First of all, what are Ivy League graduates doing playing barmitzvahs and weddings over the past decade(s)?
We are in the business because we truly love playing great music and helping our fellow Jewish people to celebrate their simchas. It is an awesome feeling to watch people dancing to our music and really having a blast as they celebrate together! The events we play are not just “gigs” to us. We truly consider it an honor and a privilege each time we are invited into the lives of other’s families. We form special connections with them that last long after the event, and we are usually invited back for other simchas in the family. We feel that having us play for your simcha is b’shert.
So who are The Chai Notes?
We are a group of youngish guys and gals (all of us in our late 20s and early 30s) about the same age of many of our wedding couples. We are all professional musicians. Some of us have been playing for simchas since high school and prior to 1997 at Harvard College where The Chai Notes was founded – formerly “The Charvard Chai Notes.” We have lots of energy and we feel that doing this is what we were born to do. We love doing this, and feel that doing this is a mitzvah!
If you had to pick one thing, what is the main thing about your band that makes people want to hire you?
Our versatility. Some people want really good Klezmer and Jewish music but also really good pop and dance/party music. We do both well. We are a “Klezmer band” that plays by ear. We don’t need sheet music. We can play any song from the Jewish repertoire (from any of the religious movements, Chassidic to Reform) and then we can branch out into the pop and party music that people also wanna hear and dance to…Some party bands may be able to play the popular stuff, but they simply cannot play a “real” hora or play Klezmer music with any authenticity. It ends up being just a cheesy Hava Nagila played over and over and over and over….With The Chai Notes, all of our musicians are extremely versatile, each a truly amazing player with extremely high musicianship. We each “speak” the language of music, and can do it all well. This is a niche that we are able to fill and a big reason why people want to hire us.
What type of music do you play?
All of it! Our motto is “There is no song we can’t play!” We play traditional and modern Klezmer, Jewish, and Israeli music. However, we can easily branch out into Top 40, James Brown, Latin, Salsa, Jazz, Swing…you name it! Here is a SONG LIST. Of the thousand plus songs we play, these are just some of the favorites that people request. We also DJ!
What happens between the time we hire you for our event, and our event.
We work with you throughout the entire planning process. We want to get to know you well so we can help cater to your specific event, your musical tastes and preferences, etc. If you are getting married but don’t know about the Jewish wedding traditions, we’d love to tell you about all the possibilities for the ceremony, for example, to help you and your fiancé decide what you want to do. There are many opportunities in the service where special music can be added, some of which are traditional melodies and prayers that have special tunes to them. Also, we can offer suggestions for caterers, florists, venues, clergy members, etc. We will email or call back and forth a lot during the months prior to your simcha to discuss the details…With The Chai Notes, you don’t just hire us and then that’s it until the special day. Rather, we are a more “full-service” type of band. It’s true, one of our barmitzvah moms actually had us help her son with learning the barmitzvah Torah portion and writing his speech!
Do you DJ?
Yes, we have professional DJ equipment with great EQ, great bass, etc. However, if it’s ok with you, the band likes to play along live with the DJ’s songs, which gives the songs a new an unique sound, like a cool remixed version. We often have requests at Bnai Mitzvah’s to DJ songs, because the bnai mitzvah boy or girl thinks the party won’t be “cool” if they have a band. But we show up, DJ songs, play games with the kids, and play some stuff for the adults, and everyone has a blast….A DJ is really just a guy with an ipod who presses the start button. We are so much more than that. You also have to know what song to play when, and how to feel the crowd, and keep the night moving! Sometimes at weddings we are requested to DJ certain songs, for example for the First Dance, when there is a special version of a song that is meaningful to the couple. That’s no problem.
Do you take breaks between sets.
No. This is your simcha! It’s only four or five hours long. Why would we shlep all our stuff there, set it all up, and then sit around for 15 minutes between 45 minute sets! Again, we love what we do! If we need to give a member of the band a short break (like the clarinet/sax/trumpet players so their mouths don’t fall off), the others of us will continue to play as a smaller group during opportune times, for example, while the main course is being served, during the toasts/speeches, etc., so that we’re all ready to hit it full force for the dance sets!
