Classical Music

I am a classical musician, who is highly trained as a violinist, and I run a music school for children. I see music as a spiritual language that unites people. Unfortunately, classical music is not appreciated, and nor is it understood by many people. It is often viewed as elitist and out of touch.

What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about the practice of music and how does it fit into the five F’s?

Daniel B.

Dear Daniel,

In a synchronous moment, as so often happens in life, we saw your letter just before watching a video recommended to us by our cello-playing grandson. We watched for over an hour as master teacher and musician Benjamin Zander coached a talented young cello player through his playing of Elgar’s final cello composition. It is fantastic! As Mr. Zander directs his young protege on how to form a relationship, both with the music and with his audience, he teaches him (and us) that the best music is based on spiritual factors rather than only on technical proficiency.

At the same time, we are reviewing the final edits to our new book, The Holistic You. Chapter 3 is titled, “Seeing the Invisible,” and it explains how we need spiritual elements in our lives. Music is one such element that can fill our spiritual “pocket.” Some people may fill the same pocket in different ways, for example through time in nature or through art.

Music was an integral part of the service in the Temple in Jerusalem. The tribe of Levi sang and played stringed, brass, and percussion instruments on which classical orchestral music was based, elevating the experience, and bringing people closer to God.

Before World War 2, my (RDL) father was taking a Shabbat stroll with his Torah teacher through a park in the ancient Baltic port city of Königsberg which was then still part of Germany. As was quite common then, a small orchestra was playing Mozart in the park’s pavilion. The two of them stood enjoying the music for a while when all of a sudden, my father’s teacher stiffened and gave a little shake to his head. In response to my father’s question, he explained that the conductor must have made a small mistake because from musical information in ancient Jewish wisdom, it is impossible that the score originally contained that sequence of notes.

My father was amused but skeptical and when the musicians took a break, he approached the conductor and said, “My teacher here thinks that perhaps you might have made a mistake…” Before he could continue, the conductor interrupted him to confirm that indeed there had been a small error in note sequencing and he noted in which bar of the score the error had occurred. He concluded by complimenting my father’s mentor on his vast musical knowledge. Of course, the older rabbi knew almost nothing of classical music, but he did understand its origins and foundational principles.

Keep the melody going,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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