So as I stepped into the closed room to do my first vocals, with my producer, Scott Leader, looking on and guiding me, I felt that I was in some version of "musical playoffs" mode. I knew I had to do my absolute best, while understanding that I could go back and correct what wasn't quite right.
The recording process is taking me back to special and important times over the last decade of my life. I created one song before a telephone interview with a congregation. Another marked my 25 years in the rabbinate, and yet another came to be just hours after our son Adam's graduation from Berklee College of Music. I wrote two of the songs while serving on the faculty at the Union for Reform Judaism's Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I set Jewish texts to music to find a way to rise above the conflictual aspects of the 2012 Election and military and societal struggles during the summer of 2014.
Our personal expressions of thoughts and feelings at a pivotal moment in our lives or in human history (in a letter, email, article or blog) enable us to look back to that time and to see how those events affected our present. It is very much the same with a song, but there is a depth that comes with years of presenting songs either in performance or as part of worship gatherings. I am able to vocally reproduce the melodies and harmonies created up to nine years ago, but the singer is the "me" of today. New life experiences take the music to a different level.
This coming week, Jewish congregations around the world will celebrate Simchat Torah, "Rejoicing with the Torah," ending and beginning the reading of the Torah. My memories of this holiday go back to when I was in elementary school. So it's just the same, year after year, right? No, not exactly. The congregants who attend even in the same congregation from one year to the next can change the nature of the spirit at the service. Perhaps we might even hear in a different way the tale of the end of Moses' career and the story of the beginning of all existence and creation, depending on where we are in our lives. During one of my years in high school, Simchat Torah fell on my birthday, and I was far from the point of truly relating to Moses as he passed the torch of leadership to Joshua and knew that his people would enter Canaan without him. Now, having turned 60 on the eve of Yom Kippur, Moses' time of life is much "closer to home."
I believe that the reason that we move straight into Genesis from Deuteornomy is to encourage us to see endings as necessarily carrying with them new beginnings. We have the opportunity to view the vista that still lies before us as "the road ahead." As we again recite the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and Abraham and his family, our past understandings of these tales can, if we let them, lead to new notions and fresh insights. We call that growth, whether inside each of us or outside as we partner with others who join us on the journey of life.
Recently, Rhonda (we marked 32 years of marriage this past August) and I visited the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro International Heritage Center in New Mexico. We were impressed at the 300 year history of this "Royal Road to the Interior Lands" that was over 400 miles long, and the vistas around this site were inspiring.
Jewish tradition encourages each of us to be like a Ruler who was commanded to keep a scroll of God's law in their possession. Simchat Torah places everyone in a congregation close to the Torah scroll, giving them a chance to carry it around the sanctuary and to see it read up close. It makes every person like a Ruler, and reminds us that the Torah is ours to have, hold and keep as a guide every day. To contradict the singer Lorde, WE CAN ALL BE ROYALS!
I believe that our life journeys are like the Royal Road, which had its smooth stretches and its trecherous passages. So do our lives have both extremes, and we make it through with the help of those close to us who are by our side.
I have more songs to sing as I bring this album closer to fruition, and I know that they are not just signposts of paths already traversed. They represent the road that still lies before us, because we know better where we should go if we understand from whence we came.