Over the past three decades, one of the most creative and prolific composers in the world of Jewish music has undoubtedly been Reb Pinchos Weber. Pinky, as he is affectionately known, is responsible for such all-time favorites as the moving “Racheim,” sung by Yaakov Shweky, as well as “Tefillah L’ani,” which is one of Mordechai Ben David’s greatest hits. Then there’s the perennial dancefloor favorite, “Ben Bag Bag.”
Fascinatingly, Pinky has remained a badchan [defined by Merriam-Webster as “a professional jester and topical minstrel especially at Jewish wedding celebrations”] throughout, and takes great pride when I mention his honorific: “melech habadchanim—the king of the badchanim.” In fact, he tells how immensely gratified he is that his son Shloma Yakov—who joined him in Ami’s offices for our chat—is following in his footsteps and is a recognized badchan in his own right.
What follows is my conversation with both father and son, who are truly the kings of present-day badchanus.
Reb Pinchos, you’re known as the melech habadchanim. How did you earn that title?
It happened because I had the great privilege to change badchanus. Before I started, the style of badchanim, going back to Reb Chaim Mendel, was to recite grammen either without a tune or with the same simple tune. I brought in all kinds of songs and melodies to match the grammen. That’s the reason why people hire professional singers these days to sing along with the badchan. Since then, others have come along who are very talented, but there haven’t really been any new innovations. One thing that developed later was the idea that one can say grammen in the middle of the chuppah. My son Shloma Yakov was the first to do that.
Everyone knows about your badchanus, but your compositions are also exceptional and have been extremely successful. I’m not sure you’d come out second in a comparison to Yossi Green.
Yossi’s compositions are a lot more varied. He’s a real genius. My strength is being hartzig.
The richness of your songs isequally spectacular.
Baruch Hashem. “Hodu laShem ki tov.” Every person is given kochos, but he sometimes might not realize it. I started composing niggunim when someone approached me and said, “You already do grammen; why don’t you try composing?” So I did. “Chuneini Hashem” and “V’sivneihu Meheirah” were among my first compositions. Since then, I’ve composed a few hundred niggunim, most of which have been bought and recorded.
Would you classify your musicas primarily classical?
I have more updated songs as well, but I tend towards genuine niggunim. A lot of songs these days are gimmicky. The song might have a couple of good lines people can relate to, and they might enjoy singing it at a kumzitz, but the music doesn’t have lasting power. A proper niggun that’s built up with a kushya and a teirutz, with a first stanza and then a second stanza, has lasting power, although I have written a couple of kumzitz songs. For example, I wrote a song for Dovy Meisels called “Kretchma,” which has become very popular.
I’ve heard you perform as a badchan more than once, and I think that what you really add to the equation is the hartzig singing. Leaving everything else aside, the singing alone is very inspiring. If someone told me to wake up at 1:00 in the morning to hear a grammar I wouldn’t go, but I’d get up to hear Pinky Weber.
Okay, so there are two things that will wake you up in the middle of the night: If someone tells you there’s a fire, and if someone tells you to come hear Pinky Weber. But I think you’d wake up faster because of a fire. I’ll tell you a true story. There was a newly married couple in Williamsburg who called Shomrim because they heard noise coming from somewhere in their apartment. When Shomrim arrived, they discovered that the couple had been listening to the grammen I performed at their chasunah and fell asleep without turning it off, so when they woke up they heard me talking and talking.
But it seems to me that you concentrate more on seriousness than humor.
It’s possible that seriousness speaks more to the neshamah, whereas humor has a limit. You can laugh a couple times, but then you’re done. Earnestness speaks directly to the neshamah and satisfies it.
In which aspect do you feel that your neshamah expresses itself? In the niggunim or the humor?