JJ: What is your Jewish background like?
Michael: I grew up in an observant Conservative home. We kept kosher, went to shul every week, and had Shabbat dinner. I went to a Day School and developed a passion for learning Torah and speaking Hebrew at a young age. As I got older I found myself loving tefillah more and more. The music of prayer is what drew my attention to it and I came to appreciate the intensity and authenticity of true prayerful experiences. I am still on my Jewish Journey and will be for the rest of my life, but I know I am blessed to have had such a strong Jewish education when I was so young that allows me to search through our tradition and culture for pieces that hold real meaning for me.
JJ: How has your music been inspired (or not) by Judaism and Jewish music?
Michael: I have two musical careers; one with my duo Late Night Thoughts (www.lntmusic.com) and one as a Jewish Songleader. The music of Judaism has not permeated my secular musical career but it has aligned with some of my secular musical tastes. Niggunim, wordless melodies, bring me to a higher place through the repetition and continuous build of harmony and emotion that go into the singing from a group. This aligns with my serious appreciation for music that finds a way to continue to build. Maybe it's a long jam that takes twists and turns upon a journey that I can follow, or maybe its the build of a more conventional tune that is embodied in the production of a song.
JJ: What is your current Jewish practice and identity like?
Michael: What a loaded question! I work in the Jewish world as a song leader, so I am engaged with Jewish practice on a daily - I lead prayers 3 times a day at Beit Rabban Day School on the UWS in NYC and I work at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun leading prayers and experiences for families. That being said, my personal practice outside of work is limited. I have my own Shabbat dinner about once a month, and I rarely daven on Saturday mornings, but I do still love to learn Torah and when I see some Torah shared by a friend on Facebook or I get an email from some random Jewish organization with nice teaching in it, I read the whole thing and allow it to send me on a thought journey. I do feel that I live a Jewish life despite the lack of a lot of practices I grew up with, and I hope to return to those practices later in life.
JJ: What musical projects have you been involved in, and where do you see yourself going musically?
Michael: The big project that I want everyone to check out and share with the world is called Late Night Thoughts (LNT for short). LNT is a folk/pop duo of me and my musical partner Brian Rauch. We met at Brandeis University and started a band sophomore year, but as our bandmates prioritized other commitments in life, Brain and I dove deeper into our music. We sang in a capella together and that helped us refine our harmonizing, something we do a lot of. Lastly, as someone who grew up on Jazz, Rock, Funk, and other “different” genres, I love being able to work in the pop-adjacent world and bringing in what I think of as the right amount of spice.
JJ: If you were to create a themed tefillah (prayer) service in any genre, what would you choose and why?
Michael: Soul/Blues. There isn’t enough soulful Jewish music out there, in my opinion. That’s not to say the Jewish music out there has no “soul,” but it is not raw and gritty in the way that I mean. I think of the vocal qualities of soul and blues and very raw and authentic and I would love to bring that honesty to a prayerful space.
JJ: Where can people learn more about your music, and support you as an artist?