Sunday, October 26, 2014

Song and Creation - Reflections on Shabbat Shira at OSRUI on October 23-26, 2014

       I am sure that if you had asked me about what I would be doing after turning 60, I wouldn't have imagined that I would I be participating in new conferences and ventures.   Just a week after recording my vocal and guitar tracks for my forthcoming album, it was time to join my songleading community at the fall conference "Shabbat Shira" (Sabbath of Song, literally).   This was my 15th time attending a gathering at OSRUI camp.   The 12 previous times were for the late spring songleading workshop, Hava Nashira.   And for two times before that,  I was a camper in the Tzofim session in 1967 and 1968 (I was a non-Boy Scout living in a tent with 5 other boys for 10 days each of those years).   Walking through the Bayit (the main "house" of the camp by the Lac La Belle) carries with it memories of dancing into the room that was once the dining hall with my fellow Tzofim campers as we joined the main program for a Shabbat song session.   
      Once again, "song" was the focus for being at OSRUI.  I already knew over half of the 50-plus participants and had attended sessions led by most of the faculty at one time or another.    I was glad to have the chance to really get to know people I hadn't met before, an opportunity made possible by our numbers.    (Note to veteran Hava Nashira participants: "Try it, you'll like it!"). 
      There were, as always, new melodies to learn and songs and compositions that I had heard before but needed to be reinforced so I could present them "back home."  There was multiple-part harmony during worship and song sessions that was rich and exquisite, demonstrating that we could generate a full sound among ourselves.   The Open mic sessions after our programming ended each day afforded an opportunity for people to share original compositions or "covers" of favorite songs, showing the wide range of talent represented among us.  
       There was a flurry of special moments throughout these few days:  washing our hands in Lac La Belle during our Friday morning service, Noam Katz's session on Songs for Social Change (music has always been a part of movements for change), our "Human bingo" mixer at which we learned a lot about one another and Michelle Citrin's summary of the bingo items with a hands-in-the-air response of "that's me!"; getting to know long-time colleagues and new fellow participants in sessions and at meals; a one-on-one sharing of original compositions with my colleague, Andy Dennen; and time spent with some very good friends.  Many thanks to our faculty for guiding us in these few days of learning and growth, as well as to Camp Director Jerry Kaye for his vision and the staff members for their support!
        The new and "watershed" experience, for me, was Josh Nelson's "Create!" group which was charged with developing a program for the Seudah Sh'leesheet "Third Meal" reflective session that preceded Saturday night dinner.  We divided into three task forces focusing on (I hope I get this right) Creation/Entry, Present/Now, Future/Exit.   Josh asked members of each group to express a vulnerability and a word that characterized each of us in relation to our theme.   Alden Solovy, a widely-known poet and liturgist whose writings I have used in services at my Temple in Las Cruces, NM, was part of our task force,  After listening to our comment, he wrote this:   
There is no empty space
In now. 
No empty space between
You and G-d.
No wound, no loss, Nothing broken,
Wholeness, Only Wholeness
Feet on the ground, connected
Head in the sky, seeing
Hearing.  Now
Only Now
There is no empty space
Between you and the heartbeat
You and the stillness. 
You and the surrender.  
So the precious present is sweet. 
With song, sweet
with joy,  sweet with 
 Each member of our small group contributed his/her own gifts to our presentation:  stories, readings, song (Gesher Tzar M'od - all the world is a narrow bridge), niggun (a melody without words), and an invitation for people to find a comfortable space for contemplation.     
   I had planned to sing one of my already-finished original songs in our section, but the desire to create (or maybe an outside source) presented me with a song-fragment or two during the night.   I wasn't sure if I wanted to write something new based on Alden's reading, or set his words to music.   I realized, after listening to my middle-of-the-night recording, that I had received as a "gift" a musical mode that could be applied to Alden's text. 
    After our inspiring Shabbat morning service (and lunch!), I started working with the text.  And soon after that, I sat down with Alden to share where I was going musically.   Together, we reshaped the reading into a song with a singable chorus in the course of 20 minutes.  We packed a lot of creativity and productive labor into those few moments that yielded something very special (both the song and our working together).  Once the melody and words had taken their final shape, I shared it with our small group, and it was in as the introduction to our section following Alden's reading of the beginning of the reflection.  During the the next two hours, I did all I could to keep the melody in my head!  
     Each of the CREATE groups presented a meaningful and thoughtful compilation/collaboration of expression that included music, dance, prose/poetry, visual images, and community building.  When our section of the program began, Alden read the first lines and then I "jumped feet first" into the song, a product of collaboration that demonstrates the Jewish value of chevurta/partnership at it best.  Every note, chord and the lyrics came out as planned and hoped.   You can hear the song at this link on YouTube (hopefully, a multitrack recording is forthcoming!).
"Only Now," Lyrics by Alden Solovy, Music by Larry Karol
  The lyrics that Alden worked with me to adapt for the song are on the YouTube video page.  Being among the creators of that program was a real honor.
   What I took away from this amazing experience - and Shabbat Shira in its totality - was the importance of being open to NEW experiences, to listening to others, to finding the most positive aspect of the moment, and to enjoying moments that can bring hope and joy.    
    Song has always done that for me, and each of us has the capacity to find joy in our lives.  May we seek discover that SIMCHAH, happiness and contentment, within ourselves and within the miracle of cooperation, collaboration, friendship and the ever-present possibility of making a peaceful community and world.   

Friday afternoon Faculty Music Sharing

Kiddush and Motzi after Shabbat Morning Worship ("That's Me!" on the left)

Singing "Now" with Alden Solovy right behind!
Conclusion of the Seudah Sh'leesheet presentation

Havdalah Service with a Sephardic musical theme!

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