It’s not often that I have a friend who comes out with his own single. Gedalia Penner, a 2017 Yeshiva University graduate, has done just that. Also the musical director for the Y-Studs A Cappella group, Gedalia has recently begun to establish himself as a solo artist with the release of his song and music video, “Baruch Hagever.”
This summer, I eagerly anticipated the release of Gedalia’s first original song. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must see – his voice and talent in composition are beyond powerful, and the video itself is stunning. I was so inspired and uplifted by the musical brilliance of “Baruch Hagever,” and what appears to be Gedalia’s very soulful and personal connection to the song, that I had to find out more about how he went from being a student to a rising star within a matter of a few years. Below is a transcript of our conversation about his music and solo career:
Sarah Casteel: How long have you been singing?
Gedalia Penner: All my life! I have a wonderful fan base back in the neighborhood where I grew up who have been waiting for me to finally do solo work.
SC: Did you always envision that music would play this big of a role in your life?
GP: No, because I went to more religious schools without extracurriculars, so I didn’t really have any outlets. I knew I wanted to join the Y-studs when I came to college, but I had no idea how much that would be a turning point in realizing that music was something that I could pursue as a substantial hobby, and then semi-professionally. In fact, now I’m doing it professionally – I’m a music teacher, the musical director of Y-studs A Cappella, and I’m doing solo work – and so far, it feels great!
SC: How did majoring in music at YU affect you as a musician?
GP: Tremendously! First of all, music has always been my life. Walking down the street, I’m always listening to all of the sounds around me. Before anything, my music education just allowed me to understand – it really sounds cliché – but, myself. Not only did I hear the music, but I knew what it was and how to understand it, and how to build on it if I wanted to. And professionally, it puts me three steps ahead. It’s good to know that, and it feels good that I don’t just do my craft because “I was born with it.” I can really say that I developed it, worked on it, and understand it.
SC: What motivated you to officially kick off your solo career?
GP: It was really my song, “Baruch Hagever.” I wrote that song in Israel and I’ve wanted to show it to the world for a long time. Basically, the real move into being a solo artist was inspired by just wanting to put that out into the world, and while I was doing that, I thought I might as well do it in a way where I can push myself as a solo artist.
SC: What style of music are you planning on developing as you produce future songs?
GP: I’d say pop with influences from Jewish and secular backgrounds. I’m really excited that all the projects that I have in mind to put out are from such crazy eclectic genres. I see a wide range of musicians in my life, like A Cappella singers, Youtubers, chuppah singers. All the projects I have in mind reflect all of those different things that I want to be. I see myself as being able to perform in all of those genres.
SC: Do you play any instruments?
GP: I play guitar!
SC: Cool! When did you learn?
GP: In the last two weeks, actually!
SC: Wow, your musical talent clearly extends beyond just singing!
SC: I can feel the passion extending from the depths of your heart and soul to us listeners. Where did you get the inspiration for this song, and what does it mean to you?
GP: For all of the pre, during, and post-seminary and yeshiva readers: Israel can be a very tumultuous time of personal growth. Musically, the song was inspired by a riff that my two roommates and I came up with, that I then developed into a six minute song. Emotionally, it was inspired by struggles in faith, a dedication towards authenticity, and a lot of anxiety about what my Jewish future looked like. Authenticity is the most important thing to me – leaving no stone unturned in my psyche and making sure that I really believe in the things that I believe in. I don’t want to just go with the flow. In writing this song, I feel like I really can say that I thought through what I really want for myself in life, and as a Jew.
SC: How did it feel to finally release your music video?
It definitely felt relieving because it was a lot of work, and it felt very heartwarming because there was a lot of response. More than anything, I just had a lot of close friends who had been encouraging me for a long time to put out work.
SC: I have to know – where did you film this video? The scenery is gorgeous!
GP: The Mahwah river – basically, I meant to go somewhere else; I was on the New Jersey turnpike, my phone died, and I was just like, ok G-d, I’m just going to go over to the side of the road wherever it seems like there’s water, and I hope that you find me someplace pretty. After four or five times stopping, I went off to the side of the road and I asked some locals if there were any caves or water or anything, and I found myself in the bottom corner of a state park. It was really pretty, and it worked!
SC: What are your plans for this year, now that you graduated?
GP: I will be a part-time music teacher in Carmel Academy, a pluralistic Jewish day school in Greenwich, Connecticut. I will also continue to hold the title of Musical Director of Y-Studs A Cappella, and I will try as best as I can to release more videos and continue my solo work.
SC: Any advice for aspiring singers and musicians?
GP: Ask for help – there’s a big network of Jewish musicians, especially A Cappella musicians. It’s a world, it’s a community, and everyone’s enthusiastic to help and bring more musicians and singers into the world. Reach out to me – I’m happy to help.
As Gedalia likes to say, “Without music, life would be flat.” Stay tuned for Gedalia’s upcoming work!
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