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Spotlight On Ultimate Miami: The English Collection

Ultimate Miami:  The English Collection

After thirty three years of composing, Yerachmiel Begun has had more than his share of hit songs.   Ultimate Miami:  The English Collection is retrospective showing how Miami’s English songs have evolved throught the years.  Containing twenty six songs, two hours and ten minutes of music and a beautiful forty page color booklet with lyrics to every song, this two CD set is truly an impressive collection.  This set contains songs from Miami’s earliest albums, with the most current song coming from Miami Revach (2005).  Many of the songs are major hits that any serious music lover knows in entirety. Others songs have popular choruses but verses that are less familiar to all but the most hardcore Miami fanatics.  A few lesser known songs round out this sweeping collection.  All in all, this album is truly a welcome addition to any Jewish music library.

Some would argue that rerecording the songs instead of having Ilya Lishinsky digitally remaster them could have produced cleaner sound and more up to date arrangements.  Aside from the obvious financial issues, I enjoyed hearing the songs with the original soloists as I remember them from years ago.    Some very famous names have passed through Miami Boys Choir over the years including Yaakov Shwekey, Ari Goldwag, Yitzy Spinner, Yitzchok Rosenthal, Srully Williger, Shloime Dachs, Ophie Nat and Nachman Seltzer.  Of those, Goldwag, Stark and Spinner can be heard on this album and it is entertaining to hear these singers as child soloists.  Do the songs sound remarkably different from the original albums?  I’m sure they sound crisper, but it is difficult to compare the sound coming off my record player (yes, I do have one) to what you hear on the headphones of your iPod.

The booklet itself, with cover art by Shloimy Zeiger, is quite large with some beautiful shots of the current choir, courtesy of photographers Baruch Ezagui, Yossi Percia, Shimon Gifter and Josh Block.  I wish they had included some photographs of the older choirs, given that with only one song from 2005 in this set, for all intents and purposes, almost none of the boys who appear in the pictures actually sing on any of the songs.  I can’t imagine that there were no choir parents from previous years who wouldn’t have shared their photographs for this booklet.  Additionally, it would have been nice to have someone proofread the booklet so that the songs would be spelled consistently on the back of the booklet and on the inside of the booklet.  A proofreader probably also would have caught that many of the vov’s and final nun’s in the Hebrew lyrics were inadvertently bolded.

Enough about the booklet.  Tachlis time!  To make life easier, unless otherwise noted, assume that lyrics were written by Yerachmiel Begun and arrangements were by Yisroel Lamm.

The Simcha Song (The Simcha Song:  1997) This song just works on all levels.  It grabs you with the “Dance!  Sing!  Clap!” introduction and never lets go.  Great lyrics, great song, very well done and the soloists all sound terrific.    A great prototype of what a fast English song should be.

Min Hashamayim (Min Hashomayim:  1992) What a treat to hear both Ari Goldwag and Nachum Stark as child soloists.  Another hit song, with lyrics by Shoshana Begun, also known as Mrs. Begun.

Sunshine (One By One:  1995) I have heard this beautiful song with lyrics by Shoshana Begun on several occasions, but this original version with Yitzy Spinner singing as a child soloist is my favorite.   For entertainment purposes, you can hear Spinner singing the song again on Miami 25 – Past, Present and Future.

We Need You (Shabbos Yerushalayim:  1988) One of the things about Yerachmiel Begun is that there doesn’t seem to be any topic that he is afraid to take on.  This song, with lyrics by Shoshana Begun, deals with not talking during davening which, sadly, is as timely a topic now as it was 22 years ago.  It is obvious listening to the song that it was recorded quite a while ago.  Neither the song nor the arrangements are as sophisticated as current Miami songs, but it is a cute song and I happen to really like it.  Love the men’s choir harmony at 2:53.

B’siyatah Dishmaya (B’Siyatah Dishmaya:  1984) Another Miami classic with arrangements by Moshe Laufer and lyrics by Y. Reich.      This is one of my favorite Miami albums and the song is as strong now as it was when it was first released 26 years ago.  This song was also on Miami 25, with the adult Jonathan Paley reprising his solo.

