Fiddler’s balancing act: Seeking success, but not at the kids’ expense

Fiddler’s balancing act: Seeking success, but not at the kids’ expense

Violinist Michael Greilsammer’s new song, ‘Full-Time Dad,’ conveys the challenges of harmonizing a musical career with parenthood

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Violinist Michael Greilsammer is as familiar to his neighbors for his electric bike, often laden with kids, as he is for the music he plays alone or with his wife and musical partner, Shimrit Greilsammer.

He brings those worlds together in his latest single, “Full-Time Dad,” a tune brimming with his beloved Irish sound. He’s letting fans know he’s thinking about how to meld steady parenthood with a successful career and its constant rounds of touring.

I’ll soon be a full-time dad again
The audience fills me with love
The little ones have been dreaming in their beds for awhile
I’m thankful and travel on to the next stop

It’s the conundrum that many a working parent faces — how to give everything you have to your family as well as to your work.

“I want to be a big star, but I also want to be a dad,” said the dread-locked Greilsammer over coffee recently.

Michael Greilsammer, fiddler and father (Courtesy Oz Barak)
Michael Greilsammer, fiddler and father (Courtesy Oz Barak)

Greilsammer, 35, has been working as a professional musician since he finished the army. Making music is something he’s been doing since he was five, when he first began playing the violin.

He doesn’t remember if he picked up a violin first or if it was his parents who pushed it in his direction; “It chose me,” said Greilsammer.

What he does recall is learning how to play during a year his family spent in Florence, Italy; Greilsammer’s father, Ilan Greilsammer, is a political scientist and his mother, Myriam Greilsammer is a professor in medical history. The family was spending a sabbatical year abroad.

His older brother, David, now a Juilliard-trained pianist and conductor known as an audacious classical artist, was already playing piano by then.

When the Greilsammers came back to Israel, Michael studied with one of the city’s best-known teachers, David Chen, and his parents had him practicing every day, something he doesn’t do with his own kids. He says now that he’s thankful for his parents’ steady pressure, and the daily grind of practice and perfection, but wishes he’d opted for another kind of music early in his career.

מה הפך אותי להיות כנר. ב-1994 חגגתי את הבר מצווה שלי בפאריז.היינו בשנת שבתון עם ההורים וזאת הייתה שנה מוזרה במיוחד. בכל מקרה, עוד לא העזתי לומר את זה במילים אבל כבר רציתי לצאת מהמוזיקה הקלאסית. אבל משהו בשנה הזאת דווקא החזיר לי את האהבה לכינור. אני חייב את זה למורה Paulette Laure הפרזיאית (עם המשקפיים, אותה לא פגשתי מאז). היא הייתה רגועה, עדינה מאד וקשובה. אני באתי עם מטען כבד, שנים על גבי שנים של לימודי מוזיקה קלאסית אצל דוד חן, אחד המורים הגדולים ביותר שהיו בארץ. גם עליו אני חושב הרבה כשאני דופק איזה סולו על הבמה ומשחק עם האצבעות. ״כמו חמאה!״ הוא היה אומר. לכל אחד מהם יש חלק אצלי בלב. אבל הכי הרבה אני חייב להורים שלי, שדחפו אותי, החזיקו לי את התווים, הכריחו אותי לשבת כל יום ולנגן, הסיעו אותי לקונסרבטוריון ובחזרה. ואהבו אותי. רק לפני כמה שנים הבנתי שאני אוהב להיות כנר. אני מקווה שאוכל לתת משהו דומה לילדים שלי. בינתיים הם כבר מנגנים בלי לשאול אותי… שיהיה שבוע טוב. (עוד 5 ימים לסיום ההדסטארט!)

Posted by ‎מיכאל גריילסאמר – Michael Greilsammer‎ on svētdiena, 2016. gada 10. jūlijs

For now, Greilsammer’s 8-year-old son plays drums, while his 4-year-old dances all the time.

“I’m fixing things with my own kids and the kids I teach,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be painful.”

In his early teens Greilsammer decided not to continue with the grueling classical training, choosing not to be a child musician prodigy.

“I wanted to be with my friends,” he said. “I’m a social kind of guy.”

He kept studying violin, but also began exploring and playing different kinds of music after his time at Hartman High School, a religious school for boys.

“I get somewhat angry with myself that i didn’t start earlier doing what I wanted to do,” he said. “Why didn’t I put together a band at 17, like Led Zeppelin. I didn’t have to hate what I was doing for all of those years. The sooner you start with your passion, the sooner you succeed.”

Throughout his army service, Greilsammer didn’t touch the violin, but by the end of his service, his older brother, David, had steered him back to the instrument.

David Greilsammer shared an apartment with the principal violinist of the successful Israeli Irish band Black Velvet, and both of those young musicians were going to study at New York’s Juilliard School; Michael Greilsammer took the roommate’s place in the band.

“I got into Irish music immediately; I was their violinist for five or six years,” he said.

