An Interview with Shimmy Shtauber, Producer of The Lost Treasure
Featuring the cast of The Marvelous Midos Machine and The Golden Crown
By Yitzy Stern
When I first heard that Shimmy Shtauber was working on another album, I already knew to expect great things. But as the details started emerging, the excitement grew to a whole new level. Big names started dropping and rumors of grandiose plans were fluttering around. At that point I decided that I have to find out the facts myself.
I was a fan of Shimmy already in the days of his debut album’s release. The Story Experience, a collection of Nachman Seltzer’s stories that he brought to life, was a unique album that tapped into a world of entertainment which was previously unattainable by the Frum Jewish public. Shimmy used the most modern technology available to bring a feeling of authenticity to the story, using real life sound effects, and painting situations which were likely to happen in the world that exists outside of the story album.
Shimmy’s second release, When Zeidy Was Young Tale 3, though a completely different genre story than his own debut, was equally as groundbreaking. Shimmy took an unfinished script that was written by Rabbi Shmuel Kunda Zatzal, and produced it in the spirit of the classic Kunda style we have come to love. He commissioned composers to create additional songs in the Kunda style, and gathered a cast of likewise Kunda-minded actors. The result was a masterpiece. An uplifting work of entertainment, with music and sound effects elevated to the level of modern technology, all while remaining characteristic of the Kunda legacy. As an epilogue to the album, Shimmy produced a Yiddish version of Kunda’s The Magic Yarlmuka, also done in Shimmy’s trademark professionalism, featuring the Shir Vashevach Boys Choir.
So I stopped by Shimmy’s home studio to inquire about his upcoming album, and got a scoop much bigger than I was anticipating.
“Are you familiar with The Golden Crown?” Shimmy asked me.
I confirmed that indeed it was one of the staples of my childhood.
“Well, we’re doing another one.”
I was slightly taken aback. “But that album featured Abie Rotenberg and Rabbi Shmuel Klein. You’re going to replicate their work?”
His answer knocked me off my feet. “Who said anything about replicating? They’re both on board with this project!”
I’d like to take a step back and focus on the implications of those words. Abie Rotenberg is an undisputed legend of the Jewish entertainment world. His D’veykus series was the first of its type in the Frum world, and its songs remain staples of the Jewish music scene, decades after their release. His Journeys songs touch the deepest recesses of our souls. He, together with Rabbi Shmuel Klein, have proven that they can talk to our children, through their cherished Marvelous Midos Machine magic. And he has kept us spellbound with his acting abilities on The Golden Crown, which was also produced in conjunction with Rabbi Klein. In recent years, Abie has stepped back from the entertainment scene. His release of Marvelous Midos Machine volume 4 a few years ago took the world by surprise, and was a welcome beacon from the past. We all yearned for the day when yet a new masterpiece would surface. So something featuring Abie is big news indeed.
I pressed Shimmy a little more and the details started flowing.
“We had a skeleton of a script, written 25 years ago by Abie Rotenberg and Rabbi Klein, which would be the basis of our plot, but it needed to be completely reworked. There’s an acclaimed author by the name of Etka Gitel Schwartz who writes for the Binah Magazine and has published quite a few bestselling novels, and she’s a longtime fan of Abie’s children’s tapes. So I contacted her and she was more than happy to join in the project.”
I quickly fired off a text to my wife, “Etka G Schwartz wrote the story.” The response came back 15 seconds later, “:-D awesome!” You see, a prominent amount of space on my bookshelf is filled with Etka Gitel Schwatz’s books. My wife buys them the day that they come out. This was getting better by the minute!
Shimmy continued, “Next, I needed some top quality songs that would be consistent with the atmosphere that we were trying to encompass. Abie recently composed a beautiful song that hadn’t yet made its way onto an album, and it fit perfectly with the theme portrayed, so including it was a given. I knew of another outstanding song, composed many years ago by Rabbi Klein, which never achieved its deserved attention, so I called Rabbi Klein and got his blessings. Next, I called Rabbi Baruch Levine, who incidentally acted the part of Yehuda on The Golden Crown, and asked him to compose a song worthy of such a project. He promised to oblige, and another song was added to our list. I knew that the album would not be complete without a redone version of the Story Song to round it all out, and so, the lineup was complete.”
What a Lineup! I have always been bothered by the story albums that focus their efforts on the story and completely overlook the songs. I have spent too much time in my life with my finger on the fast-forward button, skipping over poor excuses of songs. So when a producer focuses on getting top quality songs for his story album, it boosts my admiration quite a few notches.
I inquired who was behind the music-making, and I was not let down by his response.
