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Friday, September 19, 2014

Music, It's How I Pray

by Sharol Brickman
(corrected: 9-19-2014 10:37 a.m.)

I read a post on Facebook recently that said, “Music is what feelings sound like.”  It reminded me of a time when I was at a crowded worship service and there were booming harmonies in every song. The sound was thick, and we could feel vibrations resonating through the air.  There was energy and power in our words, more than if we were just speaking them.  It was the sound of our feelings, wrapping together in community, rising and swirling up into the rotunda, and it felt holy.

That was five years ago at my first Hava Nashira.  The experience changed and shifted my long-time struggle with prayer, my struggle with:  What is God?  Do I believe enough?  Can I still pray meaningfully if I don’t believe exactly what I’m reading in the prayer book?  Does anyone else feel this way?

In every worship service I’m challenged by this struggle, especially during the High Holidays when the prayers are about God as King and Ruler with the exclusive power to judge, punish, and forgive.  At no other time during the year do I feel this pressure to believe in God as a single, all-knowing entity.  How can my vision of God, the spiritual presence that I like to believe flows freely in everything around us, fit with the God described during the High Holidays?  How can I feel connection, especially at this time of year, when we reach the first line of the AmidahAdonai s’fatai tiftach, ufi yagid t’hilatecha — “God, open up my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise”?  It is only when these words are set to music that I find acceptance with my struggle.   In music, I find the sound of my feelings.  I find a powerful spiritual presence in song and I can let go, and pray.

At this year’s Hava Nashira, I learned a new musical setting for these words from Ellen Allard called “With My Lips.”  It includes these words and after reading them, I hope you’ll listen.

With my lips I talk to God.
With my lips I talk to God and the words come from my heart.

Oh God, please hear my prayer.  Hear the words I want to share.
Oh God, please hear my prayer.  Adonai s’fatai tiftach.

I sing out words of praise, all my nights, and all my days.
I sing out words of praise.  Adonai s’fatai tiftach.

The fathers, the mothers who came before, they said the words then l’dor vador.
We continue to speak them so we are sure that future generations will say,
With my lips I talk to God.

These words laid out this way and combined with music, remind me that even in my struggle with God, I am connected.  I’m connected not only to the people standing and praying with me, I’m connected to the people who came before me, and to the people who are still to come.  I’m reminded that these words come from my heart and I sing out, my voice wrapping with the voices of others, and as we powerfully pray together, we say:  Oh God, please hear my prayer.  Hear the words I want to share.  Adonai s’fatai tiftach, ufi yagid t’hilatecha.

Music, it’s how I pray.

Sharol Brickman grew up at Shaare Emeth and was in the first class confirmed at the Ladue and Ballas building in 1980. She attributes her years in SETYG as her first connection to Jewish music. Sharol annually attends both Hava Nashira and Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC) and brings her joy of Jewish music to our pre-kindergarten through second grade Religious School students. She is also on faculty at JOLT (Jewish Opportunities & Learning for Teens), a program sponsored by CAJE. Sharol has led music at worship services in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Silverthorne, Co. You will find Sharol at Shaare Emeth in Shabbat guitar ensembles and singing in the Youth Center during the High Holidays. She is proud that her family--husband, Steve, and two sons, Aaron and Danny--add to the generations of our Jewish community.

Ellen Allard is a multi-award winning children’s Recording Artist, Composer, Performer, and Early Childhood Music Educator. She draws on a rich tradition of musical experiences in presenting her lively and captivating concerts, keynote presentations, and workshops for family audiences and educational conferences across the country.

Hava Nashira is the annual songleading and music workshop of Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute and the Union of Reform Judaism. Created by Debbie Friedmanz"l and Cantor Jeff Klepper among others, Hava Nashira provides the opportunity to improve skills while learning from the finest Jewish music innovators and composers.

SLBC provides powerful Jewish leadership training for clergy, Jewish educators, veteran and new songleaders, teen leaders and Jewish camping staff. SLBC was launched with its first conference in 2010 by St. Louis’s own Rick Recht and Rabbi Brad Horwitz of the JCC.

To broaden your own Jewish music experience, Sharol highly recommends you check out these artists on the web: Ellen Allard, Noah Aronson, Todd Herzog, Shira Kline, Naomi Less, Sheldon Low, Josh Nelson, Dan Nichols, Mikey Pauker, Rick Recht, Sababa, Craig Taubman, and Josh Warhsawsky. Or just ask Sharol when you see her at Temple.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this, love being reminded of Ellen's beautiful interpretation, and (of course) love Sharol! Good Shabbos and best wishes for a healthy and happy new year!