(Someone said it’s the glue that holds the world together, but I think that’s actually Hashem.)
If you know me, you know I am really into music. I’m the girl who has eclectic taste, finds new bands before they become famous, and has a song for every occasion. I rock the song game. It all comes back to Alice’s Restaurant, because that’s where you can get anything you want.
There was a time when music was probably THE most important thing in my life. If you had asked me, “Yo, what’s the most important thing in your life?” I might have said “Torah” or “Hashem” or something like that. But if I suddenly looked up, and only had a few moments left to daven mincha, if I was in the middle of the song, I would wait until the song was over. And then I would miss the boat.
If you sit there, and close your eyes, you can FEEL the music throughout your entire body, and cease to exist outside of the song. THAT is living in a world of sheker though, and if its not the right kind of song, it can cause you to forget Hashem, which is NEVER a good idea. So, MUSIC was my THING.
I knew this, and I wanted to fix the problem, but as any music enthusiast at the time would tell you, and as a general rule today this still applies, JEWISH MUSIC JUST DOES NOT SOUND AS GOOD AS SECULAR STUFF. ARGH! Part of the reason for this is the sheer quantity. The ratio of jews to non-jews puts the odds against us, first of all. Then take into consideration the following factors:
- Chop out around 47% of the musicians who would be putting music out there because most frum girlies are NOT going to be OUT THERE in the music scene the same way men would. (Actually, NONE in the same way men would but some women manage to arrange things for themselves surprisingly well in their own special ways.)
- If a secular band makes good music, they can market it to pretty much everyone. If a jew makes good music, if it’s overtly jewish, they are mostly limited to the frummie jew sector. (Carlebach, and more recently, Matisyahu, are noted exceptions. Blue Fringe is trying to hop on this bandwagon now too, selling their CDs at Target or whatever.)
- Secular parents are more likely to let their kids try to BE MUSICIANS for a living. Jewish parents are concerned with PARNASSA. Being a musician can also interfere with your shidduch chances if you are not monetarily successful. (“What? He doesn’t have a steady income?”) …secular kids can always work at McDonalds to pay the rent while trying to make it big.
- Consider the fact that non-jews are exposed to broader musical styles. Jews are kind of exposed to what they know. Which is klezmer and old polish stuff and some Carlebach. Musicians will start from what they are familiar with and then experiment from there. Therefore, we perpetuate the type of music we already have, to a great degree, which leaves us with the same crummy music we had before. Bad music begets bad music.
- Jews know that jewish music is generally bad. So unless they have poor taste, or are ignorant, or have idealistic reasons to seek it out, most jews won’t bother giving jewish music a serious chance, which makes it even harder to make it.
- There are fewer appropriate venues for jews to play in.
- The secular world holds individualism as a value. The jewish world values conformity. Plech. If you sound like everyone else, why bother putting out a CD?
I’m sure there is more that contributes to the bad jewish music phenomenon, but suffice it to say, the musical situation lacks.
Now, pretty much all of the reasons I listed above are societal, and as someone who doesn’t like to settle for the lame-o status quo that everyone else seems happy to be living with, I was ready to get mad and start a revolution. Unfortunately, my revolution would have to be limited as the only instrument I can play with any proficiency is the kazoo.
Still, I was MAD.
Then, one day, I spoke with a rabbi of mine, who enlightened me to the following:
(Remember, getting angry is akin to avodah zarah. Part of this is that anger comes from a feeling that there is a discrepancy between how things are and how things SHOULD be. In any situation we are in, Hashem has put us there for a reason, and we should not be knocking Him out of the picture. Hashem has created any situation we are in.)
There are certain times in history (or in TIME, I guess) when Hashem sends different kochot into the world. Different times carry different powers. As the CHOSEN PEOPLE, we get first dibs on these kochot. That is, as long as we deserve them, they’re all ours. But if we don’t then they go to the nations of the world.
As such (a phrase borrowed from a friend, I DO NOT speak this way) we are living in a time of intense musical creativity and because we are not worthy to receive this beautiful explosion of wonderful music, it goes to all the other people out there. It COULD HAVE been ours, however. And it CAN be if we change ourselves. We just have to get cracking.
Well, since I heard this I have been making a conscientious effort to fix this situation. And Hashem has rewarded my efforts. I have found a number of bands and musicians that have revolutionized how I look at jewish music and that make me feel much better. At the request of various people, I’ll share some of that next time.