By Mordechai Ullman
It’s his sixth album in the past decade, but Mincha is more than a beautiful collection of songs. It contains many messages that have already had a tremendous impact across the planet.
I set out on Tuesday (after davening Mincha) to discover the man behind the music, whose contagious enthusiasm has enhanced so many occasions.
We started by discussing the road from Hendon to the world famous HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) stage, whose line-up of singers is always first class. For Shloime it was a big jump; in his own words “a very special experience I appreciated more after the concert.” It was his first large performance with the legendary Jewish superstar Avraham Fried as well as many others in the top tier. In recent years, he’s also appeared on numerous internationally-acclaimed music events on three continents.
Born into a Chassidic family in the 1970s, Shloime grew up listening to genuine Chassidic music amongst other genres. He incorporates the beauty of a wide range of music, to bring the best of all worlds together to today’s ever-demanding audiences.
Whilst weddings are where Shloime is in his element – bringing joy to a bride and groom and connecting with the hosts of the simcha – the concerts require conflicting modes of excitement. “On the one hand, the crowd prefers – as I do personally – spontaneity and humour.” On the other hand, there is the band to take into account, and perfecting the dual duties of the singer and musicians often limits the possibility of being too spontaneous on some stages.
There’s another difference: “At a wedding, the guests have all come with a common goal to bring joy to the chatan and kallah,” he explains. “Whereas by a concert, you’re dealing with a much broader crowd with varying expectations.”
Once stuck in a New York snow storm, Shloime and his friends arrived at the concert hall with little time to prepare. That evening was a smashing success, with the lack of preparation working in their favour.
Turning to album #6, Shloime explains that to succeed, an album needs an original name and a message. “Mincha” achieves just that. This is the first time an album has been produced with a short name that means something to everyone. Two years of enormous effort were invested into the stunning production that is vintage Gertner.
At what point does Shloime reap the joy of all the effort? “When the song Mincha came in, I enjoyed the message of the song more than the song itself.” Once finished it was beautiful, but the message remains as inspiring as it is incredibly practical.
Remarkable feedback for the album came in the form of a voice message all the way from Manhattan. Working in an area not boasting a minyan, this businessman often finds himself davening Minchah without a minyan, to his chagrin. Having listened to the song, he longed for an opportunity to fit praying with a minyan in his working day. In an extraordinary twist of divine Providence, a Chabad shaliach invited him into a minyan in a much unanticipated venue.
“The Ba’al Shem Tov said when people are at work and suddenly feel the shock, ‘I didn’t daven Minchah yet,’ that startling realisation opens the gates of Heaven before the prayer is actually said.”
Mincha brings together local talent Shimshy Neiman as well as the big stars in the Jewish music industry. Of course there’s a composition from leading composer Yossi Green and songs from a “most amazing arranger,” Mona Rosenblum. Unique to this album is a “very rare” duet with Yonatan Razel, a beautiful chuppah song “Hayom Te’Amtzeinu” (a stunning version of which was recently recorded live at a chuppah in Israel and is available on Youtube). Mona waited till now to allow himself to put his entire soul into the album from start to finish. “That includes selecting and rearranging the songs, and recording the vocals, and he delivered a top production with original music that we grew up with.”
Unique for this 21st century – largely thanks to Mona – is that there’s no electronic music; it’s all live instruments.
Returning to live performances, I question that which is immediately noticeable at any Gertner event – the trademark smile and ensuing joy he generates. How does he manage to do that?
Shloime explains it is the blessing of having a career you love. The crowd is there with the chatan and kallah, and its enthusiasm is largely dependent on the singer. Their enthusiasm is also reflected by the singer, whose enthusiasm in turn affects the crowd.
His CDs appeal to a wide range of audiences, and considering his array of fans in North London alone he overcomes significant juggling acts. Some of his audience don’t want “pop” songs or English songs. Many however, want the tunes to be ‘with the times.’ This requires a delicate balance, and the result has constantly been a beautiful blend, bridging the modern with the timeless.
As a singer Shloime doesn’t merely sing; he takes part in writing the lyrics and musical arrangements too.
However, more significant that no crowd is too large is the fact that no audience is too small either. Shloime is an active participant in the cheer-up squad Schmeichal. This selfless team, led by Shayele Gluck, go to hospital wards to uplift patients. The Shmeichal organisation was named so after the hit song from the Nissim album. “Erev Shabbat Shayele arrives home 20 minutes before the start of Shabbat, having performed for patients in four hospitals.” These mini-performances “not only strengthen the patients, giving them the strength to fight whatever they need to, it brings a spirit of freshness to everyone in the ward – patients and staff.”
As we end our interview I ask if there’s a message for the aspiring young singer. Shloime is confident that it’s a possibility for anyone with talent.
“The more the merrier. It makes everyone work harder, like a new bakery needs to add something special to appeal to customers.”
Shloime sees success as Divine assistance. “One should never think they’ll have no impact on the music industry because it’s unlimited – there’s space for all. Anyone at any given time could break in to the music industry and be a bigger hit than he ever imagined.”
Indeed, Shloime attributes his success to the Master Artist, the Designer of the universe, Who granted people with talents and inborn interests in different fields, who all have their share in the song of creation.