Rabbi Albert Lewis was asked late in his life the following question: “Why do you think you became a rabbi?” After a few moments he counts on his fingers the answer:
1) I always liked people.
2) I love gentleness.
3) I have patience.
4) I loved teaching
5) I am determined in my faith.
6) It connects me to my past.
7) It allows me to fulfill the message of our tradition; to live good, to do good, and to be blessed.
One of the selections I presently have in my choirs’ folders is a setting of the text below, taken, I believe, from the Song of Solomon, Chapter 8, Verses 6-7. There are many settings of this text; the one I have in the folders is an accompanied setting by John Leavitt. It has a simple yet beautiful six measure introduction, followed by a gracious melodic idea that gently unfolds as the piece progresses. Another beautiful piano solo of some ten measures takes us to verse 7, with a modulation to the parallel major of the relative minor (the piece is in F Major, but quickly moves to d minor). There are fleeting moments of subtle melodic and harmonic beauty, and I would say that, although this is not a major masterpiece of choral literature, nonetheless it illuminates the text in such a way as to present a very unified whole. It is moving.
6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy [a] unyielding as the grave. [b]
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. [c]
7 Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love,
it [d] would be utterly scorned.
I spent last week at each rehearsal with both my Freshman and Senior Choirs talking about the text and trying to help my students understand that a piece of choral music worth rehearsing and performing is one that, in part, has a meaningful text which the musical setting somehow enhances. I was encouraged at times by the look of understanding on “some” faces, but frustrated at other times at how difficult it was to bring these kids to the multiple layers of meaning that the text has to offer.
This weekend I read Mitch Albom’s newest book “Have A Little Faith;” maybe some of you have read some of his other books, the most popular of which was probably “Tuesday’s With Morrie.” In this newest book a rabbi named Albert Lewis asks Mr. Albom to write the eulogy for his funeral, which at the time of the request was not imminent or even anticipated. In the several years that Mr. Albom became re-acquainted with his childhood rabbi, he also became acquainted with Henry Covington, a Christian pastor in a very poor church in Detroit. The events, discussions and experiences that unfold during the book are ones that have much power; the power to change our lives if we are open to the suggestions. I was touched, and I was also surprised that Albert Lewis response to the question he was presented with at the beginning of this letter might very well be OUR response if we, as choral educators, were asked the question “Why do you think you became a choral music educator?”
I am again reminded, and not totally by chance, I might suggest, that my work as a choral musician, in the capacity I (we) are in, is incredibly important in the lives of the people we all touch. I realized this last week when I saw some light on the faces of some students when we talked and rehearsed this setting of “Set Me As A Seal;” if I can bring some individuals to the beauty of this text, and to an understanding of the text and what it has to offer us to enrich the meaning of our lives, and magnify that by what we ALL do each day of our lives through our elementary, middle and high school choirs, our church choirs, adult choirs and other choral performing groups, then surely our own lives are as rich and deserving of recognition as any other.
I would encourage all of you to take some time out and read this book if you can. In some mysterious way it validates what we all do in our professions. We are all “blessed.”