oySongs - Love Jewish Music


Beth Schafer - News & Reviews
oySongs MyMusic Feature
For as long as I can remember, music has spoken to me. Good music is the culmination of beauty, expression, and order. I've been a musician my whole life and I guess in many ways have strived to attain that sense of beauty and expression and order in what I write. I didn't know it when I was a kid, but that special sense I was trying to achieve in my music is what we know as holiness. It brings me great joy to combine my love of music and my love Judaism as my life's work; but it also is a great challenge.

At first, like many, I thought that writing Jewish music was about reinterpreting the liturgy (musically) to be able to re-flavor worship. We all know that some like vanilla, some chocolate chip mint, (I personally like pistachio) and so there is room for lots of different interpretations of our prayers. Many write music to educate our young, and I've done that too.

But I believe there comes a point where we have to ask, "What is Jewish music?" Is it only about prayer and education or can it be more?

And this is where I am today. There have been hints of asking and answering this question all along in much of my writing. The song Lech L'cha, for example, quotes the text from Genesis and even quotes the trope in the melody, but it is not only about Abraham, it is about each of as we move into new situations. The highest compliment someone has paid me is when he or she has said that I have written the soundtrack to his or her life. Then I know I have brought the text into our time and helped keep alive.

The song What is This Land? (For David) is a song for Israel that asks hard questions. Yes, I love and support Israel, but not every song about Israel can be a song to promote tourism. This song asks why do we cry, why do we die for this land? What is it that we need from her? As I mourn the loss of David, my friend who died defending her, I asked these questions and put them to music. It is a moaning bluesy song about as far away from the sweetness of Lech L'cha.

Many of us are afraid of God-talk. It is intimidating, and sometimes makes us feel very vulnerable. As a Reform Jew, I think that even the vocabulary to talk about God and faith were avoided in my education when I was a kid. It is important to me to give permission through music to express faith, to express love, both of God and humanity. The songs Lev B'Lev and Love Multiplies are songs that do that without abandon. The song Tricky Thing even acknowledges that faithful people might find it hard from time to time to sustain consistent faith.

And finally, I am motivated to write to help bring about peace. Peace is only going to be achieved through honest, open dialogue. We are each made in God's image, yet we fail to see God in the eyes of our perceived enemies. Everyone is hurting; everyone is a little bit broken. The ability to heal one another and the world is placed in each of us. On That Sacred Day and Working for Shalom and the new music I am currently working on for an interfaith project called Build That Bridge will attempt to bring people closer toward genuine dialogue through music. And, I hope, that in a small way, as I reach toward holiness, I can bring some people along with me.

Sometimes it seems that the right music at the right time has a magical effect on the moment. I know that that magic is nothing less than Divine and I will continue to try and make those moments happen for as long as I can.

[February 2007]

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