, he has an amazing voice. Then we brought in a second voice, then a third, and we had Wagner doing low harmony and then we segue into the intro. He did this in his room, no studio, no nothing. It will be amazing when we have the real music and sound, this is very rough. Just the brilliance itself, though, is amazing.”
Shuey pressed play, but then stopped it after ten seconds. “Now listen, he took the same idea and did it in reverse toward the end — to keep repeating the chorus and drop one of the harmonies each time, leaving us just the guitar and voice…”
She listened. It was beautiful, even if it was rough and a bit scratchy.
It had potential, she thought, and then felt a tremor. She was scared. What if it took off?
“And Bass, he’s like, yeah, the words are nice, but we need to add English words too, something to give it that vibe, so after ‘Hashem Elokai l’olam odeka,’ he added, ‘I’m gonna sing Your praises forever and ever’ and then he wants the ‘ever and ever’ to be like an answering harmony to ‘l’olam odeka.’ The whole day, Hen, guys are walking around the beis medrash or dorm, wherever, singing ‘forever and ever.’ It’s amazing. He’s amazing.”
She closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat. “Wow, Shuey, this is really something. Let me hear the whole thing now, from start to finish.”
He was pleased, and hit play. “Okay, for now, it’s lots of Wagner and Harari, but in the final, we’ll have a menschlich choir and better solos, this is just for now.”
She tried to let the song fill her mind as he started driving, but a new question popped up. Who were the better solos? Did he mean the same boys singing, just in the studio this time? Other boys? Was it him? Was this going to be his single? Shuey Portman is back?
He was driving with one hand on the steering wheel, happy and confident, and she couldn’t help but notice that he turned on Cedarbridge and passed by the large parking lot where, at the far end, the Three-Star warehouse sat. It might have been a coincidence, but it might also have been that Shuey was feeling triumphant and to him, this was a little celebration. He’d left it behind and climbed back into the industry he loved.
“Forever and ever and ever,” Shuey sang with the chorus and she smiled, as if she were equally engaged.
“It’s really something, Shuey, and I’m sure it’s so special for the bochurim, to be part of this. I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks,” he said and smiled warmly. “I wanted you to hear it first, and now I can go back and get to work. I’ll just run into the house to get my laptop and I’m off. See you Thursday night im yirtzeh Hashem.”
She could talk to her husband about anything, without thinking three times before opening her mouth. Music was the one area where she was always unsure.
“I can’t wait to hear the finished product,” she said.
“Yep,” he nodded enthusiastically.
“Shuey, who’ll be singing the main solos when it’s done?”
He looked at her oddly. “What do you mean? Me. Who else?”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 831)
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