Roger Love: From Bima to Eminem

When Jeff Bridges won the Academy Award for his portrayal of an aging, alcoholic country singer in the movie “Crazy Heart,” he memorably thanked his parents, the motion picture academy, his director, his co-stars, and then, toward the end, as if recalling a particularly fond friend, “Roger Love, man!” And though Bridges may have been the most publicly effusive in his praise, he’s hardly the first performer whom Love has helped become a better singer or speaker. From Eminem to Glenn Beck, when celebrities want to sound like superstars, they turn to vocal coach Roger Love.

A deceptively unspectacular gray building on Hollywood Boulevard serves as Love’s studio. But once you pass through the big red doors into the warm, loftlike lobby, you remember not to judge a book by its cover. The soundproofed walls of Love’s office are covered with platinum records from all the musicians he’s worked with over the years. A small table displays the books he’s written, translated into several languages. For a man with so much success, Love is remarkably humble when it comes to his origin in the business. 

Love started working for vocal coach Seth Riggs when he was just a teenager. Riggs, a classical music lover, decided he wanted to teach opera in Canada for six months, and he asked the 17-year-old Love to fill in for him. “My first day, I had Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys; Earth, Wind & Fire; the Jacksons; The 5th Dimension … Luther Vandross came in. All these huge, huge stars, because he literally had every famous singer in America studying with him.” Love chuckles as he thinks about trying to teach such luminaries how to sing as a mere teenager. “Here’s a little Jewish guy and here’s Earth, Wind & Fire, singing gospel.”

Love said he “just faked my way through six months.” But when Riggs returned, most of the clients he’d left with Love wanted to keep working with him. And so, a career was born.

Teaching vocal technique is hardly an exact science. “Singing technique is mostly passed down from teacher to student,” Love said. “Nobody ever really learns how to teach. In a funny way, it’s a practice that doesn’t have a very good method to become a teacher.”

“Traditionally, for vocal technique … there are two main thoughts. You either take your chest voice and belt it up as high as it can go,” or, Love said, “just teach everybody head voice, especially women.” Love was satisfied with neither technique. “Most people, when they try to go from low to high, there’s an area in between chest voice and head voice, where the voice doesn’t know what to do.” This is why so many singers have trouble toward the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “There’s supposed to be another voice, middle voice, that lives in between.” Love decided he’d concentrate on helping his clients bridge the gap between low and high, and he experienced great results.

In the early 1990s, Love branched out on his own, leaving Riggs and starting his own business. Up until that point, he’d worked only with singers, but he gradually began to be approached by famous speakers looking for help. At first, Love turned down the requests. “No, I’m a singing teacher,” he’d tell them, and refer them to a speech pathologist. But soon, “The people who started calling started becoming so interesting” that Love couldn’t resist taking them on. And so he decided he’d take the techniques he’d learned to help singers keep their voices healthy and use them on speakers like Anthony Robbins and Suze Orman. 

In working with speakers, Love became interested in what makes people listen to or trust one person over another. “The statistics say that only 7 percent of the words I use make you believe me,” Love said. Fifty-five percent is physicality, body language, but as Love knew, many people were already teaching about that. “Thirty-eight percent of whether or not you believe me and whether or not I have any influence over you has to do with tonality, the sounds your voice makes aside from the words.” It was in tonality that Love found his gold mine.

“I became known as an influence expert,” Love said. “A great singer, with a great song and a great delivery, can move you to a myriad of emotions. I just did the same thing with speakers.”

When Bridges approached Love about learning to sing for his role in “Crazy Heart,” Love said he jumped at the chance. “Jeff came to me, brimming with natural musical talent. He loves, and has loved playing the guitar for many years,” Love said. Love was surprised by how excited Bridges was to take on the role, and together the two of them began the work of polishing Bridges’ voice. “It wasn’t big enough … it was kind of like he was playing the guitar and singing for himself,” Love said.

So Love set out to make Bridges the amateur sound like Bridges the pro. He helped Bridges expand the higher end of his vocal range, teaching him how to project and to use his breath more effectively and thicken his voice. “He was very intelligent. Very sweet. Every second with him was a pleasure,” said Love, recalling their time spent in the studio together.

What may be the most surprising thing about Love’s prominent position in the vocal world is that it all started in synagogue. “Where can a young Jewish boy sing? At temple,” Love said. He was brought up in a Conservative family that attended Temple Beth Ami in the Valley, and started singing in synagogue and studying with Cantor Allan Michelson. “He taught Nate Lam [now Cantor of Steven S. Wise Temple] and myself. Nate always wanted to be a cantor; I always wanted to be a singer.”

