"He said, 'Play it again!' He was yelling, 'Keep playing it!' until he had all the lyrics to the song 'Kol Beramah' worked out"
It was 1970. I was in Manchester Yeshivah and visiting relatives in London when I heard that there was a guy there called Yigal Calek who put out this London Pirchei album that was changing the music world. Whenever I listened to that album, it had a profound impact on me.
Two years later, I went to live with relatives in London. For me, London was a pretty difficult place. There was nothing to do in the evenings but sit in my room. I would come home from yeshivah and climb upstairs to the attic. One day, I noticed a big piece of furniture under all the boxes in the attic. It turned out to be an old piano with broken keys. It seemed so random, but I started plunking around on some of the keys and banged out a little melody. My aunt and uncle were aware that I was unhappy and went ahead and called Yigal Calek. They said, “We have a nephew in yeshivah here from America. I know he’s not happy. Maybe you want to consider coming over and speaking to him?” Well, he got into the car and he came over. To this day I can’t figure out why. He was one of those guys with this amazing and sparkling personality. We actually became good friends.
A month later Yigal went to America to negotiate concerts and contracts. He contracted four concerts in Brooklyn College for Chanukah, but he desperately needed three new songs. Back in London, he was probably joking, but he asked me, “Can you write songs?” So I played a melody for him, the one I wrote in the attic. And I’ll never forget what happened. He jumped off that chair and ran to the seforim shrank, grabbed a Chumash and opened it to a Rashi at the beginning of parshas Vayechi. He said, “Play it again!” He was yelling, “Keep playing it!” until he had all the lyrics to the song “Kol Beramah” worked out. Then he gave me this big hug and said, “We’re done! We did it! Can you do more?” I was in total shock, but he was serious. So, on the spot I banged out “V’amartem Ko Lechai” and “Hinei Mah Tov” — all with one finger on the piano [all three songs debuted on Yigal’s Pirchei Yerushalayim]. And he told me, “You’ll see — people all over the world will be singing your songs!” All I could say was, “What are you talking about?”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 870)
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