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Eli Gerstner Presents YBC 4

“Sh’moy Shel Melech”

It’s always a treat to talk to Eli Gerstner. Especially because his conversations are like a breath of fresh air. When you interview Eli, the first rule of thumb is to be armed with an ample supply of strong coffee. That’s because chances are he’s going to fit you into his schedule sometime in the middle of the night and because he’s probably going to have a lot to say.

So coffee mug in hand, I call Eli and am delighted to discover that he is on the verge of releasing the fourth edition of Yeshiva Boys Choir. These mega-talented children have already won our hearts long ago, ever since we heard them on their first album. Their youth, their exuberance, their purity, and their sincerity, are an irresistible combination. Fans of Yeshiva Boys Choir now have cause to rejoice. YBC 4 is on its way. And in true Gerstner fashion, this one is every bit as innovative, intriguing, and exciting as the first.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Yeshiva Boys Choir phenomenon took the world by storm. Its purity is endearing, its message is eternal, its simcha is genuine. It allows us to reconnect with the innocence and sincerity that is buried deep within us all.

Which brings us to YBC 4, otherwise known as “Sh’moy Shel Melech,” which should be released by the time this article goes to print. The first thing Eli points out is that the cover of this album is unique. Its checkerboard design features little square photos of all 40 members of the choir, leading us to appreciate the individual qualities of each boy.

But that’s just the cover of the album. It’s what’s inside that really matters. Like much of Eli’s work, this album celebrates youth. Eli recognizes the excitement and the passion of the young generation, and he captures it in his work. All Gerstner music has mass appeal and easily transcends the generations. But young people have always been and will continue to be his most enthusiastic fans.

Every EG Production introduces new elements, otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘vintage Gerstner’. Without divulging too many of its secrets, Eli promises that this new album is also groundbreaking. “There will always be some kind of innovation,” he says. “It could be in the melody, in the arrangements, or in the concepts. I try hard for all three.”

We have all learned to recognize Gerstner-esque innovations. We just don’t always realize the ‘chochmah’ behind them. To Eli, the dum-dum-dums, and the ooh-ahhs, and the doom-dooms aren’t just fillers. They are meaningful and significant. “Wherever I go, all over the world,” he says, “I realize that we’re singing to many unaffiliated Jews and to lots of children. That’s a tremendous responsibility which we take seriously.” Often, these listeners simply can’t keep up with the p’sukim or the lyrics of a song. Yet they are still captivated by the melody. That’s why Eli tries to include the dum-dee-dums in some of his most popular songs. It allows these genuine and sincere listeners to join in and connect with the song on a more personal level. “I hold the mike out to the crowd,” he says, “and baruch Hashem everyone is singing along.”

Eli’s trademark is simple, catchy, fast-paced, and refreshing. Therein lies his genius. His music is genuinely appealing, universally charming, and totally fun. Between you and me, it looks like the title song on this album is destined to become one of his trademark masterpieces. If you loved Kol Hamispallel, V’ahavta & Shabichi, then look forward to being pleasantly entertained all over again.

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the YBC album without pausing to give credit to those amazing choirboys themselves & their fearless leader, Yossi Newman. When Eli & Yossi first decided to start a boys choir, they stood firmly behind one indisputable mantra – “Yeshiva first, choir second.” They will bend over backwards, often forgoing some very lucrative offers, in order to ensure that the boys do not miss Yeshiva because of the choir. “We were in London last summer,” says Eli. “We left New York mamash the day after Yeshiva ended and we were back right before camp started. I can honestly say that we get calls from all over the world asking us to come down and perform. But if it means missing three or four days of Yeshiva, we turn them down”.

That’s not all. Eli and Yossi make sure that the counselors and chaperones who accompany the boys on their travels are themselves Yeshivish. They try to create a Torahdik environment, even scheduling shiurim for the boys while they’re on the road. Invariably, the group makes a tremendous kiddush Hashem, both onstage and off.

I can go on and on about the album, but then perhaps you were one of those lucky people who were privileged to a sneak preview of some of its songs at this year’s Pesach concert, during which YBC Live 3 was recorded. It was during this performance that the choir recorded Hamalach, a beautiful and powerful melody.

Apparently, members of the audience had done their own recording, and within an hour the song had been posted on You-Tube where it reportedly received close to fifty thousand downloads, before it was taken down. Needless to say, it is already catching on all over the Jewish world.

So will another song, called “Koh Ribon”. Certainly we are all familiar with our own classic variations of this holy Zemirah of Shabbos. Yet Eli felt it was time to introduce his own version. It sounds like it is destined to be a classic, one of those songs that will undoubtedly be a major hit in every camp next summer. Eli deliberately kept the harmonies simple yet effective. You can almost hear the united voices in the camp dining rooms singing it in perfect harmony, enhancing oneg Shabbos for all.

Then there’s the song called “Torah”, which was written after Eli’s second son was born. This is hardly the first time Eli is composing music in response to a dramatic and inspiring event in his personal life. Fans will remember that he wrote “Odcha”, which was featured on Chevra 2, after his first son was born. The raw emotion of that melody made it the theme song of anyone who ever felt hakoras hatov to the Ribono Shel Olam for the blessings in their lives.

So when his second son, Moishe, was born, it was Eli’s mother-in-law, of all people, who approached him and asked, “Did you write a song for Moishe yet?” Eli’s shvigger, who appreciates his talents as much as the rest of us, urged him to compose a melody in response to the birth. “But make it a fast song,” she said. “Make it happy.”

The result is “Torah”, one of the most original songs that Eli has ever written with a very unique sound. It cleverly combines the names of both of his sons, “Moshe” and “Yaakov”, in one outstanding composition. It’s a real gem, you actually hear the joy and happiness emanating from the song.

But the tone of our conversation turns somber, as Eli takes a moment to reflect upon the recent passing of the great Izzy Taubenfeld, O”H, founder of Sameach Music. Eli worked closely with Izzy for over 11 years, and says that, “he was an unbelievable person, both inside and out.” Eli says that Izzy’s contributions to the Jewish music industry are immeasurable. “His love for music was so incredible,” says Eli. “He wasn’t a musician but he had a tremendous excitement about music and he thought out of the box. He released albums that were a little bit different and would have never otherwise hit the shelves. Eventually, others would recognize their greatness as well.”

As for his personal qualities, Eli remembers Izzy as a true “mentch” who knew how to deal with people, who treated everyone well, and who was always available to help others with a smile. Eli plans on releasing Menucha 2 in a couple of months as a tribute to Izzy Taubenfeld, since Menucha was Izzy’s favorite.

Expect big things from Eli, even after the YBC and Menucha releases. You know he’s not going to sit still, no matter how much he’s accomplished. Let’s just say he looks forward to sharing with us YBC Live 3, and Chevra 4 sometime in the near future. There are also plans in the works for another big YBC Live show this coming Sukkos in Brooklyn college (Monday night - October 5), but we’re not at the liberty to divulge more details at this time.

There’s never a dull moment, as far as Eli Gerstner is concerned. He is a virtual ‘music machine’, churning out energetic and outstanding music at an astonishing rate. He has an incredible capacity to create a lot in minimum time, and has been blessed with tremendous siyata dishmaya in his efforts so far. Eli, of course, will be the first one to tell you that all of his talent and success are min hashomayim. “When you do things for the right reason,” he figures, “you inevitably achieve hatzlacha.” May this hatzlacha continue for YBC 4 and beyond.

 

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