Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

The Day the Music Revived

Posted on | December 11, 2005 | By Mark Frankel | 11 Comments

I’ve gone to a few non-observant family simchas recently and I’ve noticed that the great majority of the music played comes from before the 90s. My wife’s cousin, a drummer by night, told me at one of these affairs that the difficulty of making a living made many potential musicians and children of musicians avoid the field, and thus the dearth of good music nowadays. So for those of us who gave up our Classic Rock, we’re probably not missing much.

I remember early in my Baal Teshuva experience giving up all music for a few years. Then my Shul sponsored a concert at Westbury Music Fair featuring, Shlomo Carlebach, The Piamentas and The Miami Boys Choir. When I heard Yossi Piamenta wailing away on the electric guitar, I felt that I had received Kapora (atonement) for the rock-n-roll. Perhaps the clincher was when R’Shlomo requested people to come up on stage and we collectively rotated in the theater in the round as R’ Shlomo’s music touched our souls.

After that I started to listen to Jewish music and it has basically filled my musical needs. However, even that’s not so simple, as my attraction to the music of Blue Fringe was met with feelings of disapproval from some family members as being “too bummy”. At the same time another BT friend thought there were some tremendous mussar lesson in their song Flippin’ Out.

The world of the BT is anything but rote.

Comments

11 Responses to “The Day the Music Revived”

  1. David
    December 11th, 2005 @ 4:41 pm

    Music is definitely an area that causes much consternation for many BTs. My brother, also a BT who I’ve been trying to shlep on to the blog was a successful musician and self-trained recording engineer before becoming a BT.

    He abandoned his music pretty much completely upon becoming a BT, much to my chagrin. I would constantly adjure him to return to his talents channeling them into appropriate areas. I would always tell him “Hashem didn’t give you that immense talent to waste!”.

    Eventually, he began dabbling in his music again and produced an incredible niggun. He also opened a recording studio which focused on audio recording and duplication of shiurim and torah lectures.

    More recently, he completed the recording of a popular jewish band which many of you would recognize and often plays shows with them. He has pointed out to me that the world of jewish music presents many challenges for anyone but more particularly BTs. These challenges include where to draw the line in the secularization of your music and, for the younger bands, the extent that you conduct yourself on stage.

    While most of us will never have these particular challenges (and if you heard me sing a simple niggun, you wouldn’t even believe that I have a brother with a smidgen of musical talent), we do face those challenges in the choice of the music we listen to. This is a very personal question and people will draw the line, if at all, in many different areas.

    Questions of interest include:

    1. Does anything go as long as it’s “Jewish”?

    2. Do we care about the persona the performer puts forth or is it just the music that counts?

    3. Is all music just words or melodies and, therefore, it doesn’t matter what you listen to? Consider Wagner, instrumental but mant people won’t listen since he was known to be an anti-semite. (This despite the fact that his music has no words and neither he nor his family is making any money off of the recordings)

    Let’s hear your thoughts. (Pun intended)

  2. Steve
    December 11th, 2005 @ 10:33 pm

    OK-es chatai ani mazkir hayom time-Once upon a time, I had a fairly extensive rock and roll collection.It included most of your classics from the mid 60s to early 70s rock greats. Anyone who is now in the early 50s can guess the names. We decided on one Sunday to get rid them because the lyrics, lifestyle, etc were just incompatible with a Torah lifestyle.

    Rabbi Wein in one of his books has a classic footnote that Jewish music throughout the ages has always been what is considered as such by Klal Yisrael.Some may agree and others may disagree with me but I think that regardless of some of the charges that were raised against R Shlomoh Carlebach ZL, one is hard pressed to find niggunim that one can both dance and daven to as the niggumin of R Shlomoh ZL.

  3. Mark
    December 11th, 2005 @ 10:55 pm

    I held on to my albums for a few years after I stopped listening to them. Then they were sold at a Shul garage sale for 25 cents apiece. It was a little painful, but like most things – I got over it.

  4. Kressel
    December 12th, 2005 @ 2:27 pm

    BS”D

    I’m not such a purist when it comes to music. I did give up my rock ‘n roll for the most part, but I listen to classical music much more than I do Jewish. People have told me that music affects the neshoma and therefore we should take care that our music should be Jewish, but I still listen to classical music.

    Part of the reason I feel I can be lax is that so much of modern Jewish music is influenced by goyishe beats and instrumentation anyway. While cleaning for Pesach, my husband and I were listening to the Beatles with our side door open.

    “What will our neighbors think?” I said.

