July 14, 2024
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Shimon Craimer Sings the Soundtrack of Our Lives

He may have been dubbed “the rising star of Jewish music” by the chief rabbi of the British commonwealth, but Shim Craimer doesn’t think of himself as a luminary of any sort. The chazan of the

Riverdale Jewish Center, who is frequently called upon to sing at weddings, Craimer enjoys using his God-given talents to spread the beauty of Jewish music to audiences all over the globe. In fact, once a month he travels to different shuls and communities all over the world to daven and perform.

With two albums to his credit, the London-born Craimer does more than just sing; he also plays piano and composes original music. Despite his very full schedule, the father of four just wrapped up two unique musical projects intended to capture the hearts of those who might not necessarily be mainstream Jewish music listeners.

The Koren Zimrat Ha’Aretz Birkon is likely the first bentsher that comes with an accompanying CD and was a joint collaboration between Craimer and Matthew Miller, publisher of Koren Publishers.

“Matthew had been thinking about adding musical accompaniments to his publications and sell them as a package while I already had a zemiros project in mind,” Craimer told The Jewish Link. “We thought it would be interesting to put the two together.”

Craimer hopes that listeners will enjoy the album during the week, enabling them to join in zemiros on Shabbos. The hard-covered birkon, which includes both an introduction and translation by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, lists the titles of the zemiros that are on the album in red so that even relative newcomers will have no trouble identifying their favorites.

“Obviously it isn’t intended to be used on Shabbos but we hope that people will listen to it and will appreciate and learn the songs so that they can sing them on Shabbos,” explained Craimer. “The CD is really more of an experiential accompaniment and is a wonderful addition to the beautiful zemiros book.”

The album includes 10 tracks, some of which are traditional while others have a more modern sound. Craimer’s favorite appears at the very top of the album, Shalom Aleichem, which was composed by Yigal Calek of the London School of Jewish Song and arranged by the renowned Yisroel Lamm. With the exception of Mizmor L’Dovid, the final track on the album and an original Craimer composition, the selections are all songs that Craimer sang growing up. A generation later, Craimer shares those same melodies with his children at his own Shabbos table.

“Ki Eshmera Shabbos is a song my uncle brought home from yeshiva years ago,” said Craimer, who also teaches music at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy. “It sounds a bit like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and is very fun.”

Craimer’s children accompany him for the song, their voices multiplied to give the effect of having a full choir consisting of younger Craimers.

While Craimer spent the last several years working on the zemiros CD, his most recent project was completed in just a few months. Titled Kolot HaChuppah, it is a collection of popular secular music set to words that are a meaningful part of an Orthodox wedding ceremony. The album, inspired by a client request, is intended for Jews who feel no connection to Jewish music and prefer to have songs that are familiar to them at their chupah. Understanding that the decision to go with a favorite secular tune means sacrificing any Jewish words normally sung during the chupah, Craimer decided to come up with an alternative.

“There are thousands of Jewish people who have nothing at their wedding ceremony that is Jewish. Why not take a melody that the bride and groom will recognize and put it to Hebrew words?” wondered Craimer.

He recorded an award-winning song from a well-known movie for the client in question and set it to the words, ‘Mi Bon Siach,’ sung after the bride reaches the chupah. The kallah loved it so much that she not only agreed to use it at the wedding, but she made the traditional seven circuits around her chosson under the chupah.

Kolot Hachuppah is available for free on Craimer’s website and all of the tracks can be heard in their entirety online. Of all the projects he has ever done, Craimer said that is the one that has generated the most feedback. He tells those who say that secular music has no place at an Orthodox wedding that these songs are intended for a different audience although they can be enjoyed by anyone.

“This is for the people who have literally no connection to Jewish music and have no interest in having Jewish music at their wedding,” said Craimer. “If I can get these people to use spiritually uplifting words and to add spirituality to their chupah then why not?”

Craimer noted that by using familiar music, he can hopefully get the bride and groom to connect to the traditional words at the most important moment of their lives, something that he feels is far more important than the actual melody being sung.

“These people won’t have an Im Eskacheych otherwise at their wedding,” said Craimer. “The melody is just an accompaniment to the words and by doing this, they will have powerful words at their chupah that otherwise they would never have.”

Kolot Hachuppah features seven chupah tracks by sources as varied as Josh Grobin, John Lennon and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as an original composition by Craimer. The album also includes a bonus dance track and is available for download at www.shimoncraimer.com.

By Sandy Eller

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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