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The Chevra
Country Yossi Magazine November 2001

Eli Gerstner has a secret. He thinks he knows the secret formula to the future of Jewish music. It's something he's been thinking about for a long time. And he's convinced that his concept will break the mold and revolutionize the industry for all time.

Curious about Eli's secret? Not to worry. It isn't going to be a secret for very long. Not once his upcoming album, "The

 

Chevra," flies off the shelves at Judaica stores faster than you can say the words "best-selling album." That's because the music on "The Chevra" is so moving, so dynamic, so irresistible, that the rest of us will finally realize what Eli has known all along - the future of Jewish music rests in the hands of the group album.

Now that may sound strange coming from someone who has built his musical career on two outstanding solo albums. But then, maybe you don't know Eli. Ever since he can remember, Eli's been taking on the greater challenge and reaching for the stars. Let the other guys rest on their laurels and produce album after album of the same old thing. Eli's forever determined and resolved to try something new. Eli speaks about "The Chevra" with an unmistakable calm in his eyes. "This is much more exciting than my own albums were," he says. "I've been living and breathing this album for over a year, and I'm really thrilled with the results." Coming form the ultimate perfectionist, that in itself is truly amazing.

The idea of producing a group album came to Eli at his own chasunah. A group of his friends sang the traditional "Boruch Habo" under the chupah. It made a tremendous difference. The wedding guests were exceptionally moved and inspired by the beautiful harmonies. That very special moment became more meaningful than ever before. And then it occurred to Eli that a group of talented voices blending together in exquisite harmony creates a richer and more beautiful sound than a solo performer can ever hope to achieve.

It wasn't difficult for Eli to find candidates to join his Chevra. As a prominent producer on the Jewish music scene, he is often introduced to talented and ambitious singers who are considering breaking into the business. Dozens of superb vocalists auditioned to be part of the Chevra. And while many of those had excellent articulation, Eli's ultimate goal was to create the perfect blend - a quartet of voices that merge exquisitely, in delicious, impeccable harmony. Says Eli, "As a group, these guys have to be able to break into perfect harmony. And as individuals, they have to be real 'mentchen'- down to earth and superb ba'alei midos."

Eli couldn't have chosen a finer Chevra. They are the most well-mannered, capable and responsible young men you could imagine. Sure, they can kid around and goof of just like any other chevra. But there's an unmistakable sense of camaraderie in this group. And also a deep and abiding sense of respect for each other's talents.

Wisely, Eli refused to call any of the 10 songs on "The Chevra" the title track. How could he? Which one would he possibly choose? There are no filler songs on "The Chevra," no fluff, none of the predictable music that makes you reach for the fast-forward button. Every one of the selections recorded herein as a gem. Think of this album as a giant collection of 10 title tracks.

As a singer, Eli has risen quickly through the ranks. But don't dismiss Eli Gerstner as just another pretty voice. He's also a highly talented composer who's especially tuned in to the popular culture. Eli has his finger on the pulse of today's generation. He has a keen sense of our musical tastes and disposition. He recognizes our likes and dislikes. That's not something he learned in music school or read about in a book. That's just something that he was born with.

If you don't understand what this means, then listen to "Yehai" the first song on "The Chevra." The song defies description. It's leibedik, but it's not the typical chasunah song. It's a horah, but it's a far cry from the horahs we're all familiar with. It's mesmerizing and mellow, exceptional and exciting. It doesn't fit into any neat patterns, yet there's no question that it's a song that you want to hear over and over again.

"The Chevra's" vocalists are young, and the music will undoubtedly appeal to Jewish youth all across the spectrum. Camps have already introduced these songs to their campers this past summer, thereby creating a tremendous sensation. But it would be a bit mistake to classify "The Chevra" as a juvenile venture or a kiddie album. And you would be shortchanging yourself if you decided to hand this recording over to your kids. Of the select group who were privy to hear a preview recording of this album, the response among all of them - young and old - has been unmitigated enthusiasm. Sure, they each have their own favorite songs. One may prefer "Mee Bon" for its wistful, sentimental yearnings while another may like "Zochreinu" for its inspirational message (both of these songs were arranged by Yisroel Lamm). But they all recognize the inherent beauty in the music and the distinctive richness in the sound.