OK, so what’s with the juggling and magic…
Another reason why we are so popular at bnai mitzvahs is because of our “special skills.” Our accordionist is the founding father of the Harvard Juggling Club, has a past career as a professional juggler, even winning awards at international juggling competition by the IJA (International Jugglers Association). At bnai mitzvah’s we are often asked to do a juggling and magic show (juggling balls, clubs, machetes, diabolos, hat manipulation, and doing magic) followed by a mass scarf juggling lesson with all the guests, from the kiddos to the adults. This goes over great! It makes for great album photos, gets everyone on the dance floor, even Grandma, all juggling scarves of different colors being thrown about. It makes for awesome photo opportunities! Some moms will even take it upon themselves as a project to fashion the scaves themselves, using the color scheme for the event, and going to an arts and crafts store to buy material to cut up and a fancy ribbon to wrap the scarfs. It also makes great party favors that are not too expensive. Plus everyone will learn to juggle 3 scarves in about 3 minutes.
What’s a Dance Motivator?
When we perform as a quintet or larger, we will often have two vocalists, one who is a Dance Motivator. This person is a vocalist by training and will sing backup harmonies and counterlines, and help create that big sound for which The Chai Notes is known. However, that person will also help motivate people to dance! She does a great job, and it really makes a difference for certain crowds …You can hide, but our Dance Motivator will find you, and before you know it, you will find yourself dancing on the dance floor having a great time! The Dance Motivator help start the congo line, help lead the hora and Israeli dancing, things like that. She will tell you when to walk through the doors into the reception as you are announced as the newly wed couple Mr. & Mrs. X. She will help you with whatever you need and help you get organized before you walk down the isle to the chuppah, sort of like a bridal attendant. Well…that’s what a Dance Motivator is and does.
Is it true that a one of your former Chai Notes vocalists now sings with the legendary musician, Sting?
That’s right! Google “Jo Lawry, Sting” and you’ll get a bunch of youtube clips of their recent performances together.
Is it true that some of your band members are actually medical doctors?
Yes, two of us are (but don’t tell anybody :). All of the other musicians are 100% professional musicians as both their day job and night job. And no, musical talents really have no utility in the field of medicine (unless you are a music therapist), although juggling and magic do come in handy with the pediatric patients.
Is it true that you also do musical bris ceremonies and musical baby naming.
See www.MohelDanielMD.com. Yes, it’s true. Don’t laugh too hard. Actually, I do “musical ceremonies,” which people have really enjoyed as a pleasant change from the usual traditional less-musical ceremony. Yes, I do the snipping, and accompany our vocalist who leads the service. We are now offering a promotional special rate for the bris’s…half off! No, we don’t take tips!….ok, enough mohel humor for now!
Why don’t you advertise, use promotional materials, advertise in magazines?
Hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way, but we don’t advertise because we really don’t have to. We get 95% of our simchas from word of mouth and from people who saw us perform live and want to hire us. Many bands rely on their promotional materials to get hired, and they must put lots of money into their website, advertising in Jewish magazines, etc….. More importantly, we would rather play for people who saw us, know what we’re all about, and want to hire us, rather than just base it on a fancy looking promo package…I have news for anyone who does this, most of the promo material of those bands is not accurate, does not even include the same musicians who will show up to your event, has different musicians playing on the demo tracks, etc. The person you speak to when you call is usually not even one of the musicians who will actually be at your event, or is not even a musician at all! Rather, it’s usually some sketchy business guy. On the other hand, when you call The Chai Notes, you are talking to the Musical Director and his wife who is the Lead Vocalist. We will be the ones working with you for all the months prior the simcha to help you plan the event, and we will be the ones at your simcha making sure that you and your guests are having an awesome time….There will always be some band out there with a decent promo package who may “get the gig” by advertising a very low price, but they are usually essentially a “garage” band who haven’t been playing simchas together for over a decade like we have. They may be able to “talk the talk” and “get the gig” with a low-ball price, but trust me, they won’t be able to “walk the walk,” as you’ll find out when your dance floor is bare with tumbleweeds blowing across…ok, scary image, but the point is, you need a band with energy, experience, etc. We do have demo’s we can send you, and honestly it sounds just like any other good wedding band demo. But I’ll tell you up front, our demo is old and since making those recordings, we have been joined by some new musicians who make our band even more awesome! So the best demo really is to see a band perform live, and see how much they can rock the audience! This is why 95% of the simchas we play are for people who saw us play and then immediately wanted to hire us.
Why did you stop using references or inviting people to see you perform at weddings and bnai mitzvahs?
