A Note from Cantor Lorna Wallach:
Where does your mind take you when you hear music? Are some melodies more emotive for you than others? Each of us, no doubt, has songs strongly associated with our memories and feelings. For many of us, this is true of Jewish music, too! Does your heart swell with pride when you hear Hatikvah? Or when the Hava Nagila melody is amplified at a ball game? Can you close your eyes and actually see the golden glow of the Kotel when you hear the poetic words of Naomi Shemer’s song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav? Even if you never lived in “Anatevka”, do you feel as though you are in that town when you hear Sunrise, Sunset? Without Jewish music, it’s hard to experience the serenity of Shabbat, the silliness of Purim, the pathos of Kol Nidre, or the joy of Simchat Torah. Through music we can express the greatest praise and thanksgiving to God.
Music is one of the greatest gifts given to humanity. I believe that we have all experienced the power of music, and especially songs, at some point in our lives. It is universal. Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch defines song as “an inspired or rapturous expression of what some external event has revealed to the inner self, that which the physical eye cannot see, but what has become clear to the mind’s eye.”
There are few songs mentioned in the Torah. Even the word for “song,” (shir) is found quite infrequently. On Shabbat Shirah (which usually occurs in January), we read Shirat HaYam in Parashat Beshallach and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) in the Haftarah. Shirat HaYam, The Song of the Sea, is the first example recorded in the Torah of communal spontaneous prayers by the Jewish people. The Israelites have safely escaped the Egyptian army, and are free on the other side of the now chariot full Red Sea. And they look at Moses, and up to God, and declare their belief in God’s power, and in Moses’s ability to advocate on their behalf. And they were all so ecstatic that they began to sing. First Moses and the men, and then Miriam and the women.
There is something very powerful and uplifting about singing together – whether in unison or with other voices in harmony. As the Cantor of CBI, one of my greatest joys and pleasures is to sing WITH you at services in our beautiful sanctuary or chapel. One of my greatest frustrations and yearnings from having to be socially distanced for all this time is the absolute impossibility to be able to sing together, even with just one voice, on Zoom! But even though your voices are muted during our virtual services, I now rely more on watching the Zoom participants sing. Seeing this helps me feel the energy and connectedness of our virtual community as the gallery view of faces is displayed on my Zoom screen!
One of my greatest joys and pleasures during this pandemic has been sharing music with the many of you who tuned in to my Music in May series each Wednesday morning this past month. I enjoyed putting together the weekly programs, based on different themes such as honoring our mothers and other important women in our lives, songs of gratitude, songs of Jerusalem and songs of community, including Jewish songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and English and also some non- Jewish songs! I loved that some of you sang along at home and also shared with us your own personal connections and memories about some of the songs I sang.
Although May has come to an end, I am excited to let you know that I will continue my Music on Wednesdays series starting again next Wednesday, June 10th. I invite all of you to zoom in for June Tunes at Noon (please note the time change!). Come once or each week, as we share a half hour (approximately) of beautiful, uplifting, fun and perhaps nostalgic and emotional songs.
Until then, here are some quotes about singing that I hope resonate with you and inspire you!
“Wake up, live your life and sing the melody of your soul.” — Amit Ray (Indian author, master teacher of meditation, yoga, spirituality)
“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” — Emory Austin (inspirational female speaker)
“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.” — William James (late 19th cent. American philosopher and psychologist)
Cantor Lorna Wallach