“In the olden days, story tape music was all the work of one-man-bands. Rabbi Klein told me that all the music for the Golden Crown was in fact made on his personal keyboard. Even though most producers nowadays still take the easy route, many people expect more. And although the cost of real music is exponentially more expensive than cheap music, I felt that the customer deserves only the best. So I started making phone calls and sending out emails, commissioning different experts to do the work that they are best at. There are many intricacies in producing each song, and the details might bore you, so I’ll just put it simple. Numerous talented people across several countries spent their valuable time making sure that every song was top quality. (For the music fans out there who want names, the well-known ones include Yanky Briskman, Yitzy Berry, AJ Greenwald, Hershy Pavel, Eli Woznika, Nachman Dreyer, and Yitzy Schwartz.) Just listen to a song, and you’ll understand that such details take a song from just being a song and make it into a loftier masterpiece.”
Shimmy played me The Story Song, and I was swept away by the pure musical bliss that he so wondrously created. A real string section set the mood, and Abie’s rich voice filled the room. Words can’t adequately describe the feeling of true music done right. As the song progressed, a beautiful children’s choir came in, and I was completely blown away. I asked Shimmy about it and he told me as follows.
“The choir was done by the awesome Rabbi Moti Rosenberg from Miami. He arranged all the children’s choirs on this album, together with his talented kids. He did an amazing job, capturing the style of the boy’s choir on the original Golden Crown. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job!”
I asked Shimmy about the actors. “Did you have trouble building a cast for such a historical project? I’m assuming that you sought out only the best?”
“Well, most of the main acting positions were filled by the very same talented cast that did the original Golden Crown. I contacted Rabbi Moshe Blaustein, Rabbi Shlomo Moddel, and Shloime Goldreich, who played the key parts of the last album, and they all graciously agreed to step right back into their acting shoes. Believe it or not, they all sound exactly the same as they sounded 25 years ago! The rest of the parts were filled with a very similar process that I used in my last CDs, The Story Experience and When Zeidy Was Young 3. I always keep my ears open for voices that I think will go well in the story that I’m working on, and when I hear someone that I think fits the bill, I approach them and solicit their talents for the project. For example, Rabbi Moti Rosenberg, (who, as I mentioned before, did the choirs for the songs,) has an amazing acting voice that worked perfectly with some of the parts, so we had him join as a member of the cast. Many people did audition for parts, but I couldn’t accommodate most of them because their voices just didn’t fit with the atmosphere of the plot. All in all, I’ve had great Si’ata Dishmaya and ended up with a really amazing cast that did a phenomenal job.”
Shimmy told me an interesting side note. “When Abie was recording The Golden Crown, they were short one actor, so they asked the non-Jewish studio technician to play the part of the captain of the guard. I attempted to track him down so that he can do a part in this project, but was unsuccessful, so I sufficed by imitating him to the best of my ability. I did however seek out another gentile to fill a different part, to keep the account as authentic as possible. The role of innkeeper was played by a bona fide Nigerian national.”
Knowing Shimmy for a while, I knew that he is adamant that his albums sound as realistic and authentic as possible, at times painstakingly working each intricate detail into a masterful blend that sounds remarkably lifelike. (I remember that when he was producing his first album, he recorded a scene in Torah Treasures in Lakewood, and another in Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, in order to incorporate the real sounds that one would hear in such places!) I probed into this facet, and
“While doing my first CD, my main concern was to keep it as realistic as possible. But in producing this album, besides making it realistic, I also wanted to encompass the unique Golden Crown feel that we all cherish. So besides seeking out sound effects that were one hundred percent realistic, I also recreated all the iconic sound effects that were used on the original Golden Crown. I had masters listen to the originals, and mimic them to the tee, all in a quality that was not yet available 25 years ago. What resulted were scenes that come to life, with crystal clear lifelike sound effects, and that bring back the Golden Crown wistfulness in the absolute finest manner. It’s a sound that’s new to story albums.”
It was getting late, so Shimmy wrapped up the interview with the following note.
“Throughout the whole process of creating the album, I was careful to always keep the public’s interests in mind first and foremost. I am constantly monitoring what people want, and I’m always asking them what they enjoy listening to. There’s a natural tendency for one to build a product around their individual talents. My goal, however, is always to build a product around what the public desires, and I try to pull together the ingredients necessary to achieve that result. And I think that this outlook really reflects on the final product.”
So there you have it, guys. Some glimpses behind the scenes of this revolutionary production. By the time you’re reading this, the CD will probably already be sitting in your car’s audio system. It will surely be in mine. If you haven’t yet picked up your copy, I don’t even have to tell you that you’re missing out on something historical.