Love was even hired to be the fill-in cantor at Burbank Temple Emanu El as a teenager. But when his vocal-coaching career began taking off, “Judaism took a backseat role … for the next number of years.” It wasn’t until Love was about to get married that his non-Jewish wife, Miyoko, brought Judaism back into his life. Love’s mother-in-law suggested that the marriage would work better if the Loves shared one religion, and she encouraged her daughter to study Judaism. Miyoko eventually converted. 

“Am I the best Jew? No. Do I spend a lot of time studying the Bible? No. Should I be doing that?  Yeah, probably,” Love said. “But I am a teacher; I’m teaching all day. I don’t happen to be teaching about what’s in the Bible. But I’m making beautiful music. And I’m making people more connected to their dreams, their desires, their happiness. I feel like I’m doing something very special.”

Love clearly enjoys his work. When asked whether he has any especially beloved clients, he was quick to answer. “When you’re a voice coach, you quite often work with people who can’t sing and might be famous and might be in a position in the industry to make records. And then you’re forever helping people who are not legitimate, real, born-to-be, spent their whole life working at it — singers,” Love said. “So, every so often, somebody comes along like a John Mayer who is the real deal. He plays from his heart, he writes from his heart, he sings from his heart. He writes because he has to write. He’s a real artist.”

And despite the big names he’s worked with, Love is remarkably unconcerned with pop culture. “A lot of people come to me and I don’t even want to know who they are or what they do,” he said, laughing.

He hasn’t seen “The King’s Speech,” despite having worked with stutterers for years. People keep telling him to check it out, but he says there aren’t enough hours in the day. “What you mostly learn [when working with stars] is that everybody’s just normal. And superstars are just totally normal.  It’s just there’s also a part of them that can do something incredibly well,” he said.

One of Love’s weirder experiences was working with rapper Eminem, whom Love calls “one of the prophets of the generation, in a way. You may not like what he says, but he’s a prophet.” Love was contacted by Eminem’s people and flown out to meet the star before one of his concerts. There, Eminem’s manager told him, “You’ve got five minutes with him; he’s got to get on stage.”

When Love entered the green room, he was in for a surprise. “There were two Eminems sitting there … identical.” Apparently, the show called for Eminem to magically appear on the other side of the stage during the concert, and they’d brought in a body double. Love knew he had only five short minutes to sell himself to Eminem before the show, so “I started rapping.”

“This funny Jewish guy starts rapping Eminem songs,” Love said. “He’s laughing at me; you know, you do whatever it takes.”

Love’s bold move was appreciated, and he was subsequently asked to accompany Eminem on tour and spent a week working with him on the road.

And as for dealing with divas? “People often say to me, ‘Oh I’ve heard that celebrity’s a nightmare, they’re a total jerk,’ ” Love said. “Even if you’re a jerk, when you go to the doctor and you think you’ve got an illness, you’re really not that much of a jerk to the doctor. Even a jerk is fake-nice to a doctor.”

A New L.A. Shtibl

Several people huddle around the Shtibl Minyan’s scarf-covered bima, rolling the Torah scroll to the day’s special maftir. There is some down time threatening to break the momentum, so Rachel Sheer grabs someone’s child to balance on her hip as she circles the room urging others to join her in a niggun, a catchy, wordless melody.

It’s not too difficult to get a niggun going in the Shtibl Minyan. After all, that is why the Shtibl Minyan, with between 20 and 60 people every Shabbat, was founded more than a year ago.

“There was a group of people who wanted a place to daven that had Chasidic davening and was egalitarian in a community that was politically committed and Jewishly learned, and saw all those things as being tied together,” said Aryeh Cohen, a professor of rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism, who founded the minyan.

The first minyan in January 2000 drew 40 people to the rented room in the Workmen’s Circle building on Robertson Boulevard, just south of Pico Boulevard. The next week saw 60 people. The numbers — way beyond anyone’s expectations — proved something that Cohen had long felt: There were many like him who were looking for a spirited, traditional and egalitarian service in a community dedicated to social action and Torah study.

