Tucsonan Gabe Lehrer is not quite 16, but he is already working on his second professionally recorded CD, as half of the singer-songwriter duo Sheldon and Gabriel.
Gabe met Sheldon Donenberg at Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif., in the summer of 2011. Gabe, the son of Mimi Algazi and Matt Lehrer, had been studying guitar from the age of 4. “I wanted to learn to play the drums, but my mom wouldn’t allow that. I wanted to play electric guitar, but she wouldn’t allow that either,” says Gabe. So he began guitar lessons at the Tucson Academy of Music and Dance with Michael Lich, who has been his teacher ever since.
Gabe describes Sheldon as a very talented, self-taught vocalist. They hit it off — both as friends and musicians — and began writing music and performing together at camp.
Gabe’s training is in classical guitar, mainly baroque and romantic genres, and he takes his music very seriously. He performed at the international Golden Key Music Festival, in Vienna, Austria, in 2009 and at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2012. In between, he put on a concert to raise money for Lead Guitar, a nonprofit school music program, where he also taught youth at risk for his Bar Mitzvah project.
When he met Sheldon, Gabe began expanding his repertoire to include pop music. “It’s not as hard as what I was playing,” he says. He is now venturing into jazz and flamenco as well. And he’s expanded his instrumentation to include steel drums at Catalina Foothills High School, where he is a sophomore.
“We wrote our first two songs at camp,” says Gabe. The pair stayed in touch and continued writing songs — Gabe in Tucson and Sheldon in Los Angeles. They performed together in a rock band at Camp Ramah the following summer.
Gabe describes the challenging process of writing music long distance: “I’ll record a riff on my phone and send it to Sheldon. He writes the vocal melodies. We share the lyrics.”
They primarily collaborate by sending snippets of music on their phones, texting lyrics, and occasionally video-calling through Skype. “Sometimes we have a bunch of separate ideas floating around — this set of lyrics, this set of songs. Then ‘kaboom’ — it comes together when we meet,” says Gabe.
In late 2012, they had the opportunity to record at a professional studio owned by a friend of Sheldon’s family in La Jolla, Calif. Gabe flew to California for winter break and they recorded three songs in the studio. On March 3, 2013, they performed live for the first time as a duo outside of Camp Ramah, at the 30th anniversary celebration for Congregation Bet Shalom, where Gabe is a member. Later that month, they went back into the studio to record another three original pieces. At that point, they realized that with a little more effort, they could have enough material for a full album.
After a month together at Camp Ramah last summer, Gabe stayed in California and the duo recorded the last of the nine songs for their first CD. They released “If, Then” in October 2013 as both an online album and a CD, with cover photography by Gabe’s grandfather, well-known Tucson photographer Cy Lehrer.
It’s an impressive first effort from two talented young men. They have a little help from a handful of studio musicians on a few tracks, but for the most part it’s just Gabe on guitar and Sheldon on vocals.
And the duo hasn’t stopped there. They started recording their second CD over winter break in Los Angeles and plan to release it this fall. Gabe is looking forward to collaborating with Sheldon in person again this summer, but this time for six weeks in Israel, at the Ramah Seminar.
In the meantime, Gabe continues to perform around town. He accompanied Cantor Avraham Alpert at Bet Shalom’s “An Enchanted Evening” concert on Feb. 1, and will accompany Cantor Janece Cohen at Congregation Or Chadash’s “Chai Hopes” celebration this Sunday.
As for aspirations beyond the next album, “We don’t have a rock star thing,” says Gabe. “We don’t want to be signed to a label or be super famous, although we would like to have a following. Maybe we’ll do some live performances and touring after high school.”
You can listen to tracks and download a digital version of “If, Then” at www.sheldonandgabriel.bandcamp.com/album/if-then, www.cdbaby.com/cd/sheldonandgabriel or iTunes. You can order a CD from CD Baby or directly from Gabe at [email protected]. And you can follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sheldonandgabriel.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ozeri @yahoo.com.