Dec 30, 2008

A Prayer for Elusive Harmony

A Prayer for Elusive Harmony

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor 

The worst compliment an a cappella singer can get is this: "Your voice sounded great!  I could hear you over everyone else in the group!" 

Having recently reunited with an old college a cappella friend, I've begun reflecting on the power singing in a group has had throughout my life.  It was because of the unpredictable harmonies of a Jewish a cappella group that I discovered my own Jewish voice and ultimately chose to become a rabbi.  It was at a joint concert that I met my future wife, a talented singer.  But those life moments are not the point.  Those mid-life punctuations are about me.  The power of that music was, and remains, its ability to bring strong, unique voices into blended harmony. 

A memory of singing in London with Pizmon, the Jewish a cappella group of Columbia University, Barnard College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary:  We had just revised an arrangement of David Broza's "Yihiyeh Tov/It will be good" to include his updated lyrics, which draw on dreams for peace in the biblical book of Isaiah.  This was our debut, and we were nervous.  We nailed the music, the emotion, the togetherness of the arrangement, and with it closed the concert.  As we regrouped in the back of the hall, I collapsed in a seat, my body wracked by sobbing.  It was the music, the 'being lost' in the harmony, the dream-like reality we were able to create, the peace that we could each taste as we together pronounced its possibilities. 

Did we know then what we know now?  That peace and harmony are easier to project than they are to experience?  Perhaps.  Did we realize what an anomaly we were? Jews of any and no stripes  willing to promote by example a model of passionate celebration of each other's voice?  Perhaps.  Did we realize how fleeting the opportunity to dedicate time to our ecstatic harmonies would be?  No, we did not. 

There is so much going on in the world.  So much cacophony, so much drowning out of the other's voice.  War is a profound manifestation of this. And while "peace and harmony" in the face of war might seem like fairy dust in response to a charging buffalo, why do we find this prescription so laughable?  Is it perhaps because we've lost our ability to sing?  Because it takes so much time to learn how to harmonize?  Because we've come to enjoy our own voice's sound above everyone else's? 

We live in a time when one voice is not enough. I close, for now, with Broza's adaptation of Isaiah, wishing it to be truer than it feels: 

    We will yet learn to live together, amidst groves of olive trees.

    Children will live without fear, without borders, without bomb shelters.

    On graves will flourish grass, to Shalom – Peace! – and Ahava – Love!

    One hundred years of the sword and we have not yet lost haTikvah – Hope!

    Sometimes I am broken, but tonight with you I remain.

    It will be good, yes it will… 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.