Monday, November 10, 2014

Other People's Sacred Music

Saturday, in between rain and storms, we went over to Broward College to see the Amernet String Quartet.  It was billed as an evening of Jewish music, which was strange because it started at 4:00 p.m.  I heard an ad for the show which said it would feature a Jewish cantor.  And there was some mention of Kristallnacht.  Clearly it was not going to be your traditional classical music concert with your typical string quartet.

For more about the concert, see this post on my creativity blog.  Here I want to think about what it means to go to a concert of primarily sacred music, sung by a man with both opera and cantor training, in languages that aren't mine from a tradition that isn't mine.

Would I have found the music more moving if the sung parts had been sung in English instead of Hebrew or Yiddish?  Probably.  Luckily we had introductions, so at least I had a sense of what the lyrics said.
But even with the explanation, I wasn't always sure what I heard.  I could grasp the emotional tone.  One Psalm of abandonment I knew from my own tradition, but in a foreign (non Latinate) language, I couldn't be sure I knew the words.

Do I need to know the words?  If I answer yes, does that make me shallow?

I wanted to know the words.

Some of the pieces seemed to be parts of religious liturgies:  a morning prayer, a Kaddish prayer, a hymn of praise (maybe?), a piece of yearning towards God.

Here, too, I wandered if it would have meant more if I understood the liturgies more.  Happily, I know enough about Jewish traditions that I had a way in to the music.

No, the language was the biggest stumbling block.  And, if I'm being honest, I liked the pieces without the cantor better than the ones with him.  He had a nice enough voice--but I wanted to hear the instruments by themselves.

One piece was written by a composer while he was in a concentration camp.  I wondered about that process and whether anyone has done research into the creativity of those under extreme pressure.  Maybe the composing was an escape.  Maybe it was part of his work duties.  Maybe he could see the writing on the wall, and he knew it was the last compositions he would likely write and thus, he wrote his most powerful material--and he did die in the camp.

In all, I was glad that we went.  It was good to stretch myself, both musically and theologically.  It was wonderful to have the cantor suggest we sing along--and the first 10 rows did, indeed, sing back to him.  And since it was us, singing back what he had sung, those of us who don't come from that tradition, we soon joined in too.

And thus an audience becomes a congregation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please. Please. Please take the word 'Lutheran' off the title of your blog.