The Shtibl Minyan is one of a few small traditional egalitarian prayer groups that have emerged in the mostly Orthodox Pico-Robertson area during the past few years. The Shivyon Minyan meets once a month at a local hotel, and a small Friday night service meets at someone’s home. Most recently, the Neshama Minyan, which like the Shtibl Minyan uses the tunes and style of the late Reb Shlomo Carlebach, started to meet Friday nights at Temple Beth Am last November and now has 80 to 90 people every week.

Daniel Greyber, a University of Judaism rabbinic student who founded the Neshama Minyan, believes there is a growing group that is looking for the “passion and spirituality of the Carlebach minyanim, but who want an egalitarian setting where they don’t feel like they are compromising their principles, where they feel like everybody is participating fully in the experience,” said Greyber, who is a rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am.

The Shtibl Minyan is entirely lay led, with a core group of about 25. Most of the members are in their 20’s or 30’s, both singles and families.

At this young stage, the members of the Shtibl Minyan are able to mold the ambience and content to their desires.

For instance, it was important to founders that children not be sequestered in another room, so they are able to float freely between the A Shenere Velt Gallery where the minyan meets and the library adjacent to it, where a rotation of parents keeps an eye on the kids.

“It’s a place that my daughter really likes,” Sarah Lansill said of 4-year-old Hannah. “Sometimes I like a more quiet, meditative experience, but it’s more important for me to have a place where I can daven with my family and where Hannah sees adults engaged in prayer,” added Lansill, who also davens at Metivta: A Center for Contemplative Judaism.

Like many other children who attend, Hannah joins in for the songs and dances.

And the singing is plentiful. Members take turns leading the davening in the Carlebach style, which leaves ample room for spontaneous participation and community singing. Taking the Torah in and out of the ark is usually a 20-minute affair with dance and song.

“In most shuls, if you chant a niggun for more than one round, it’s considered inappropriate,” said Philip Shakhnis, who was among the founding members. “I wanted something where there would be freer emotional expression, where the real love of the melodies could be expressed without any sort of embarrassment.”

It is also important to Shakhnis, who like many other Shtibl members attended or still attends Temple Beth Am’s Library Minyan, that there is opportunity for a full silent amidah and that the full Torah portion is read every week.

Shtibl members are also averse to the institutional bureaucracy that stifles innovation in many big congregations.

The Shtibl Minyan has no rabbi, no building and no dues.

“We have a constantly evolving notion of what it means to belong,” Cohen said. “Our notion of what would normally be called membership includes doing things for the Shtibl — laining, davening, setting up the chairs, going to the homeless shelter to prepare food, hosting Shabbat lunch, teaching class, taking a class — that is how we define belonging.”

Cohen teaches a Talmud class and gives most of the d’var Torahs, though others are welcome to.

“There’s a real absence of theatricality and rabbi-speak that can happen in big congregations,” Lansill said.

“We’re not about a building fund. That is the last thing that any of us would ever want to put our energies into,” Shakhnis said.

He added that members would rather put their money and time into other causes, such as supporting the janitors’ strike last year, when Shtibl members brought over bagged lunches and contributed to the janitor’s living-expense funds.

Every Thursday minyaneers are at P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless), cooking and serving dinner and tutoring homeless people. They visit Briarwood Terrace convalescent hospital, and last summer they demonstrated at the Democratic National Convention.

“We see all of that as an integral part of what it means to be a davening and learning community,” Cohen said.

Even the art gallery where the minyan meets happens to be decorated with an art installation about homeless people.

“The partnership with the Workmen’s Circle has been wonderful,” Cohen said, “though the irony of a Chasidic minyan meeting at a an organization founded by anti-religious socialists is not lost on anyone.”

The small room with the checkered floor also has the haimish, informal quality that gives the minyan the intimacy of a shtibl — one of the small shuls that populated Eastern European villages.

While too much growth isn’t a problem yet, Cohen said he’d like to see the minyan stay small. In fact, he said, he’d rather see spin-off minyanim than a bloated Shtibl Minyan.

Minyan members seem to agree, treasuring the ambience a small group allows.

“There is a feeling in the room that happens when people are really engaged in prayer,” Lansill said. “And that happens there.”

The Shtibl Minyan meets Saturdays at 9:15 a.m. at the
Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd. For more information on the Shtibl
Minyan, visit or e-mail .

The Neshama Minyan meets Friday evenings at Temple Beth
Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Ave. Through the summer mincha is at 5:45 p.m., Kabbalat
Shabbat and maariv 6-7:15 p.m. For more information call (310) 652-7353 or
e-mail .