Two passions strive for top priority in Ira Heller’s life; his music
and his family. This explains the look of awe that flickers across his
face when he recalls a "defining point" in his career.
"At the Ohel Concert 5758 at
Madison Square Garden, I introduced my song "My Little One,"
inspired by my daughter who was then in the hospital. The response was
simply magical. It’s very important to understand, however, that I
wrote this song not to arouse pity, but to share a very important lesson
"At that moment, my daughter
had a profound influence on the lives of 6,000 people. Quite an
accomplishment for a little girl!"
There has been much talk in Jewish
Music circles over the last few years, in anticipation of Heller’s new
album. Finally, the wait is over.
‘Inspiring and thought provoking’
The just released
"Aguda!" is the sixth album for the singer-songwriter, and
marks his debut collaboration with the acclaimed composer Yitzy Bald.
(On previous albums Heller worked with such accomplished composers as
Yossi Green and Moshe Laufer.)
"I’m extremely happy with
the product," says Heller. "The Yeshiva world has a certain
style that they look for and expect from performers before they’ll buy
their music. I’ve been around it all for a long time, and feel quite
comfortable performing in that genre."
Heller is filled with enthusiasm
over working with Bald. "He’s a very popular composer, and really
has his finger on the pulse. He manages to absorb it all. Together, we’ve
tried to produce a multi-faceted album which preserves the simplicity
and ‘taam’ of Jewish Music, while attaining a degree of simultaneous
sophistication. We want to inspire thought as well as passion."
The album springs to life with the
title song "Aguda," which is an infectious, fast-tempo number
that is sure to awaken your spirit and start your toe tapping.
Other songs on the album include
already popular songs like "My Little One," and "A Voice
in the Dark." The very moving "Sh’ma Yisroel" contrasts
a father’s whispering the Sh’ma into his child’s ear at birth,
with the son echoing the prayer into the father’s ear just before he
passes on to the next world.
"If you view life as finite,
it’s a very sad song," says Heller, "but the crux of the
song is immortality, as the relationship between the father and son
lasts for eternity. In this context, it reflects not the sadness in
life, but its beauty."
Personal trials and tragedies
Heller, a boyish looking 40, is
himself all too familiar with the need for comfort. He and his wife
Alysia have four children: Yehuda, 8 years old, Tehila, 5, and Aharon
and Moshe, twins of just 4 months.
Tehila, the inspiration for the
song "My Little One," was hospitalized for more than three
years, and still faces health challenges. "We need not leave our
home to see miracles. We just look at our little girl," says
The family endured another tragedy
when one of their triplet boys, born this year, died as a result of a
Heller has developed his own
approach to trying to overcome these hardships.
"First and foremost, I always
focus on my blessings, of which I have many. Second, I try to channel my
feelings into my creative pursuits, more specifically, the music. I’m
very careful though, to write my songs in a way that not only speaks to
me personally, but leaves room for my listeners to relate personally to
the songs as well."
Heller clearly has not lost his
perspective or sense of humor. He laughingly accounts for his youthful
features, as he quips "I bathe in formaldehyde."
His exceptional talent and playful
sense of humor have been around the world, as he has enjoyed a busy
musical career that spans continents.
Singing was second nature in his
family as both his Grandfather and Father were part-time Cantors.
Heller also had prolific experience
as a Cantor, and his work at The Jewish Center in Manhattan earned him
the "Cantor of the Year" award from the National Council of
Among his other notable
engagements, Heller, a lifelong Mets fan, has sung the National Anthem
at Shea Stadium on several occasions. He proudly points out that he was
"the first one in history to ever do so while wearing a Yarmulka."
He’s also a familiar face at
numerous high profile Jewish events, including the Salute to Israel
Parade and post parade Israel Day concerts in Central Park, as well as
countless political events.
‘Born to do it"
Heller, who attended Orthodox
day schools in his childhood, studied pre-law at Yeshiva University
before deciding to spend two years at a Yeshiva in Israel.
Psychology became his next
priority, after earning a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s
Ferkauf School he enrolled in the doctoral program. During that time, he
supported himself as a band musician.
"Then I decided to give music
a real shot," he says. "I realized it would be criminal to
pass up the opportunity. I felt I was born to do it, and had I let it
pass me by, I may have regretted it for the rest of my life."
Heller’s first break came in the
Catskills when, at age 24, he spontaneously sang before a hotel
audience. The result was a flood of calls from orchestras who needed a
Having already been studying
classical singing for years, Heller intensified his musical studies with
music theory, guitar, and piano training.
In 1989, he released his first
album "L’maan Yezamercha" ("Let us sing"), and
quickly became a household name in Jewish music.
His success took him around the
world, and among his many fond memories is his friendship with the late
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. "We performed many times together, and had
the opportunity to form a warm friendship." At one such
performance, which took place in Tel Aviv in 1991, there was an adoring
11 year old girl present. Her mother then promised her that when the
time came, she would hire Ira Heller to sing at her wedding.
Heller just recently returned home
this past April after singing at a wedding in London. He tells of how he
was greeted by the bride with a story of how she and her mother saw him
perform at a concert in Tel Aviv in 1991...and yes, the rest is history.
Heller’s own wife’s first
encounter with him was when she was just 16 years old. "She came to
a concert of mine. I signed a poster for her, and she kept it on her
wall. Five years later, we met for real."
Heller relies on his wife for her
insights and that she is "very supportive, an excellent connoisseur
of my performances, a very good consumer."
Stage as ‘extension of myself’
Heller is constantly seeking to
raise his standard and leave his mark on a wider audience.
"After all these years, I know
the life of a performer is not predictable, but in this business,
longevity is what ‘separates the men from the boys.’ You must
continually grow and develop your craft.
"You hope that at the end of a
performance, the audience leaves with something they didn’t have
previously. Similarly, I try to learn and grow from my audiences as
"I’ve come to view the stage
as an extension of myself. Use it properly, and your power of
communication increases dramatically. It is during these special moments
that I understand most clearly why I do what I do."