The Neutralizing Power of Music

In rehearsing with the Zamir Chorale of Boston tonight in rehearsal, I had another stark realization:

Music functions as a remarkable neutralizer.

Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean that music is neutral; it is anything but neutral. However, if you sit in a room in which everyone is unified by the music they produce, everyone is level. Especially in a choral setting, the only important thing is the unified sound. Age, ideology, religious belief, career, or sickness: nothing matters except for the music. It’s brilliant!

… maybe.

The realization that I really discovered was something I hadn’t thought about recently. That is, the realization that I really don’t know anything about the people with whom I sing.

With regard to some of my choirmates, I know their careers; I know that they have children but not necessarily how many; I know their voice parts. But that’s about it. I am conspicuously in the dark about people’s religious beliefs and practices, and the more I think about this, the more it surprises me. This is one of the only religious organizations in which I have ever participated that, of forty people, religious observance is not an “important” element of people’s religious identities. Some grew up religious, some still are, some not. I’m sure that when the choir goes on tours that include Shabbat the religiosity of our constituents is called into play, and is something to be shared. But otherwise, it’s not something that just “comes up” in conversation.

To some extent, I’m neutral about this issue. I find it interesting, but it does not affect me. To another extent, it frustrates me: in all of my other relationships with other Jews, religiosity is a large part of who we are and where we come from, where we go, and what we do.

I’m fascinated by the fact that by nature of our music, we come together, as Jews. We represent one nation, one people, united. Denominational difference transcends us, and our voices mix, as one. That’s all that matters. Jews, from all walks of life. As one we sing.

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