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Monday, July 14, 2014

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Musician merges spiritual and secular sounds

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Allan Soberman’s new album mixes cantorial and pop influences. [Edward Ambrocoius photo]

Despite decades working in the music industry, Allan Soberman is still searching for his voice.

The 62-year-old musician has released the followup to his first album of prayer songs, which he called Searching for my Voice. The sequel is called The Quest Continues.

In the album, Soberman, whose years in the music industry included playing with the support act for a Billy Joel concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, takes tunes usually heard in synagogue and blends them with Beach Boy-esque harmonies.

The music takes audiences to where they last heard the melodies – most likely a synagogue, he says. This built-in familiarity is what draws much of the audience to the music.

“I’ve got them already,” he says, “so I can put my craziness into part of it.”

This “craziness” refers to what he calls the strangeness of the choir sounds. “Someone looking for a cantorial CD might be surprised,” he says.

However, the music isn’t just for religious – or even secular – Jews. Soberman says even people who don’t recognize the sounds will enjoy it, and may feel a sense of spirituality simply because of the language of the songs, all of which are sung in Hebrew or Yiddish.

“I hope they would appreciate the musicality, the arrangements, the sounds,” he says. “It’s pretty hip stylistically but it still has those melodies.”

The tunes and words are especially familiar to Soberman, whose father, Morris, was a cantor at Beth Tzedec Congregation for more than 35 years.

Soberman got the idea for the album back in 1999, shortly after his father died. He found recordings of his father performing wedding receptions and singing bar mitzvah portions, which students would use to learn their portions. He took these recordings, cleaned them up, and released them in 2001 on an album called A Dedication.

“That’s what started me on this road,” he says.

The next album, Searching for my Voice, blended the cantorial songs with Soberman’s own harmonic and folk style for the first time.

“I was treading on unknown waters,” he said of that release. “What was I doing with Shalom Alechem?”

This album was much easier, he said, now that he has the experience and confidence.

However, life threw him more challenges during the recording of this album. Before the album was finished, Soberman’s mother died, and even six months later, he says he’s still “crawling out of the debris” of his mother’s passing.

Nevertheless, the fact that he could incorporate so much of his own music – specifically the pop harmonies – into his father’s music means he was able to find a little bit of closure with his family, he says.

“I’m the last one standing, so there’s a lot of catharsis going on here,” he says, speaking to The CJN from a telephone in his childhood basement.

Although it’s only 12 years that Soberman has released these albums, he has been involved in the music industry for much longer. He spent decades playing mainly bass guitar on tour with big artists such as Grammy Award-winning Dan Hill and Ben Mink.

One of his favourite memories, he says, is performing shows with Billy Crystal at The Bitter End, a famous club in New York City. He says Crystal opened for his band one week, and they swapped spots for a second week.

“By the end of the two weeks, I knew his routine backwards,” Soberman says.

Another notable moment for him was when Beach Boy Bruce Johnston expressed interest in getting involved with the publishing of Soberman’s music.

“Nothing really ever came of it, but that was a big thrill for me to get phone calls from a guy who actually sang on God Only Knows. That was a big deal for me,” he said.

His love for the Beach Boys is what inspired the harmonies that fill his new album. He recorded it alone, layering his voice to create a choral effect. Although it works well for an album, he says, it leads to challenges in performing the music.

The goal, he says, is to perform the music with a full choir, but he hasn’t figured out the logistics of organizing it. Specifically, it’s hard to find a choir before the show is booked, but he can’t book a show without a choir.

“I can do the musical end, but how do you put the business end?” he says. In the meantime, he could perform with a small group – perhaps three or four people – but it wouldn’t reflect the sound he imagines in his mind.

Ideally, the performance would take place as part of a larger event or festival, he says. Regardless, he would like to bring it to the Jewish community to share the music that has become so meaningful to him.

“It’s my connection to going to shul with my father,” he says. “It’s me incorporating what I am into it.”

For more information, visit sobermanmusic.com.

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