Music: A notable moment

Ahead of its closing, the staff and customers of The Music House reminisce about its 15 years of providing a haven for artists.

The Music House 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Music House 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The red carpet flooring invites you to explore The Music House. It guides you effortlessly from the main hall into the side room, where two listening outposts await. There is a lot to choose from.
Fitting its “young Mozart” logo, this record store was first largely built on classical music. In time, The Music House added other typically underrepresented genres. The expanding back catalogue gradually included rich offerings in jazz, various ethnic, traditional music styles and even pop. However, for most of the past decade, The Music House was mostly known and cherished for promoting local indie artists. The store properly showcased their albums and even transformed itself, once a week, to a welcoming live venue. Sadly and quite abruptly, it was announced last month that The Music House will shut down this May after 15 years of loyal service.
The location at 25 Keren Hayesod Street has been a staple of Jerusalem’s entertainment scene for decades. Back in the 1970s, the place operated as The Drugstore nightclub. In 1983, it was home of IMP Records, which specialized in classical music and served as the launching pad for the current record store. Remarkably, one of IMP’s former employees, Eitan Karashi, continues working to this day under The Music House brand.
So far, it’s been business as usual here; no clearance-sale madness or farewell-party posters. Most of the daytime, middle-aged clientele didn’t come across the brief, heartfelt announcement on The Music House’s Facebook page. They are notified at a slower rate by phone or in person. The metal spiderwebs covering some of the store’s walls were once part of an exciting art exhibition. They now bear a gloomier interpretation.
I am met by Roy Ofir, the current manager, and Yaad Van-Leeven, a staffer, both working here since 2000. We gather by a table near the secondhand vinyl section and countless old piles of sheet music.
It’s a quiet corner with a great overall view, unimaginable in most record stores. Van-Leeven is particularly responsible for The Music Store’s reemergence as a creative hub for Jerusalem’s up-and-coming musical talent. Although his sense of pride in contributing to the city’s cultural landscape is undiminished, he often seems shaken by the memories evoked during our conversation.
“At the time, places like Uganda [the underground bar established in 2005] didn’t exist in town and I felt there was a real need [for live venues], even for one-night-only [shows] and regardless of my personal taste,” Van-Leeven explains. “It started with a few DJ sets in late 2000 and developed from then on, thanks to the support of the owner, Gideon Nieman, and the co-workers.”
Enhancing a sense of a budding community, all The Music House performances were free of charge. About 200 shows and events over six years were held here, featuring then-unknown artists such as Geva Alon, Tamar Eisenman, Sagol 59, Charlie Megira and Noa Babayof. The Music House’s appointed soundman, Benjamin Esterlis, a musician in his own right, sensed its potential early on.
“I was curious to witness shows in spaces that weren’t specifically designated for it. It creates something powerful and The Music House’s intimate setting was perfect for an artist to gain a following.
Jerusalem lacks a variety of venues and so every spot immediately stands out and draws its own unique crowd. The Music House was no exception.”
Singer-songwriter Ruth Dolores-Weiss was personally groomed there, having played live on Yaad Van-Leeven’s own piano which he brought to the store just for her. “The Music House is one of the most moving venues I ever performed in. I owe it a great deal,” Dolores-Weiss admits. “The people were highly attentive, driven by cultural thirst and acceptance. The shows felt like a strong one-onone bonding, without a sense of embarrassment performing in front of a small crowd.”
By 2004, The Music House had its own label. It issued several albums by artists who first made an impact as live attractions, such as The Visiting Hours and Yehuda Ledgley.
Soon, The Music House began hosting some renowned musicians as well. Ofir fondly remembers jazz bassist Avishai Cohen’s gig.
“It was insane. The place was packed, on a hot summer day, with a line of people stretching all the way to France Square and a crowd squeezing their faces up against the windows. Avishai is accustomed to playing big festivals worldwide but didn’t have any problem whatsoever performing here. In fact, I think he quite enjoyed himself.”
Van-Leeven considers the commemorative concert for the 1970 classic children’s album, Songs and Stories that Anat Especially Loves, as a personal highlight. The 2006 reissue gala he produced also featured the original LP narrator, Shoshik Shani, as a special guest star.
“We simply compiled all the artists we knew and loved,” Yaad testifies, “and gave each one a song to arrange and perform from it. I even drank enough to sing a tune myself.”
Recent years were marked by a rise of The Music House’s real-estate value and dwindling sales in all forms of music, primarily the store’s core – classical.
Ofir also suggests the stagnation in the city’s young, hip population as a key factor in ending The Music House’s run.
“A record store of this caliber simply can’t make it anymore. We’re not into bargain bins. It demands a great space to offer a substantial, cross-genre catalogue,” Van-Leeven adds. “The few stores that will continue would all be niche markets, but you can’t turn a place of this magnitude into a boutique.”
“I’m not saddened by the dysfunction of the record store itself as much as I’m bothered by the closure of The Music House as a cultural institution,” says former Blue Band member David Peretz. He’s one of The Music House’s most associated artists ever since his 2004 in-store performance recording achieved cult status.
“It was a safe haven,” he observes, “in which you were respected as a musician and were encouraged to grow instead of being pressured to cash in. I always preferred performing there when in Jerusalem. The audience was seated by the edge of your feet. Making eye contact was unavoidable, with no fancy light show. It forced you to be yourself. Only later did I notice the so-called stage there was set under the Original Jewish Music section sign. This was a true revelation.
I suddenly grasped my work as part of a vast tradition.”
The artists I’ve spoken to were all eager to participate in a farewell concert, but The Music House staff, still coping with the news in their own way, are a bit taken aback by the idea.
“It’s too soon for me to ponder it. This has been such a huge part of our adult life and we threw ourselves into it. Watching musicians develop, pushing and believing in them. We certainly didn’t just stare at the ceiling all this time. If I don’t waste my love for music after the store closes, it will be a major accomplishment,” Van- Leeven concludes.
As we finish our chat, Ofir notices an old client approaching the doors, a blind man advancing slowly with his cane, holding on to the banister.
“Here’s another customer we need to break the news to about the place,” Ofir notes as the man carefully enters The Music House, most likely for the last time.