Tag Archives: music

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light

“Shadows and Light” is the name of a song by Joni Mitchell. This is her live performance of the song during her Mingus tour of 1980:

It’s worth hearing.

But the music all aside, the words are profound, and given what’s been happening in the world this week, I need to put the lyrics here and then talk about them.

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light,
Blindness, blindness and sight.
The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites…
Blindness, blindness and sight.

Threatened by all things – Devil of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – Devil of delight.
Mythical devil of the ever-present lines
Governing blindness, blindness and sight.

Suntans in reservation dining rooms, pale miners in their lantern rays –
It’s like night, night and day.
Hostage smiles on Presidents, “Freedom!” scribbled in the subways –
It’s like night… and day.

Threatened by all things – God of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – God of delight.
Mythical God of the ever-present lines
Governing day, day and night.

Critics of all expression, judges in black and white,
Saying it’s wrong, saying it’s right.
Compelled by prescribed standards, or our own ideals, we fight –
Wrong, wrong and right.

Threatened by all things – men of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – men of delight.
Keeper of the laws, the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Wrong… and right.

Now, I no longer believe God is mythical (obviously). But I think the God we build up in our heads often is. We attribute attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to the God in our heads which don’t really belong to God at all. I don’t think the God that the Haredim believe in is really God. I think that it’s the Haredim’s excuse for their behavior – and their behavior is often vile and without excuse.

I think a lot of our world’s problems do happen, as the song says, because we are compelled by prescribed standards or our own ideals, and we fight. I can’t imagine how the stabbings (and eventual murder of at least one young woman) at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, or the murder by arson of a Palestinian 18-month-old by Israeli settlers, can be seen any other way. What drove the Haredi murderer at Jerusalem Pride? Prescribed standards. What drove the murder of that baby boy? Someone’s cockeyed ideals.

When can we get beyond prescribed standards and ideals and look at what’s right for the world? When will we achieve tikkun olam? Will we ever?

Do we even want to, or is it just something to which we’re paying lip service?

I have clinical depression, as I’ve already talked about elsewhere. I have a natural tendency to only see the shadows. Where is the light in any of this? Is it the international outrage against the violence? Is it the Jewish groups in the United States who are now calling on Israel to get the extremists under control? Where is the light?

I admit that today I’m having trouble seeing the light in these situations.

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New Music: Eric Komar, “Justice, Justice”

It’s no secret that justice is a big deal for me. I have the quote from Micah right there on the front of this blog:

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; to do justice, to show mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

That’s sort of in-your-face, wouldn’t you say? If you needed a commandment that sort of encompasses the idea of tikkun olam, I can’t find a better place to start.

Well, in the last few weeks, I’ve been expanding my Jewish-and-Hebrew music collection. In a search for recordings of the Shehecheyanu, I discovered Eric Komar. Unfortunately, his music isn’t available on YouTube, but you should definitely look him up on his own page at http://www.komarmusic.com/merch.html, or at iTunes or Spotify. And the first song of his you should look for and listen to is “Justice, Justice,” from his album Two Life.

I’ll just put the lyrics here.

Justice, Justice
Eric Komar

Too many hungry families sleeping on the street
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many addicts trying to get back on their feet
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many tyrants wreaking havoc on their lands
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many helpless victims of destructive plans
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

(Chorus)
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many jobs denied because of greed or race
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many laws defied; the wrong side wins the case
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many young and feeble heartlessly snuffed out
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many old and sick nobody cares about
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many selfish interests trump the common good
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many messages not being understood!
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Oh… justice, justice!

Tirdof tzedek, tzedek.

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Sim Shalom – Steve McConnell Arrangement

I’ll just share this here. After this past Shabbat morning, where I went to a bat mitzvah and the entire b’nei mitzvah class sang “Sim Shalom” to the tune of the round, “Dona Nobis Pacem,” I have had the song in my head. I have always loved the music (and frankly, the words) of that round; I sang it for years as a child and adolescent, and I know all three lines to the round.

