Velvel Pasternak, Preserver of Hasidic Music, Is Dead at 85
Velvel Pasternak was born on Oct. 1, 1933, in Toronto, where his parents had separately settled after emigrating from small Polish towns. He was a musical prodigy and taught himself to play piano on an instrument his mother had bought for him. His father, Chaim Yosef, a tailor, liked to sing Modzitzer songs at Sabbath meals and take Velvel to a small Modzitzer synagogue. His mother was Chana (Rosengarten) Pasternak.
His parents, who were Orthodox, wanted to give Velvel a more advanced education in Torah and Hebrew, so they sent him to New York to attend Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Washington Heights. He considered a career in the rabbinate and enrolled in Yeshiva University’s college division, graduating in 1955. But he realized that he preferred music. He studied at Juilliard and received a master’s degree in music education from Teachers College at Columbia University.
He met his future wife, Goldie Garber, around this time at a roller-skating social event for Orthodox singles. She survives him. In addition to his children Shira, Naava and Gedalia, his other survivors include a son, Mayer; a daughter, Atara Greenberg; a sister, Shirley Halberstam; and 22 grandchildren.
Mr. Pasternak liked to tell friends about how he became a music publisher. In 1967, he received a fretful call from the mother of a bride in Sheboygan, Wis. She needed Jewish music so that a few friends of the groom who were yeshiva students could dance at the wedding, and she knew Mr. Pasternak’s name from records of Hasidic music he had arranged. The bandleader she had hired knew only two songs, the Passover standard “Dayenu” and “Hava Nagila.”
Mr. Pasternak transcribed the notes for 15 songs, for which he charged $25. Several months later a Florida family called with a similar request, and he produced another medley, keeping a copy for himself. Soon he was receiving phone calls from other bandleaders who had heard about his transcriptions, and he realized that there was a need for music collections, including sheet music.