Home > Louis Lewandowski, Music, Pluralism, Random Thoughts > The Music of Pluralism

The Music of Pluralism

This Friday night, as I davened Kabbalat Shabbat from the Amud at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, I chose to use Louis Lewandowski’s melody for Tzaddik Ka-tamar, the coda to his setting of Psalm 92. And I was transported.

From the first moment the minyan joined me in song, I immediately found myself engulfed in the excitement of where we’ll be next week: singing this music in the place it was written will be an extraordinary experience. I can only imagine. Next week at this time, I won’t have to imagine; I will know.

In addition, this Shabbat gave me an opportunity to reflect on the effect Lewandowski’s music has had on modern Judaism. His music has transcended time and conflict; it betrays denominational boundaries in a way that most advocates of pluralism couldn’t even expect in a utopian future. Some of his melodies, particularly this tune for Tsaddik Ka-tamar and many of his settings composed for the High Holy Day liturgy (for example, Zokharti Lokh), can be sung to any Jew who regularly attends services and they will immediately recognize the “Jewish sounds” of Lewandowski’s compositions. Walking through Boston University Hillel on a Friday night, for example, one might hear Lewandowski’s melody drifting out of all three mainstream minyanim — Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.

How is it that Lewandowski’s fingerprints are left stamped on all walks of contemporary Judaism? The fact that he composed for choir and organ doesn’t even seem to have hampered any contemporary community’s acceptance of his melodies into their musical canon. Perhaps they simply don’t know, or don’t remember. Some of Lewandowski’s melodies are today considered “Traditional,” as if they’ve been around for as long as there have been Jews (Lewandowski lived April 23, 1821 – February 4, 1894, so even his earliest works are no more than 150 years old).

As our ever-articulate artistic director Dr. Joshua Jacobson taught us last year when Zamir performed our Middle East Harmonies program, music is at the most basic level of human expression, and is therefore a common language in which disparate peoples can positively communicate: whether we disagree about our politics, our religious practices, or anything else. The members of Zamir itself are not a homogenous group, and this music that we sing together unites us and forges a much stronger bond between individuals than we find in the communities in which we exist daily.

This week, four days from now, we embark on a journey. We will travel to Berlin, to the source of our beautiful musical inheritance; we wait with bated breath to share this music with people joining together from four continents, corners of the world. Could Louis Lewandowski have imagined, 150 years ago, that his music would cause the fulfillment of the phrase “v’kabb’tzénu yachad mei-‘arba kanfot ha’aretz” — “gather us together from the four corners of the earth” — so that we could share our love of Judaism, love of our People, and love of liturgy, through his music?

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