But this arrangement of Sim Shalom… well, it blew me away. I found myself singing along before the first play-through was half done, and harmonizing on my second time around, without thought. It’s simply one of the most simple and beautiful arrangements of a song I’ve ever heard.

I hope that it will hit you as hard as it hit me.

Sim Shalom (Steve McConnell Arrangement)

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim

Vetov yihyeh be’eineicha levar’cheinu ulevarech
Et kol amcha Yisrael
Bechol et uvechol sha’ah bish’lomecha
Uvechol sha’ah bish’lomecha

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim

Father, may you find it to be pleasing in Your eyes
To bless all of your people Israel
Bless us with peace each moment and in every hour
May Your peace be with us in every hour

Sim shalom, sim shalom
Tovah uv’rachah chaim
Sim shalom, sim shalom
Chen vachesed verachamim
Chen vachesed verachamim
Chen vachesed verachamim

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Song as Prayer

11 Sivan 5774

For each person, prayer (and worship) means something a little different. For some people, davening means quiet, almost whispered prayers in Hebrew while swaying with the joy of prayer. For some it means the joy of creation.

For me it’s always been about using the power of song to praise G-d. My father was a church choir director for years and years, and man, was he a purist about liturgy. We did not have 70s “folk music” at the Masses he directed. We had Mozart. Bach. Beethoven. You know – the good stuff. And when he couldn’t find good stuff, he’d write his own and the choir would learn it off in nothing flat. When my father finished his master’s program in music composition and conducting, the main feature of his master’s performance was a Mass he’d written called “The Walk of Faith,” and based on the pain of doubt and the need to trust. A recording of it was played at his funeral, and as soon as I can get the CD that my brother gave me to cough it up, I plan to play it on my father’s yartzheit in January every year.

The main reason I kept going to the Catholic church, after I started doubting G-d, was the music. Even in my 20s, when I was in deep denial and pain about the existence of G-d, I still managed to write an entire congregational Mass for the church that I was the volunteer choir director and pianist for at that time. (I guess it runs in the family or something.)

I tell people that my father raised me to be a liturgical musician. If I’d realized I had a yiddishe neshama ten years or so ago, I might have decided to go to cantorial school instead of going through a doctoral program. Singing kept me going to church for a long, long time, and it’s a big draw for me in going to temple, too. Fortunately the congregation at the Friday services seems to have a good sense of song, and some of them even harmonize! (Once I’ve learned the melodies well enough I’ll do the same thing, I’m sure.) I have not yet been able to attend Saturday morning services at my temple, but I want to. I want to hear the cantor and see if that makes me feel the way I felt when I was twelve and singing in my father’s church choir.

I hope it does, because I love to sing. I feel most like I’m worshiping when I’m singing, and when I hear or sing good music is when I most feel G-d’s presence. Since starting on this journey, I’ve been using my handy Spotify account to find music that is both singable and uniquely Jewish. Some of it is in Hebrew, and some in English, but I’ve begun to memorize various songs by popular Israeli and Jewish artists. Some of them are close enough to prayer that I count them as such: Shomer Yisrael and Hu Elokeinu, by Neshama Carlebach, make my eyes sting with tears every time I sing them or hear them. Right now I’m listening to L’dor Vador by Josh Nelson, and it’s having a similar effect. Whenever possible, I sing the brachot over meals. It makes them mean more to me.

But it just occurred to me why it’s so important to have this music available to me. It allows me to feel the presence of G-d again. It allows me to worship again. Yesterday, singing along with Josh Nelson, I felt a presence I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. The hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms stood up with the overwhelming feeling of rightness and awe that washed over me as I sang “L’dor vador nagid godlecha/L’dor vador, we protect this chain…”

This music is another spiritual helicopter for me, telling me that yes, I’m on the right path, and that this is right for me and what I’m called to do. Maybe cantorial school is still in my future – who knows?

What does prayer mean to you?

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