Live Music is my True Religion

Jews sing a lot. We sing blessings, we sing Psalms, we sing songs of joy, and songs of mourning, and we even sing the Torah. We always have, it seems. Back at the First Temple (destroyed in the year 70 CE) there were specific requirements of the Levites/Priests to sing and play instruments during services.

The entire Torah has a musical score (called trope or cantillation). It's not good enough for us to just stand up in front of the congregation and recite the Torah verses -- we sing them out loud! (I love this site, Navigating the Bible II for looking up specific verses to see how they are chanted.)

I'm sure are volumes of anthropological and empirical evidence for why we humans started transmitting our stories through song. Maybe we were just imitating the birds, or the wind, but it works.

And I would bet that before they figured out complex songs, the early humans figured out humming a soulful tune, desperate to hush a baby's cry.

When I think back on the synagogue services of my childhood, I can't really remember what the rabbis said, or even who they were, but I remember the tunes.
  • Adon Olam
  • Ve'ahavta (which is chanted in the same way we chant Torah)
  • Avinu Maklenu (which I wrote about here)
  • Ashrei
  • Etz Chaim
  • The Shema (6 words? Sing it!)

Music and the Religious/Spiritual Experience

I never really considered myself a spiritual person growing up, and even into my late 20s and 30s. "Spiritual" was always equated to "New Age," and boy did the new-agers of the 80s and 90s ruin that for me. Young Susan was not going to stand in a circle, hold hands with people I didn't know, wear a flowy skirt, and search for something "outside myself". (Honestly, 43-year-old Susan wouldn't do that with a group of strangers either...)

I was always well-rooted in Reform/Conservative Judaism, which at the time didn't include that kind of energy.

We would always sing.

Only sometimes would we sing.

Am I spiritual now? Definitely yes, when live music is involved. I have had amazing, transcendent, soul-lifting and soul-crushing experiences in small clubs, dingy bars, stadiums, arenas, festivals, the greatest outdoor venue on the planet, and the bases of ski slopes.

I have found those moments with bands from Foo Fighters to Phish and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Richard Shindell. I have even found those moments listening to bands whose names I can't remember and probably never knew. Opening acts. Street performers. CAJE conference sing-a-longs at 1 a.m. in a college dorm lounge.

For me, the most salient aspect of these "spiritual moments" is a loss of self-consciousness, which I carry around in droves normally,

Dance Like No One is Watching
The closer I can get to that ideal, the more spiritual and authentic the live music experience is. 

Introvert Heaven
Concerts are the perfect social gathering for introverts. You get to spend time in the presence of lots of other people and have social moments, but you experience the music completely within yourself. And you can move back and forth between interacting with other people or not without judgment. I'm not ignoring you because I'm aloof, or feeling anti-social. I'm ignoring you because the band is playing, man!  I am in the groove! 

Tonight is Shabbat, and there will be much dancing, singing and rejoicing on the part of this Jew.

At The Aggie,
with Keller Williams
my entire body will be praying.

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