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This is Who I Am

Sometimes a hit single can have as powerful an impact as an entire album. Three new singles have become this winter’s staples. Are you humming along yet?


When YITZY WALDNER received a text from Shmuli Grunberger suggesting that the Jewish music world needs another song with the words from Tehillim 119, “Ma ahavti Torasecha, kol hayom hi sichasi” and “Zeidim helitzuni ad me’od, miToras’cha lo natisi,” it took him a few months to come up with the right concept. But once the melody and English lyrics came to him, things moved fast. Shmuli then reached out to Torah Umesorah, offering the song to be presented at their Presidents’ Conference the last week in December. They loved the idea, but that left only ten days to make it all happen: arrangements, recording instruments and vocals, mixing, mastering, and production. Eight days later, with two days to spare, the song was arranged by Avrumi Berko and recorded by Yitzy, together with additional vocals by child soloist Yehuda Grunberger, Shmuli’s son. (Yitzy didn’t feel well on the day he recorded it, but it was only in retrospect that he found out he’d been singing through Covid.) The song, named “TORAH’S WHO I AM,” was first presented at the Presidents’ Conference, and received almost 11,000 streams in its first week.


Not only does ZANVIL WEINBERGER have the vocal ability of a star soloist and the charisma to ignite his crowd, he also has the range and voice control usually associated with chazzanus. That’s why he’s the perfect fit for Hershy Weinberger’s composition “BORCHU,” which incorporates musical themes from the traditional Yom Tov evening “Borchu” — he brings the familiar chazzan-congregation interaction into a fresh musical experience. As his voice resonates with artistry and control in the niggun-only intro to Borchu, he’s answered by full Malchus choir vocals. Two months ago, Zanvil’s son was taken ill with an unknown virus while he was away working in New York. The song “Borchu” is dedicated to thanking Hashem for his son’s complete recovery.


Doni Gross is used to fresh and exciting ideas coming his way in voice notes from JOEY NEWCOMB, but when he heard how Joey sent the high part of a song in just one note, even he was surprised. “I thought it was cool, and suggested maybe we keep the whole song in just one note. Joey wrote a three-part song where each part is one note, and we included guitar and sax solos of just one note,” Doni says of Joey’s ONE NOTE NIGGUN, admitting that he put various harmonies behind the one-note melodies of each section to enrich the niggun so it wouldn’t lack musicality.

Joey came up with English words that offer food for thought on the one-note concept. “Sometimes you may feel like one little note who’s insignificant… When you put yourself in Klal Yisrael you’ll start to hear that song, and even though you’re only one little note, your note becomes so strong….” Easy to learn and catch on to (there’s only one note), the song, since its release just a few weeks ago, is being shared and sung at kumzitzes and yeshivah events.


YITZY BALD was just a teenager when he wrote the high part of his song, “Sameach.” He didn’t even have words for it, just “Di Di Dai Dai Dai Dai Dai Dai Dai Dai...Di Di Dai...”

“It took me five years to compose a low part to complete the song, but after many tries, I had something that fit,” he remembers. “Finally, I came up with a beginning verse melody, a catchy intro, and I added the words, “Sameach sameach tesamach, rayim ha’ahuvim ahuvim...”

At that time, composer/producer/arranger Yitzy Bald, who has written some of Jewish music’s most popular songs over the last three decades, was working with Sruly Williger on his 1994 album, “The Voice of a New Generation.”

“I had composed seven songs for the album,” he says, “including ‘Hu Klal Gadol BaTorah’ and the famous slow song ‘Tatte.’ We were almost finished recording when I showed him ‘Sameach.’ He loved the song, but the two more experienced producers/arrangers we were working with — Sruly and I were really young at the time — didn’t think so highly of it and didn’t think the album needed it.”

So Sameach was left off, but a year later, it propelled Mendy Wald’s 1995 debut album to 30,000 in sales, a mega hit at that time. “Every song has its address, and every song has its time,” Yitzy says. “If I had finished the song earlier, it most definitely would have been included on some earlier project and might have fallen through the cracks.”

"Another time, one summer day in Camp Torah Vodaas in 1986 or 1987, I was jamming with a friend and drummer, Uri Zutler, singing a song I had written,” Yitzy relates. “Shloime Dachs came in and loved the song. Shloime was a counselor and a few years older than I was, but I knew him because we had both been in the Tzlil V’zemer choir a few years before. Shloime recorded a demo of the song on a cassette tape — he had a great voice — and passed it on to a friend of his, Aharon Zutler (Uri’s brother), who played it for Yerachmiel Begun. I was amazed when I got a call from Yerachmiel Begun, who was then newly married and had already put out a few Miami Boys Choir albums. When we met, Yerachmiel told me he wanted to buy my songs and commented, ‘You should know that these are 20 years ahead of their time.’

“I was young, and I sold the songs cheap, but I did add a line to the contract stipulating that the songs had to be used within two years. I knew that if he’d take them and not use them, I’d be stuck. Well, some of those songs made their way to other albums when the two years were up, but the most famous one that Yerachmiel did release was the one Shloime Dachs had heard in camp: ‘Pischu li… zeh hashaar, zeh hashaar laHashem, tzaddikim, tzaddikim yavo’u vo….’ It was my first song presented in public when it was sung at the Miami Experience concert in 1990, and on the Miami Experience 1 album the following year. And the singer? Who else, but Shloime Dachs?”

My Favorite English Lyrics

“Keep climbing, don’t let nothing stand in your way/Keep believing, pay no attention to what they say/Up is where you want to go...” Avraham Fried’s song “Keep Climbing” is a long-time favorite of mine. I’m working right now on recording an upcoming album which incorporates medleys of older songs, and I’m definitely singing “Keep Climbing” in the English medley.

—Moshe Tischler


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 998)

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