Binyumen Schaechter, known also as Ben Schaechter (born 1963) is an award-winning composer, arranger, conductor, musical director and performer, in both musical theatre and in the world of Yiddish music. His music has been heard on the New York stage, major TV networks, and in many recordings.
His Early Years
Binyumen was born in the East New York section of Brooklyn, NY, the youngest of four children. His father, Mordkhe Schaechter, was a native of the city of Chernivtsi / Cernauti / Chernovitz, which was part of Romania when Mordkhe was born, and since World War II has been a part of the Ukraine. Binyumen's mother, Charlotte Schaechter née Saffian, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bronx. Her parents had come from the towns of Holoskove and Orynyn, both in the Ukraine. Binyumen's family moved to Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx in January 1966, where the family lived for some 40 years. And atypically for American families, Binyumen's parents spoke only Yiddish with the children, and insisted that the children answer back in Yiddish.
Still, he attended public school, at P.S. 56 and J.H.S 80 in the Bronx, then the High School of Music and Art (now called LaGuardia High School), Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music. During that time, he was trained classically as a composer and pianist, studying piano at the Hebrew Arts School (now the Lucy Moses School) with Natan Brand, and composition privately with Dr. Miriam Gideon and then with John Corigliano, Jr. But when Binyumen heard the score to Pippin while he was at Columbia University, he became fascinated with American musical theatre and began composing his first musical theatre songs shortly afterward. After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, he decided to pursue a career as a composer in musical theatre.
His Musical Work
Off-Broadway, Ben's music has been represented in Naked Boys Singing (fourth longest-running show in Off-Broadway history, with a subsequent film release), Pets! (Dramatic Publishing), That’s Life! (Outer Critics Circle nominee), Too Jewish? (Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle nominee) and Double Identity. In its review of Double Identity, The New York Times wrote, “Among it's [the show's] assets...is the ear-catching score by Ben Schaechter, whose wide-ranging gifts have buoyed recent hit revues like That’s Life! and Too Jewish?”
Binyumen is the conceiver, musical director/arranger, and translator of a half-dozen Yiddish musical theater works, including The Shtetl Comes to Life and From Kinahora to Coney Island. Most recently, they have featured his actor-singer daughters, Di Shekhter-tekhter (a.k.a. Reyna Schaechter & Temma Schaechter) as the three of them have traveled the world performing in Yiddish since their debut in Paris in 2008. A documentary film / concert video of "Di Shekhter-tekhter" – When Our Bubbas And Zeydas Were Young: The Schaechter Sisters On Stage – was released on DVD in 2012 by Ergo Media. It was directed by Josh Waletzky, Academy Award-nominated documentary film director, known for his films Image Before My Eyes and Partisans of Vilna.
Binyumen is the conductor of the outstanding Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus, a 50-voice, largely a cappella intergenerational Yiddish chorus. Defying the stereotypes of Yiddish music, the works performed by the JPPC include Yiddish cantatas, oratorios and operettas, Classical works that have been translated into Yiddish (including works by Beethoven, Handel, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky), and shorter 4-part Yiddish choral arrangements of Yiddish theatre music, Holocaust music, contemporary songs, and more. Venues where the JPPC has performed over the past decade include Symphony Space, Alice Tully Hall, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, West Point Military Academy, the North American Jewish Choral Festival, and Shea Stadium. The JPPC released its first CD in 2006, Zingt! A Celebration of Yiddish Choral Music.
His Non-Musical Work
Almost all of Binyumen's non-musical work has involved the Yiddish language. As an actor, he was featured, in Anna Deveare Smith's one-woman show at Carnegie Hall, as the "simultaneous" on-stage Yiddish translator for a couple of her monologues. He also translated into Yiddish the first-ever film (DVD) with an option of Yiddish subtitle translations, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. Binyumen has also done quite a bit of translating of both prose, song lyrics and aria lyrics from Yiddish into English, from English into Yiddish, and even from Italian and French into Yiddish.
Apart from translating, he was for a dozen years the Coordinator of the Yidish-vokh, an annual week-long all-Yiddish summer retreat sponsored by Yugntruf Youth for Yiddish, an organization that was co-founded in 1964 by his father to promote Yiddish as an active, spoken language. The Yidish-vokh still occurs every summer.
Most recently, Binyumen has begun giving lectures and leading workshops entitled Ashkenazic Family Names: What Those Names Mean, and What What They Mean Means, premiering it at the North American Jewish Choral Festival in the summer of 2014, and with upcoming engagements at KlezKamp (December 2014) and elsewhere.
Schaechter is a member of a leading family in Yiddish language and cultural studies. His father, Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, was an influential linguist of the Yiddish language, writing and editing many articles, magazines, journals, terminologies and textbooks in Yiddish and on Yiddish. His mother, Charlotte (Charne) Schaechter, spent much of her life as an accompanist to Yiddish singers. His aunt, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, was a Yiddish poet and songwriter and spiritual guide to many of the Klezmer musicians in the world today. Among his three sisters, Rukhl Schaechter is a journalist with the Yiddish Forward, and host of the on-line Yiddish cooking program, Est gezunterheyt!; Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath is a Yiddish poet and editor, and she sings in the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus; and sister Eydl Reznik teaches Yiddish among the ultra-Orthodox community in Tsfat, Israel. Schaechter and his sisters all speak only in Yiddish with their children, giving their parents 16 Yiddish-speaking grandchildren. Binyumen's cousin, Itzik Gottesman, was an editor of The Yiddish Forward and the Tsukunft, and is continuing his work as a scholar of Yiddish folklore.
- Naked Boys Singing
- Ball Games (produced in Dallas, Texas)
- Dinner at Eight (BMI's Jerry Bock Award)
- Double Identity
- From Kinehora to Coney Island
- Gay 90s Musical (produced in L.A. and elsewhere)
- Hangin' Out (sequel to Naked Boys Singing, produced in L.A.)
- Our Zeydas and Bubbas As Children
- Out of the Blue
- Pets! (Dramatic Publishing)
- Pripetshik Sings Yiddish! (DVD, Ergo Media, distributor)
- That's Life! (nominee, Outer Critics Circle Award)
- The Shtetl Comes to Life
- The Wild Swans (ASCAP's Bernice Cohen Award; selected, Eugene O'Neill National Music Theatre Conference)
- Too Jewish? (nominee: Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Awards)
- When Our Bubbas and Zeydas Were Young: The Schaechter Sisters on Stage (DVD, Ergo Media, distributor)
- Who Says Yiddish Songs Aren't Funny?
- Yiddish Top Khay – Singalong Countdown of the 18 Most Sung Yiddish Songs
- Provided the translations for the first-ever DVD with Yiddish subtitles, The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg.