"5000 Words": My First CD

by Sharon Neeman • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: Leon Sokoletski

I’m a translator by profession — but by avocation, I’m a singer and songwriter. I sang in my first performance when I was 8; I wrote my first song, "Minstrel’s Song", when I was 15; and I’ve been writing songs and singing them ever since.

When I was 17 and enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I met a man who became my boyfriend and my accompanist. Larry Gamliel was blind — which didn’t prevent him from earning a double-major B.A. with honors. I started out as one of his readers, and things went on from there. We were together, studying and performing, throughout my undergraduate years. But then the Yom Kippur War broke out in October 1973, I went into the Israel Defense Forces, and Larry (who had thought I’d stay in Jerusalem, get my M.A. and move in with him) broke up with me before I was finished basic training. He got married in 1974, I got married in 1976, and we lost touch.

In the twelve years of my marriage, I did a lot of translating, a lot of song-writing… and not much singing. My very conservative husband didn’t like the idea of his wife performing on stage, so my singing was more or less limited to lullabies, for the three kids we had together and his two older daughters by his first marriage, whom I was glad to mother along with the other three. But the ban on singing outside the house was only one of many limitations, and eventually, in 1988, we were divorced.

Two years later, I ran into someone who had known Larry and me back in college. Hannah was still in touch with Larry, and when she and I exchanged phone numbers, she passed mine on to him. When he called, I was in utter shock — and delighted. He was still married, with two sons and a demanding public service job; I was raising four children (my ex-husband’s oldest was married by then) and building my business as a self-employed translator. Nonetheless, we started singing together again on occasion, whenever our busy schedules permitted.

In October 2003, we performed together at a folk music festival in the Galilee. For the first time, we talked about what I had dreamed of doing but never dared to voice before: putting out a CD with him. We made an appointment to start working on it in December… except that he never made it to December. Late in November, he got up one morning with what he thought was indigestion, went to the pharmacy for an over-the-counter remedy, came home — and fell on the floor in his living room and died of a massive coronary. Needless to say, the dream of the CD went back on the shelf, though I continued to perform on the folk circuit on occasion.

In 2006, I wrote "5000 Words", a song about translation (5000 words is about as much as a good translator can do in a day’s work). In 2008, I posted "5000 Words" on Youtube and shared it with some translator friends. The song went viral. It got tens of thousands of views within a few months and was posted on more than 100 translation blogs around the world. I was asked to perform it at the Israel Translators Association national conference. I posted a few more songs on Youtube, alone and with my friend Judy Cohen as "Two Chicks from Hell". And people started asking me why I’d never recorded my music.

"I don’t play guitar well enough," was my stock answer, "and Larry’s dead, and Judy’s working on a CD of her own."

That usually silenced the askers. My life partner, however, wasn’t willing to accept that answer. "You know," my partner said one day in 2009, "there are other accompanists out there. What about Hagay, for example?" Hagay, a friend of ours who lived only 40 minutes away, is an accomplished professional singer, guitarist and keyboard artist.

I blinked. "Hagay’s a pro! He’s way out of my league!"

"He’s a pro," my partner answered, "but he’s not out of your league at all. The fact that you make your living translating doesn’t mean your music’s not every bit as good as his."
"But he doesn’t do my kind of music!" I countered.

"He doesn’t now," my partner replied, "but that doesn’t mean he won’t ever. Why don’t you ask him?"

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