Be A Mentsch (The 2nd Annual Miami Experience:  1992) I have never heard this particular album nor was I at the concert, so I have never heard this song with Shoshana Begun’s lyrics before.  The track seems start in the middle of a sentence during some kind of dramatic presentation at the concert.  I am not sure that without the context of the play that surrounded it that this song really stands on its own.

One By One (One By One:  1995) Another traditional Miami English song, with lyrics by Shoshana Begun, though the chorus is probably the strongest part of the song.  Of the two English songs on this album, I think Sunshine is the better song, but can you imagine an album named Sunshine?

Stand Up (Stand Up:  2000) Another great song with lyrics by Mrs. B. that work so well with the mood and music of the song. Anyone want to explain to me why surrender and defend her are intentionally pronounced “surrenda” and “defenda”?  It’s not like they were rhyming those words with anything else.  No matter, clearly Begun’s songs have evolved over the years and have kept pace with the higher level of sophistication that has become part and parcel of Jewish music.

To Live A Life Of Torah (The 2nd Annual Miami Experience:  1992) Both the lyrics by Chaya Sara Fogel and the way it is sung by Nachum Stark are a little intense for me.   Another great example of a Miami song whose chorus made it really big, with verses that are probably less familiar to the casual listener.

Shabbos Yerushalayim (Shabbos Yerushalayim:  1988)   Both the song and the lyrics by Shoshana Begun do a great job capturing the mood of Shabbos in that most special of places.  Love the siren that starts off the song.

When (Min Hashamayim:  1992) Another very intense song sung by Nachum Stark with some beautiful harmonies by the choir softening the song up a little.  Touching lyrics by Mrs. Begun, who is clearly very good at what she does.   A prolific composer, married to a talented lyricist – now there is a match made in Heaven!

Araivim (Miami 26:  Miami and Dedi: 2004) I absolutely love this song with arrangements by both Yerachmiel Begun and Yisroel Lamm.  The music is fast paced, never predictable and the lyrics are truly terrific.  As good as this song is on this album, I liked the version on the Miami Revach DVD even more.  English lyrics by Shoshana Begun.  Hebrew lyrics by Gideon Levine.

Experience (The 2nd Annual Miami Experience:  1992) This song, with solos by Ari Goldwag and Nachum Stark is one of a number of songs from the 2nd Miami Experience that were clearly composed for this specific performance, but to the best of my knowledge, were never used outside of the concert.    Definitely an enjoyable listen as far as concert songs go.

Shiru Lo (The 4th Annual Miami Experience:  1994) Even though it is obvious that this is another song that was written specifically for a concert, it is a solid enough song that it is still enjoyable outside of the concert setting.  It is actually one of my favorites on the album.  Love the low harmony that kicks in at 3:45.

Klal Yisroel Together (Klal Yisroel Together:  1986) Another Miami classic with arrangements by Moshe Laufer and lyrics by (are you sitting down?)  Yerachmiel Begun, Shoshana Begun, H. Begun, Y. Reich and S. Rokove.   Lots of people working on these lyrics, which are really good. But it is the knock out combination of a great song with top notch harmonies and excellent arrangements that made this song strong enough to stand the test of time, even twenty four years later.

The Hand Of Hashem (First Annual Miami Experience:  1991) I am guessing many of you have never ever heard this song, with vocals by Gershon Veroba, but I actually remember the original version which appeared on the 1981 album Judea.  Lyrics by Yerachmiel Begun, Gershon Veroba and Chesky Kleiner.

Torah Today (Torah Today:  1990) This song, composed for the 1989 Siyum Hashas, has a top notch chorus and was arranged by Moshe Laufer.  Once again,  Shoshana Begun demonstrates her abilities as a lyricist.  Really good harmonies on the chorus, particularly at 4:00.  Love the minor chord at the end of the chorus.