Allow us to introduce you to "The Chevra":

Avi Katz is a former talmid of Yeshiva of Brooklyn and Mesivta Me'or Hatalmud. He met Eli through mutual friends, and the two quickly found that they share a passion for music. Eli was certain that he wanted Avi to join this venture from the very beginning. According to Eli, "Avi's high harmonies are superb. He can hit high notes that nobody else in the world can."

Donny Baitner is a resident of Staten Island. He attended a Yeshiva in Flatbush and then went on to learn in Eretz Yisroel. Eli discovered Donny by chance. He was listening to a CD of a choir in which Donny was singing and was struck by the soloist's beautiful voice. That's when he decided to contact Donny and ask him to join "The Chevra." "For me, this started out as just a recording experience," says Donny. "But by now, it's developed into a true friendship."

Dovid Nachman is a resident of Flatbush who is currently learning in a Yeshiva in New Jersey. A talented drummer and composer, Dovid had co-written some of the selections on "The Chevra". Among other things, he sings low harmony on the album, a part that takes exceptional skill and expertise. When he's not learning or singing or composing, Dovid has another favorite hobby: he helps deliver packages for Tomchei Shabbos.

Chesed activities seem to be a high priority for members of "The Chevra," although Heaven knows where they find the time. David Pearlman, the fourth member of the group, is an active member of Washington Heights Hatzolah. Eli met David several years ago while arranging a choir for a different production, and he said to himself, "Here's a guy that I'd like to use in an album someday." Since then, David went to learn in Eretz Yisroel and Eli thought that was the end of that. But as it turned out, David returned just as Eli was preparing to begin recording "The Chevra," and he was immediately recruited to join.

Not that David was an enthusiastic member. At least not at first. "I really wasn't interested," says David. "I was afraid to make the commitment." But Eli's powers of persuasion are legendary, and he had no trouble convincing David. "All I did was press play on the stereo, and I let David listen to some of the songs. He was so impressed that he signed up immediately." Says David, "I saw this as an opportunity to work on something unique. Something of a quality that far surpassed my expectations. I just couldn't say no to that."

So with the Chevra intact, recording began. It wasn't easy. Eli is a consummate perfectionist, a stickler for details. Using his own home-based studio, EG Studios, to record, he has the leisure to spend hours upon hours upgrading, enhancing and embellishing the album. The guys will tell you they know exactly what Boro Park looks like at 3:00 in the morning, because that's about the time that Eli would finally let them go home. They'll tell you that they must have consumed 16,000 teas at Eli's house, that they've worked 14-hour days, that they've spent Shabbosim in Boro Park because they barely had time to get home, that Eli's wife Chani is a saint for being the prefect hostess and putting up with them, and that they've become regular customers at Amnon's well after the rest of the neighborhood has gone to sleep. But what they won't tell you is that they have any regrets.

"The album is perfect," says Avi. "And it's a great feeling to be associated with it."

"We're gonna be to Jewish music what the Yankees are to baseball," says Donny.

"When people ask me which song is best," says Dovid," I honestly can't tell them because they're all so good."

"Eli's a finicky guy and he's very picky about his music," says David. And then he adds, "Thank G-d!"

So The Chevra is all pumped up and enthusiastic about this venture. Which is a good thing, because they cannot imagine what's in store for them in the future. "These four guys," says Eli, do not begin to realize what an effect this will have on the Jewish music world."

Eli's been through the process so he knows what's coming. He knows all about he rewarding aspects of the music business the chizuk and the kiruv that are inevitably generated when people relate to Jewish music in a personal way. He also knows that the Chevra's talents are going to be in great demand, and he's already prepping the group to sing at chasunahs, simchas and concerts. "We're already working with a dance choreographer," says Eli, "So that we'll be ready to create a real sensation at our upcoming live performances."

"The Chevra" is creating a sensation already, judging by the brisk sales of their album. Music lovers would be wise to opt for the CD, because it contains a bonus track - an 11th song that is an a cappella medley of some of the album's songs. "It proves just how beautiful these voices and harmonies are, even when they're not accompanied by music," Eli explains. As if we needed any proof.

"The Chevra" is being distributed by Sameach Music, and is available at all major Judaica outlets.

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