Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Musical Resistance - Preserving Hope and Kindness - original songs of recent years

 When I write in any medium, it is, first and foremost, my personal expression.  Whether prose, poetry, story, or song lyrics, it’s all the same.     

The songs offer something more through the combination of lyrics and melody.  It’s my way of putting what’s in my soul on the outside in a way that might resonate with others or, at least, make them think.   

Of the 17 songs I have written over the last two years, several of them focus on values mentioned in the title - hope and kindness - which are at the center of what I do as a rabbi. 

Here are the songs I would include on this “playlist”:

1) Or La-y’sharim - Light for the Upright - Adaptation/lyrics and music by Larry Karol 
This song was based on verses about light included in the Chanukah candlelighting guide, HANEROT HALALU, by Elyse Frishman, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.   I was intrigued by the symbol of light and the power of love.    I added a paraphrase of a well-known statement by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
For lsongs on reverbnation, you can find the lyrics by clicking on the “dots” at the right of each song and the “lyric” link will be visible.  

2) If Not Now - Words by Stacey Z. Robinson, Music by Larry Karol 
Stacey Robinson, a wonderful poet/writer/liturgist and my music colleague, shared this poem after the tragic death of a demonstrator at the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017.   After seeing this posted online, I felt that I had to add music to it in order to offer my own statement.  I offer two versions - my multitrack recording and a live performance from the November 2017 Shabbat Shira conference held at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. 

3) Strength and Shelter (Psalm 46)  Adaptation/lyrics and music by Larry Karol 
   Songs asking for strength and shelter from God are about persistence and endurance in most any situation.  Having a sense of God’s presence can sustain us as we take a stand based on values we prize.     

4) Inheritance (Psalm 37) Adaptation/English lyrics and music by Larry Karol 
“The meek/humble will inherit the earth.”  Admittedly, the first time I heard this phrase was not from bible study, or from the reference in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament.  It was quoted as “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit” in Paul Simon’s song, “Blessed.”   The word for “the meek,” ANAVIM, can also mean those who are humble.  Sometimes I think people in this world are losing their sense of the importance of humility in human behavior.   I have never believed that it’s only loud and brash voices that win the day. Humility can mean knowing that each person is not the be-all and end-all of existence.  It’s like the saying of Rabbi Simcha - I have two truths in my pockets: “I am but dust and ashes” and “for my sake, the world was created.”   Advocacy and communication, and how we treat each other, is about balane.  

5) A Song of Love and Justice (Psalm 101). Adaptation/English lyrics and music by Larry Karol 
   Sometimes I peruse the book of Psalms, looking for a particularly meaningful expressions of values. Psalm 101 speaks of kindness, justice, faithfulness, and integrity.   In my mind, this Psalm challenges us to stand with God and follow godly paths.   I turned one section of the lyrics into a dialogue with the divine representing that challenge: 

A song of love and justice

To You I will sing

When will You stand with me? 

When will you stand with Me?

I will walk with a heart full of hope

When will You follow me?

When will you follow Me? 

  I feel it must be mutual for this world to work the way it should. 

 “I’ve decided to stick with love” was a wonderful quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that seemed to echo some of the sentiments of Psalm 101.   I decided to incorporate his words into this song. 

6). Heart of the Stranger (An Immigrant Song)  Lyrics and music by Larry Karol 
  I had been thinking about writing a song in which I imagined that I was one of my grandparents, entering this country at a young age, hoping that the immigration official I encountered would be welcoming and kind rather than demonstrating cruelty that might have mirrored the hallmark of officials in the “old country” who had no use for Jews.    With the movement of so many people in this world at this time, seeking safety and freedom from threats to their lives and well-being back home, I wrote this song from the perspective of a child who knows his or her bible, think of the passages that ask commanded the Israelites to be kind to the stranger, because they knew the heart of the stranger.  I took the biblical quote to that effect from Leviticus 19, a verse I read every Yom Kippur afternoon.   This isn’t just a song of an immigrant - it’s a prayer, and it puts God alongside the person walking on his or her journey, hoping to find security and freedom.   

There will be more songs like this, without a doubt.   I offer these fruits of my musical creativity as an example of how music can embody the principles of our faith and the goals for our relationships with people whom we know, and others whom we don’t yet know, in this world that needs our hope and kindness. 

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