Sunday, June 20, 2010

The gift of Music

Due to technical difficulties. . . . I have been locked out of my electronic fix for almost two months. So hello once again!

I would like to talk about the great joy of music which has been my "high" all my life
. How lucky to live in a time of free access to music, to have experienced the miracles of radio, TV, records, tapes, CDs, and the countless electronic musical babies being born every minute, a source of constant excitement.

In ancient times the chanting plays of Greek theatre were a center of community life. An important element of the First and Second Jerusalem Temple service were the poems and songs of the Levites. In exile, Jewish synagogues and homes continued this tradition with the hymns and songs of the Sabbath and holidays

Once upon a time, people waited with anticipation for traveling bards or for the local talent to appear in the square. If they lucked out, there was genius. I visualize the "salon" of Felix Mendelsohn's family, reveling in his and his sister Fanny's musical plays.
The courts of the nobility and royalty enjoyed musicians, jestors and actors at will.

In my childhood, my brother's 76 speed records introduced me to the crooner Frank Sinatra. I remember my brother furious when I sat on one and cracked it.
When I was a teenager Frank made a great comeback. Then I loved him on my own and collected all his LPs which remain today on my shelf. By then I had my own room and could listen all night to that funky radio wizard, Symphony Sid, who blew my mind with Latin and Cuban rock and jazz - before the word funk was a word. Classical music entered the picture when I was fifteen. A guy friend who had a bit of a crush on me gifted me with an LP of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, leading me to the New York Times guide and its classical radio station, WQXR.

In the 1960's my first Bob Dylan was the 45 speed single "Positively 4th Street" The Beatles, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the original Santana. Then I fell into the loving arms of Jazz. Mongo Santa Mario, Thenonious Monk, Miles Davis, the list goes on. And of course I married a musician who dragged me from club to club to hear the Jazz greats live.

My passion for Israeli culture brought Hebrew Folk into my heart, oriental and Yemenite singers, and poetry-songs being written by the builders of Israel. A beloved art form in Israel is Hebrew poetry set to music. I have enjoyed the dream of having my own poems become musical lyrics. These classics, the Cantorial and secular and other new songs, music rich in the vibrant marriage of Jews coming together from the two thousand year diasporas of the world - Ethiopia, the Arab Lands, Russia, Spain, South America, the United States and every other corner of the globe - have given birth to a renewed library of Jewish music that is constantly growing.

The great Hassidic Master, Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov said, "Music is man's link to the highest spiritual spheres." Although human history has been laden with much pain and suffering,
this truth strengthens us.

The following poem which appears in my latest English language collection delivers "a little piece of my heart."


I often think of Beethoven
deaf to sound at his Third Symphony
which I fell in love with at a whistle
repeated over and over
by a student sharing
a City College Classroom with me.

Deaf Beethoven went on to write
nine symphonies, sonatas,
clarinet, piano, violin conchertos,
string quartets, and so on,
but the Ninth was his Ode to Mankind
that he loved.

He dreamed of a world community
and said, "I do not need to hear my music
with my ears, I hear it in my mind,"
- can you imagine that?

He hid his deafness
and did not get along well with the world,
it was a time of stigmas.

He died many years before the Devil
would force Jewish musicians
to play Beethoven's Ninth Symphony of Love
to Jews marching into
Auschwitz ovens.

Was Beethoven forced to witness this curse to his genius
this shattering of his dream, or did the Good Lord
have pity and cause The Old Master
to sleep during those horror years
when his dream of love went up in flames.

[c] Shira Twersky Cassel

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