He went on to play with Mosh Ben Ari, often sharing the stage with other well-known Israeli musicians like Berry Sakharov and Idan Raichel as well, until 2007, when he put together his own band.

“I wanted to do my own thing, to make more money, to have my own musicians,” he said.

The desire, and pressure, to be known for his own music and his own style is a force that Greilsammer has reckoned with for the better part of a decade, if not for most of his life. He doesn’t say much about his brother, who debuted as a soloist at Lincoln Center and since 2010 has been the musical director and principal conductor of the Geneva Camerata in Switzerland.

But the weight of the older brother’s success often feels present in conversation, as do the accomplishments of other locals, such as Vania Heymann, the award-winning video artist who attended the same high school and whose older brother is Greilsammer’s childhood friend.

“When you have someone like David or Vania around you, you’re driven to make the best of yourself. You know it’s possible. Although my life is different,” he said.

Besides aiming to head his own band, Greilsammer wanted to move back to Jerusalem, his hometown. He and Shimrit had been living in Tel Aviv for the better part of a decade by then, but he wanted the friendships and warmth of his home city, even if there wasn’t much of a music scene in the capital city at the time.

“I wanted to be the head of something, to earn more money because it’s so hard to be a musician in Israel,” said Greilsammer.

“It’s harder in Jerusalem because you don’t bump into producers on the street the way you do in Tel Aviv, but the Jerusalem culture is also important and we wanted to be part of that,” he said. “Jerusalemites aren’t posers; the people here are good friends to us.”

It’s helped to have a local music scene develop in the last few years, anchored by people like Greilsammer, the Djamchid Sisters, and Hadag Nachash’s Shaanan Streett, the Jerusalem rapper who was the first person Greilsammer called when he got back to Jerusalem. Streett, another full-time musician and dad, co-wrote the lyrics to “Full-Time Dad.”

וואו. תודה לכל האנשים שמילאו אתמול את הצוללת עד אפס מקום באהבה, לנגנים ולאורחים המדהימים שהצטרפו אלינו לבמה. היה כל כך מרגש ♡ הנה קטע קצר עם מיכאל מאתמול ותודה לקטיה על הצילום! שנתראה רק בשמחות, הרבה אהבהEden Djamchid Shay-li Djamchid Inbal Djamchid Michael Greilsammer Tamar Greenstein Moti Amir Tal Avraham צוללת צהובה / Yellow Submarine JLM Katya Bourindine

Posted by ‎האחיות ג'משיד – Djamchid Sisters‎ on svētdiena, 2017. gada 23. aprīlis

“I wanted to be local, even if I didn’t know what being local meant,” said Greilsammer. “People really give back here, I find that I mix much more with other local communities and artists.”

“Full-Time Dad” is from Greilsammer’s third album, a work in progress called “5×2” for its five pairs of songs, with each pair produced differently and hosting local and global musicians he has met during performances and festivals around the world. It’s a collaboration with Yossi Sassi, formerly of progressive metal band Orphaned Land.

The cover of Greilsammer's latest song, 'Full-Time Dad', illustrated by Elad Mualem (Courtesy Michael Greilsammer)
The cover of Greilsammer’s latest song, ‘Full-Time Dad’, illustrated by Elad Mualem (Courtesy Michael Greilsammer)

“I like to mix it up,” said Greilsammer.

He and Shimrit are very active in the city. When the pair play together, mixing up a melange of Hebrew, French and Irish music, and even an occasional Shlomo Carlebach song, their duets of violin and guitar are heartfelt and sharp, their rhythm easy and natural.

Still, it isn’t easy earning a living as a musician in Israel, said Greilsammer, who bemoans the lack of government support and often looks at musicians he has worked with who spend much of their time performing abroad — or living abroad, as Raichel does — and constantly wonders whether he’s making the right decisions.

“What’s more important to me is family, and I want to be able to support my family and my career,” he said. “What we want is a normal life, we don’t want to be rich, just to live happily. Yet the whole race is how much money you spend on making your music. I’m a musician but I also want to be with my kids.”

Greilsammer crowdfunded this latest album — which he has yet to finish — through Headstart, after financing Shimrit’s last album the same way.

“We keep asking the same people for money,” he joked.

The funding is just for producing the album, which he does at a studio in Mevasseret Zion outside Jerusalem.

“Everyone talks about Israeli talent and how much there is, but at the end of the day, all the musicians need help,” he said. “We’re on the financial edge all the time, like a lot of other young couples. But what’s different is that we’re in public, and I feel like we’re setting an example for young people, for musicians, in Jerusalem.”

For now, the Greilsammers see themselves as messengers. They toured a few years back with their two older children — they now also have an eight-month-old — because they felt it was important to show the kids what they were doing.

“You see very few musicians my age who have three kids and take them on the road,” said Greilsammer.

That’s why they call him the full-time dad.

Information about Greilsammer’s upcoming shows is available on his official Facebook page.

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