August 24, 2006
Make An Oyful Noise
OySongs.com is the first music download site dedicated exclusively to Jewish music and, with the Web site about a month old, its founder, Joe Eglash, is still breathless from excitement.
With sections dedicated to Sephardic, klezmer, jazz and contemporary Jewish music, as well as a selection of Shabbat, holiday material, children's music and a rapidly growing women's section, not to mention a cappella, hip-hop, psalms, Yiddish and on and on, the site is encyclopedic in its approach to the topic.
"I have a 'staff picks' section in which I will push things people should know about," Eglash said in a recent telephone conversation from his home in Tulsa, Okla. "Obviously, you'll have big names -- Debbie Friedman and Craig Taubman, for instance. But others need a little push and I feel that I can do that for them."
"I've been a musician all my life," Eglash said, "I was raised in a very musical household in Milwaukee. Although they weren't musicians, my parents are great music fans. For a long time, my father ran a coffeehouse that included live folk music."
When some of his professors at the University of Minnesota got him listening to Jewish music, Eglash became so involved that he changed his major from classical guitar to Jewish studies. And when his wife, Kari Siegel-Eglash, decided to pursue her own interest in Jewish music by studying for the cantorate at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he ended up spending a year in Jerusalem teaching guitar and Jewish music. He ended up at Transcontinental Music Publications, the music publishing arm of the Reform movement, and rose quickly to become their managing editor.
Now he's his own boss. In addition to OySongs.com, he also runs Eglash Creative Group, a music firm that helps independent musicians to develop songbooks and sheet music from their work.
Eglash admits to only two taboos in selecting music for the site. "I would never put in anything with the Messianic content," he said emphatically. "And I would have a problem with something that is offensive in content. But I'm not here to judge Jewish music that much."
What may truly set OySongs.com apart from other music download sites -- even non-Jewish ones -- is its ability to generate sheet music of the material it offers.
"I developed this because I thought a lot of years about the millions of Jews who are on the fringe of their communities but still love their Judaism," he said. "I think that this is the medium, the Internet, which is in everybody's home, and the idea of downloading music that is affordable, well, it might turn a lot of new people onto Jewish music who never knew there was a fraction of what is out there."
George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, "Essential Torah," will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.