    My husband replied, “They’ll probably think it’s MBD.”

  5. David Linn
    December 13th, 2005 @ 10:58 am

    Kressel- Who are the Beatles, that some kind of new band?

  6. Gershon Seif
    December 13th, 2005 @ 4:35 pm

    Ah …music. I know the issue well. Have a listen to some of my music and you’ll see how I’m working through this. Click on my name above and it should send you to a page where you can hear music I’m writing and recording on my own to have a personal outlet for that musical expression. I’m trying to keep it within “acceptable” boundaries, but my boundaries won’t always fit everyone else’s. Hard to put everyone in the same box…

  7. LC
    December 15th, 2005 @ 4:15 pm

    A (BT, married to a 2nd generation BT) friend and I were recently listening to their new Shlock Rock album – all show tunes, and commenting on how my FFB husband had no context; he grew up observing kol isha.

    (Before anyone comments on my musical taste, let me say that they just don’t compare to Gershon Veroba!) And there’s a song on MBD’s Shabbos album that totally sounds like rock-n-roll to me.

    After more than 10 years, I still own my 60′s-70′s collection, but haven’t listened since forever.

  8. Rach
    December 25th, 2006 @ 12:11 am

    First of all, this is a great blog, stumbled across it by accident but will defo be back!

    Some of the concepts brought up here are quite interesting as they touch on one issue BT’s/gerim face – how to cope if they themselves are a musician. As a would-be ger, I’ve already seen the changes in my own approach to music as my Jewish observance has grown, however from what I’m reading on here there may still be some way to go…

    First a bit about my background: I’m currently a uni student, and since I grew up in a Scottish town with a tiny Jewish community, I’ve become a lot more frum (if a goy can be said to be frum) since studying away from home and being part of a Jewish society. At school, I reached Grade 8 in both violin and singing – because of kol isha, I now don’t sing in formal choirs/solo in public. I’m mainly happy with this, as song is a strong part of my kavannah and I’m happy singing quietly in shul/at table on shabbat or in my room, making sure I’m not loud enough for Jewish men to hear my individual voice (my community is MO rather than charedi).

    However, as mentioned I play violin. At school, this was mainly classical – at uni, I’ve left the classical well and truly behind by joining a ceilidh band (Scottish/Irish/English folk music – a ceilidh is basically an evening of folk dance). This was for several reasons – I was a little fed up of the pressures of playing classical, wanted to try something new, and also had done some traditional Scottish dancing as a child. Knowing that on joining the Orthodox Jewish world I would have to give up this kind of mixed dancing, I thought it would be nice to get into the music on the basis that ‘if I can’t dance myself, I can at least play for the dancing…’

    I’m glad I made that choice, as taking up folk music has opened me up to many new experiences, both musically and socially. I’m even trying to learn some klezmer…the only thing is, I get the impression from some of what I’ve read here that such music would be seen as ‘goyishe’ and therefore somehow not OK.

    As I’ve said before music is a strong part of my life, and I don’t want to leave it all behind when (pg) I go through the mikveh. Apart from kol isha etc., are there actually any halachic issues with playing what’s deemed as ‘non-Jewish music’?, or is it more a case of orthodox culture and wanting to keep a certain distance from the secular world? If the latter, is it likely that carrying on this sort of music (listening, playing in a band or in sessions) could be seen by others as barrier to integration, even if the person doing so is shomer mitzvos and is otherwise involved in the Jewish community?

    Sorry if that’s rather long, just interested to hear your views/experiences…

  9. Mark
    December 25th, 2006 @ 12:18 pm

    Rach, I think the question of whether it is a barrier to integration depends on the community you live in.

  10. Chana
    December 25th, 2006 @ 2:25 pm

    I stumbled upon Jewishjukebox.com, an online store where one can sample a variety of popular and traditional music (hopefully with intentions to purchase). After spending some time sampling, I realized that I repeatedly heard musical styles or phrases strongly reminiscent of certain R&R bands of the past. It was bothersome- I didn’t want reminders of that part of my life intruding on my enjoyment of Jewish music today. But still the music was exciting, and in the end I purchased a number of selections, especially for use while exercising.

  11. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
    December 26th, 2006 @ 12:10 am

    Rach:

    in line with what Mark said, since you mentioned living in an MO community, i don’t think your musical tastes would have any negative effect on your ‘integration’.

    i helped set up an Irish céilí for an Irish Language and Culture class i took in college. it looked like a lot of fun, halakhic issues of mixed dancing aside, but i couldn’t even go to enjoy the music because it was on Friday Night :-P

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