Nigun - Improvisation - Prophecy
The eight melodies, the eight niguns presented in this new album were all composed, arranged, recorded and mixed in the City of Jerusalem. These melodies are "Shiré Tsion", Songs of Zion… for Zion is the name depicting the very unique affection and holiness of Jerusalem.
This expression appears in Psalm 137, a psalm portraying the heartbreaking scene of a group of Levites mourning the Holy Temple, following the exile of the Children of Israel to Babylonia in the aftermath of the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple. The Levites, musicians dedicated to music in the Temple of Jerusalem, tearfully remember Zion. They hid their lyres between the willows when they saw their enemies approach. Yet they are spotted and told by their captors: Thus delight us, sing us a song of Zion …
The poor lamenting Levites reply: How can we sing the song of God upon foreign soil?
What is the song of God? Why can we sing it only in the Land of Israel?
Even before it becomes music, a song is firstly an expression of the will of its composer, his desire to influence the world according to his own particular vision and conception of how the world should be. Subsequently, the art of sounds becomes the preferred medium through which he may translate and convey this vision.
Now God is holy, and therefore the expression of His will can be embodied in this world only through holiness. As it is written: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy (Leviticus 19: 2).
Every nation is designated to fulfill a particular vocation. Therefore each nation inherits a land endowed with unique faculties most apt to bring about the successful and flourishing accomplishment of its respective vocation.
The vocation of the Children of Israel is encoded within their very name. The word "Israel" can also be read in Hebrew "Yashir El", i.e. he will sing God. The vocation of the holy people is indeed to allow the song of God, the expression of His Will, to be revealed in this world. And only the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, enables the People of Israel to achieve the level of holiness needed in order to receive, reveal and then spread God's will in this world.
One day I asked my master, Rabbi Israel Ber Odesser, one of the leading contemporary masters of Hassidut Braslav, where is the best place to live within Israel.
He replied: All of the Land of Israel is holy, but Jerusalem is the "Holy of Holies".
Music appears to me as an immense ladder, its base resting on the ground and its summit reaching the divine throne. Every melody in the world has its respective place on this ladder according to its particular level of holiness. Each melody is as an echo – distant or close, altered or faithful - of the original source, namely the song of God.
The magic of music is embodied in the power of each melody to bring us to the respective spiritual place it is coming from. When we listen to a melody, it is as if we travel towards a particular destination; to a specific address on this ladder of music. The listener will experience ideas, image associations, visions, feelings and desires in direct relation to the particular spiritual height or lowliness specific to this melody.
From this point of view, musical improvisation is equivalent to a description, through the means of sound, of the visions, feelings and emotions experienced by the musician-improviser once he has arrived to the place the melody has taken him to.
Improvisation occupies a crucial and essential place in my music. In my eyes to play a melody without improvising upon it is analogous to travelling to a city and yet remaining locked up in a hotel room instead of touring the city and being inspired by this sightseeing to any real emotion or impression.
Integral to the vocation of the People of Israel, the aspiration to prophecy never waned throughout the centuries of exile. In every generation, great Jewish mystics attempted to attain divine inspiration. To achieve this aim, some would submit themselves to self-mortifications (e.g. prolonged fasting, ritual immersions in freezing waters, etc.)
They aspired in this manner to achieve a level of prophecy despite the spiritual impurities of the lands of their exile. On the other hand, the prophets who had lived in the Land of Israel did not need to resort to such practices.
As the Bible describes, for those residing in the Holy Land, the Holy Nigun itself was suffice to attain prophetic inspiration. The holy spirit which took hold of them allowed these prophets visionary revelations that were both vastly powerful and absolutely reliable.
King David, musician, poet and prophet, from whose lineage will come the Messiah, expresses the essence of the prophetic phenomenon in the most concise way: A cleansed heart build me God and a reliable inspiration renews in me (Psalms 53:12) Listening to a holy nigun of the Land of Israel, the heart fills with a will for good and with love for all creatures. That is what constitutes the essence of holiness and makes it possible to attain the song of God. When this song is reached, the springs of prophecy are ready to flow.
Moreover, the path of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, seems to be still the more appropriate one even for our generation, for we now witness a great enthusiasm amongst the public here for all that is connected to the nigun, and particularly for the melodies of the Land of Israel and of Jerusalem - the Songs of Zion, in major revival process.
This path is what will undoubtedly enable the holy nation, returning to its Land and consumed with an unprecedented thirst for spirituality, to finally receive this new heart, this holy spirit and that Torah which is so absolutely vital for them - the Torah of the Land of Israel, the Torah of Jerusalem – just as it was alluded to by our great prophets:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36: 26)
"I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy"(Joel 3:1)…
"…for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem " (Isaiah 2:3)
May the niguns included in this new album be a part of this revival
Jerusalem, 18 of the Month of Heshvan 5771- October 26, 2010
Translated by Gita Levi