Mr. Carter (Miami Meets Toronto:  1978) All these years later, this song still cracks me up and you have to give Begun credit for having the guts to express his thoughts on a sitting president, in a song, something that I don’t think has been done before or since in mainstream Jewish music.  (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)  Those of you who don’t remember Jimmy Carter’s presidency may just be sitting there scratching your heads wondering what this song is all about, but look at it this way.  Can you imagine any mainstream Jewish group or singer coming up with an Obama song today?  While this may not be Begun’s strongest composition from a musical perspective, the music suits the lighthearted song and there are some cute lyrics thanks to the lyrical team of Yerachmiel Begun, E. Levin, Lenny Friedman and Y. Arem.

Shabbos Candles (Stand Up:  2000) This was another song I never heard before and I must confess that listening to it the first time without the booklet in front of me, I was wondering what war or what crisis this song was about, especially with all ominous sound effects kicking an at about 1:40.  It all sounded very apocalyptic and quite frankly it was a relief to read in the booklet that this song was actually about Y2K.  (For those youngsters out there reading this, by the end of the 1990’s people starting panicking, wondering if the computers would all crash when we hit the year 2000.  As January 1, 2000 was a Shabbos, we all went to sleep that Friday night wondering just how many things would break down by the time we woke up in the morning.)  Just as an aside, the choir does not sing at all on this song.

Around The World (The 2nd Annual Miami Experience:  1992) (Miami Experience 4 – Shiru Lo:  1994) (Special thanx to GPL for catching a pretty big oops in the booklet!)  Another song from the 1994 concert, with lyrics by Shoshana Begun.  Listening to this song on an album instead of hearing it at a concert, it feels a little out of context.

I Want To Know (Miami Meets Toronto:  1978) This is a pretty song, but it always seems funny to me when you have a kid singing, pretending to be a grown up.  Every time soloist Yitzchok Jeret sings “Could it be true I’m only half a man” I feel like shouting “Yes!  Because you are probably only twelve years old!”  The booklet describes the song as “A tzadik shows someone the Derech Hatorah”,  which makes it sounds like this is taken from some sort of dramatic performance, but I don’t remember there being one on this album.  Am I remembering wrong?

We Will Prevail (B’derech Hatorah:  2001) Another song that I have never heard before, with lyrics by Shoshana Begun, and is described in the booklet as a “rededication to Torah values after 9/11.”  This song that takes a number of unexpected twists (a la Me’im  Hashem (Yovo) and Araivim (Miami 26), to name a few) but it just never seemed to come together for me.

Would You Please (Miami 25:  2003) This version of the song, sung by Eitan Nat, brother of singer Ophie Nat, is far better than the original version from Miami Live (1979).  I can’t tell you that the lyrics here are particularly sophisticated, but they fit the mood of this sweet song perfectly.  Another song that sounds like it should have come from a play of some sort.  Sadly, my copy of Miami Live seems to have disappeared so I have no clue what the original context of this song is. No matter.  It’s an oldie but a goodie.

On The Road To Yerushalayim (2nd Annual Miami Experience:  1992) See around the world, above.

Lift Up Your Candle (Revach:  2005) Another gem proves that Begun hasn’t lost his touch.  A gorgeous song, exquisite arrangements, top notch vocals by Shalom Barishansky, Zalman Pollack, Shaul Elson, Ari Rosner and Yitzchok Friedman.  No question at all that the verses of this song are the best lyrics Yerachmiel Begun has ever written.  The absolutely beautiful harmony at 3:21 on just a single word proves, once again, that less is sometimes more.

Victory Entebbe (Victory Entebbe:  1977) Most of you have probably  of never heard this album, but it has some fabulous songs that I would love to hear redone with today’s much higher standards in Jewish music, including Bamarom, Shifchi and, of course, Victory Entebbe.  Those of you who weren’t around in 1976 can’t possibly imagine how the story of 103 Jewish hostages being rescued from an airport in Uganda by a team of 100 elite Israeli commandos touched the hearts of Yidden everywhere.  Trust me when I tell you that this song, which has almost no vocals, captured the mood perfectly.  Thirty three years later, I still love this song.  If that isn’t the hallmark of a hit song, I don’t know what is.

Just a final note:  the name “Ultimate Miami:  The English Collection” leaves me wondering.  Is Begun planning another collection of ultimate Miami songs?  If he does, I look forward to hearing it.

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