Who travels to Miami in the coldest, rainiest week that Florida has seen this winter? I do. My excuse? I was one of 40 or so composers whose pieces were selected for presentation at the Fifth International Festival held by Shalshelet, the Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music – and I was one of only a few composers there who are not professional musicians.
Needless to say, it was humbling to be included in such lofty company. As part of the festival, I got to sing in ensembles and perform the works of other composers along with talented conductors, cantors, and cantors-to-be. For someone who likes to sing and loves to be where music is happening, it was an awesome experience, despite the dismal weather.
Shalshelet’s mission is to enhance spirituality and build community through the creation and dissemination of Jewish sacred music, and the festival certainly did that. It included composers from Canada, Russia, the United States, and other places, and showcased a variety of music from klezmer to emotional Yiddish ballads to “campfire” songs to serious, academic works to Eastern-influenced Kirtan-type tunes. They lifted up text from psalms, highlighted life-cycle moments, and celebrated special occasions.
My piece is designed to do all three. At my synagogue, we tend to harmonize during any service and our choir sings at special events—like Jewish book breakfasts, Interfaith Thanksgiving gatherings, and Martin Luther King Day celebrations. So I wrote a song that can be sung in any of those situations, using text from Psalm 92, the psalm for Shabbat, verse 5:
Ki simachtani Adonai b’fo-olecha—Your miracles, Adonai, make me happy
B’ma-asei yadecha aranein—I rejoice in the works of Your hands
I like this phrase because it emphasizes the relationship and love between God and human beings. We’re not just buttering God up here so we can then petition for something else. In this phrase, we actually appreciate Gods works and our life. How often have we witnessed or seen something spectacular—one of God’s marvels—and just appreciated God’s creations?
Now that we are approaching Passover, the sweet musical experience of Shalshelet stays with me. Like in Song of Songs, which we’ll read on the sabbath that falls during Passover, Psalm 92:5 recognizes the essential togetherness of God and people who worship Him.
As we sit around the seder table and retell the story of liberation from slavery, let us savor the numerous opportunities we’ll have to break out in song with the many tunes of this holiday, be they traditional, regional, or brand new and of our own creation.