Joey Weisenberg grew up in Milwaukee, performing in blues clubs at the same time he was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Now 33, Weisenberg has transferred his musical and spiritual passion to nigunim (wordless Jewish melodies), and will be musician-in-residence at Congregation Anshei Israel during the weekend of Nov. 14 and 15.
“My father was happy to drive me to clubs when I was 11 and 12 to watch me play,” Weisenberg told the AJP. “My dad was a flamenco guitar player when he was in his 20s,” he adds, and his mother was also a professional-level musician.
“The thing about the blues is that it has a deep soul to it. Blues music goes right to the heart. As I got older I discovered the wordless melodies of nigunim, which is also music of the heart. The melodies spoke to me very deeply, as the blues had.” About halfway through Columbia University as a pre-med student, he says, “I decided music had a stronger pull on me. My parents have been very supportive.” Weisenberg graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from Columbia in 2004.
Since then, conveying spirituality through music has become Weisenberg’s forte, including teaching, singing, performing and community building. “As an apprentice to great blues players, they were very generous to me,” he says. “I learned that you shared music, you passed it on by teaching.”
Weisenberg was education director of the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn from 2007 to 2014. He’s currently creative director of the Hadar Center for Communal Jewish Music, and lives in Philadelphia with his wife and three young children.
“In the Jewish tradition, music teaches you how to listen — first to the music, second to each other, and thirdly to the Divine voice,” explains Weisenberg. “Shema means listen. Achad (one), the last word in the Shema is about listening to the Divine unity of the world.”
At workshops and presentations “everybody brings something to the music, whether it’s a beautiful voice, or rocking back and forth, or enjoying it in their own internal way. Every person,” he notes, “brings their own skills and is responsible for creating their own aesthetic experience, which is non-competitive and a non-performance. Music is integrated into the soundtracks of our lives. My website, www.me chonhadar.org, connects people with a different Jewish melody” on a daily basis.
In a Jewish sense, says Weisenberg, “everybody has something to offer musically and spiritually.”
Weisenberg’s musician-in-residence weekend at Anshei Israel begins Nov. 14 with a Mincha service at 5:45 p.m., followed by a Kabbalat Shabbat service at 6:15 p.m.; Shabbat dinner at 7:15 p.m. (reservations required by Nov. 10); and “Transformation of a Nigun,” on teaching how to explore the soul of any melody, at 8:30 p.m.
On Saturday, Nov. 15, Shabbat service will begin at 9 a.m. At 11 a.m., Weisenberg will deliver the D’var Torah, “The Architecture of Listening,” on the interaction between physical space and spiritual music; followed at 11:15 a.m. by the Musaf, merging traditional prayer chanting with nigunim. After Kiddush at 12:45 p.m., he will discuss music-making ideas from his book, “Building Singing Communities.” In place of Torah study, Weisenberg will take part in a Mincha service at 4:15 p.m.; Seudah Shlishit (third meal) at 4:45 p.m.; and lead a “slow leave” of Shabbat with songs and Torah teaching; concluding with Ma’ariv and Havdallah at 6:15 p.m.
For more information and to RSVP for dinner, call 745-5550.