“Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of it magic, all of it true.” (John Denver)
Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young. My paternal grandmother was a concert pianist. She met my grandfather, who was a cellist, when they were both playing in the same quartet.
My father inherited his parents’ love of music and talent. Like his father, he too played the cello. And he also had perfect pitch. While we were young, my dad would sing to us on car rides, teaching us all of Tom Leher’s songs that he learned as a camp counselor (not always appropriate for young children, e.g. – “The Old Dope Peddler”). He introduced us to Alan Sherman’s “Peter and the Commissar” with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. He was always singing.
My mother played first violin in the Rhode Island Youth Symphony Orchestra while she was in High School. She too was multi-talented. She played piano, accordion, recorder, and a few other instruments. She was a classical music aficionado. And she taught music at our Hebrew Day school.
I was thrilled when I attended Shabbat services at my new congregation this past July and saw that everyone – of all ages – took rhythm instruments to enhance the musical experience of the service.
Music has played an important role in our Jewish worship experience since biblical times. From the portable mishkan – Tabernacle (or sanctuary) in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem, music was used as a way to praise and glorify God.
King David made sure that the musicians and choirs were paid salaries, furnished with homes and well taken care of. He understood that a world without music was a world without color, a world without joy, a world without warmth and a world without spirit.
Psalm 150, verses 3-6 states:
Praise the Eternal with blasts of the shofar. Praise the Eternal with harp and lyre. Praise the Eternal with timbral and dance. Praise the Eternal with lute and pipe. Praise the Eternal resounding with cymbals. Praise the Eternal with loud crashing cymbals.
My friend Mattan Klein has made it his life’s work to “praise the Eternal” with all different types of music. His father, Dr. Rabbi Michael Klein, z”l, was the Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem campus while I was a first year rabbinic student.
While his father immersed himself in the ancient texts of our people, Mattan’s entire life is dedicated to bringing those texts to life through the beauty of music. He is the Ensemble Instructor at a high school for the arts in Israel, he is the Band Leader for three separate groups: 4 Flute Flight, Seeds of Sun and Mattan Klein Quintet. Like King David, Mattan plays music in both the secular and religious arenas. He played a beautiful flute tribute at Ariel Sharon’s funeral last year.
Perhaps what I find most inspirational about his work, is how he influences and inspires others, especially the next generation. Two years ago, his then-eight-year-old daughter Avigail was at one of her father’s performances and drew the following picture afterward:
Avigail placed herself playing flute with the band in the bottom right-hand corner. This was her dream: to play flute in her father’s band, surrounded by beautiful music! She just started taking flute lessons a few weeks ago. What she envisioned two years ago can soon be sustained and fulfilled.
To me, Abigail’s musical notes surrounding each and every musician not only symbolize the music they are playing. They symbolize an important lesson for each of us: when each of us joins together to “play our own instrument” in concert with others, we create a beautiful symphony. When we join our voices together, no matter if we are playing actual music, working together on behalf of social justice or some other common goal, we become bathed in music and beauty. It doesn’t matter what instrument we play, what note we sing, or even if we just listen.
Each of us has a song to sing. Each of us has the ability to hear the song of others around us. Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash – sing unto the Eternal a new song. Shiru l’Adonai kol ha-aretz – sing unto the Eternal all the earth. (Psalm 96:1).
(A video sample of Mattan Klein playing some of his beautiful music):