About 5 years ago, we stopped doing this as our policy and the reasons are manifold: First, would you want potential clients who you don’t even know crashing your wedding? Or bar/bat mitzvah? (…But yes, they should make a sequel to the movie Wedding Crashers called “Bar Mitzvah Crashers.” I’d pay to see Owen Wilson in that movie!) Also, we don’t want you to be bothered by potential band shoppers. Even if you really want to be a reference, as many do, we really don’t need you to do this. We are already overbooked as is. Finally, I refer to our answer to the previous question regarding how we don’t want or need to deal with the wedding “scene.” For example, occasionally some of the more obsessive people looking for a band do not demonstrate, for lack of a better word, character — they will spam a bunch of bands they find online, ask for everyone’s references, bother all of them, and possibly then not even hire any of them, or just hire the one who will give the best price. It’s like dating many different people simultaneously. It’s just not how we like to do things…We are glad that 95% of our simchas are from word of mouth and from people who saw us live, and we are glad that we don’t rely on promotional material…this results in us playing for people who are of high character. People who contact us are genuinely interested in just us. They didn’t just “cold call” us from a listing. It’s more efficient for everyone.
Any more thoughts on why to hire The Chai Notes?
The band/entertainment is the single most important thing in making a party one that you and your friends will be talking! We prefer to play for people who appreciate great music and love to party.
How much do you charge?
At Chai Notes Entertainment, we feel that financial factors should not be a limitation for anyone to be able to have the The Chai Notes “experience” for their simcha. We have always been able to work within our given budget (beyond a certain “critical mass.”) We can play as a very small group (i.e. a duo or trio), or as a very large group (i.e. over 10 musicians – I call that the “Chai Notes Orchestra!”), and everything in between. We are usually hired as a quartet or a quintet. We do sound great and can do an excellent job as a smaller group, and have developed tricks to still have that “big” sound – for example, we are each multi-instrumentalists and you will see each of us playing at least 2 instruments at any performance (sometime simultaneously!) For example, our horn player plays all 3 saxophones (alto, tenor, and soprano), flute, and clarinet. Our accordionist also plays bass, keyboard, and harmonica. The exception is our percussionist who really just plays the drums, but is a monster player at that…Each additional musician makes it exponentially more fun for us (and for you) and adds a whole new dynamic and sound.You see, playing music to us is like having a conversation with really great conversationlists, each song being a new topic of conversation. Everyone in the band is a true virtuoso with excellent musicianship and “speaks” the language of music. Finally, I feel that we really have become experts in maximizing whatever budget we have to work with. However, the more that a client is willing to put towards the budget for entertainment, the more we can do – exponentially! We always underpromise and overdeliver, and almost always we will find a way to show up with a larger ensemble than is contracted for! Besides, why would you rather spend the money on those extra 5 h’orderves, when we could have done so much more with that extra funding, like had extra musicians! With each small additional increment of funding that we have to work with, we can make magic happen bandwise. Also, we know how much caterer’s charge, like 4 times what we do, at least! It’s insane! We should have gone into the catering business!
Stop beating around the bush, let’s try this again, how much do you charge?
Part deux…Well, it depends on many factors: the ensemble size, where the simcha is, how long it is, if we are offering a promotion, if you are one of my wife’s in-laws, and a “fudge factor” as I call it to round it to the closest multiple of 18…We will always try to make it in multiples of “Chai.” We have played weddings and bnai mitzvahs anywhere from 100 chai ($1800) during our promotions or for close friends of The Chai Notes and friends of friends…to 200 chai ($3600). When the size of the ensemble approaches The Chai Notes Orchestra, we may charge 300 chai ($5400)…We don’t charge for song requests, travel and set up time, or for our increasingly popular juggling/magic displays and shtick, etc. And usually, once we’re there and set up, we don’t mind staying and playing after the ending time if everyone is still having a blast, which often happens. When everyone is still dancing, we keep playing! Bottom line on price: as far as quality entertainment wedding and bnai mitzvah bands in the tri-state area, if you do any investigation at all, you will see that our prices are definitely on the lower end of the spectrum, by far.
OK, we’re sold, count us in. How do we hire you?
It’s easy. If we’re available for your date, we’ll send you a one paragraph contract (that we wrote up ourselves), more of a moral contract that just states the basics, that we will be at your simcha that starts at time X and location Y and will get compensated Z at the end of the event. I’m not a lawyer and the contract probably wouldn’t stand up in court, but we’ve never had any problems. We send this contract to you with a stamped and pre-addressed envelope, so all you have to do is sign and drop back in the mail. Simple as that. Then you can worry about hiring all the other stuff (florist, caterer, etc.), but knowing that you made a great decision to hire The Chai Notes and that you are therefore guaranteed to have a great party.
We would love to provide first-class entertainment for your simcha and make it both special and unforgetful, and a simcha that you and your guests will be talking about for a while!