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During this last year, we have been able to listen to our favorite recordings as before.
The pandemic, however, has precluded the possibility of many in-person performances and gatherings in which music figures prominently.
While common online meeting platforms, such as Zoom, do not allow for real-time musical collaboration, we have seen dazzling videos been created using innovative software that merges individually recorded vocal or instrumental parts. They are not the same sitting in a concert hall, or in a worship space, but they have brought us close to the sound of live music we appreciate and even love.
I recently attended a virtual Jewish music conference (usually held in-person in St. Louis), attended by singers, performers, songwriters and song leaders. During song sessions and worship, there were solo presentations, and a few live combinations of singers uniting their voices and instruments in the same room at their homes.
There were many inspirational moments. I believe songwriters shared their original compositions from a deeper place than usual, relying on their own voices and accompanying instruments to fashion a complete sound that moved us to hear and understand their messages.
On one Saturday night each month, I join some of my Jewish music colleagues in presenting a Facebook Live sing-along of popular songs that fit into a theme which we choose. Usually, the final song of the session is one in which we each sing a verse and then pass it to the next person. It works!
Why are we trying so hard to keep the music flowing?
We need music because it mirrors and expresses our collective emotions. We need music because it can engender enthusiasm and offer soothing support during trying moments. We need music because it has a magical way of bringing us together, even when we are among people with diverse musical interests and tastes.
Consequently, congregational soloists and musicians are still providing a spiritual and soulful soundtrack to worship in virtual space. Musical performers are adding their talents to public events, whether in virtual space or, when possible and safe, in-person. Music brings joy, comfort and hope.
In the music conference I attended, I took part in a two-part songwriting course led by a rabbinic colleague who is an accomplished singer/songwriter. At the end of the first session, he challenged us to set to music this passage from Psalm 77, which describes God paving the way for the Israelites to cross the sea, moving from slavery to freedom: “Your way was in the sea; Your paths in the churning waters, but Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like the flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
In our group of 20 participants, a number of us successfully created a musical interpretation of that passage, with lyrics and melody. The genres chosen were diverse, and all meaningful. It was incredible that we could compose and share our creations in a Zoom-based session.
That passage from Psalm 77 illustrates how music has led us through these last 12 months. We have had more time to listen, and to consider the meaning of our lives, with words and melody penetrating our minds and hearts, taking us to a higher place.
We will continue to sing and to share, until we can sing together, in the same space, once again.
Rabbi Larry Karol served as spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El (www.tbelc.org) in Las Cruces from July 2011 to July 2020. His writings are available at rabbilarrykarol.blogspot.com.