Friday, March 27, 2009

An interlude of uncertain quality

After a week of intense posts I feel pretty wasted. Besides, it's nearly four in the morning, which is enough to make anyone to feel wasted. So maybe I'll blog about one of the dumbest possible things to blog about. That's right folks, as per Cheerio's suggestion, it's time for...the music post! Yeah! Truth be told, I have blogged about this before, and I don't know that I have anything original to write, but that's all right.

So. Jewish music. What is it? Jewish music is, according to Yossi Green, is “where a melody is joined with a specific lyric that familiar or not familiar, to teach a certain message, to convey a feeling, that makes you closer to G-d. That basically what we consider as Jewish music.” So essentially, when Bob Dylan pairs Modeh Ani with a tune of some sort that's Jewish music. When Matisyahu sings, that's Jewish music. When Avraham Fried sings, that's Jewish music.

There must be something wrong here. That was way too simple. Anything Jewish can't be that simple. So let's make some problems. TRS, for example, won't listen to Matisyahu's music. But he will listen to Shlomo Carlebach and Yeedle Werdyger. Is this hypocritical? Yeah, probably. But what of it? Differentiating at all in this subject opens one up to charges of hypocrisy.

Lipa Schmeltzer said several years back that the only real Jewish music was the shtuff the Levites played in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Are niggunim Jewish music? Perhaps the question is, are niggunim inherently Jewish? The answer is that of course they aren't. A lot of them were taken from the surrounding population. I'm not saying they aren't holy, merely saying that provenance alone fails as an arbiter. Besides, while I might claim that every Lubavitch niggun is the holy of holies, a Modzhitzer will claim the same for his niggunim, even if I think his aren't Jewish.

Is all cantorial music Jewish? I should think not. Moving right along, is all "Chassidic" music Jewish? No, it's not. Here's a post from Yeshiva World News where the commenters actually care. It's nice to see people get worked up about these sorts of things. Shows there's still hope for this religion of ours yet!


In conclusion, moral equivalency, and a little understanding, especially when it comes to matters like this, can come in very useful, and maybe then people will stop fighting with each other all the time. Run-on sentences can also come in very useful.

61 comments:

le7 said...

Where are people? I want to bash.

Crawling Axe said...

I will repeat myself and leave it at that. You have defined “Jewish”. You haven’t defined “music”. Just any kind of noise is not yet music. Even somewhat harmonized one.

There was a Russian “bard” who sang couplets, accompanied with guitar. One time he was asked something about his “music”. He answered: “First of all, this is not music. This is just some accompanied poetry. ...”

I am not against any form of entertainment. Even rap or hip-pop. It rocks your boat? It has a Jewish message? It bring you closer to Eibeshter? Fine. But it’s not necessary music yet.

So, what I am trying to say is: we need Jewish music. Jewish (which you covered, more or less). Music.

Crawling Axe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Real Shliach said...

le7: Bash away

CA: The same argument that can be applied to "Jewish" can be applied to "music". Just because you're a pretentious prig and snob...

Nosson Zand is your friend?

Crawling Axe said...

Are niggunim Jewish music? Perhaps the question is, are niggunim inherently Jewish? The answer is that of course they aren't. A lot of them were taken from the surrounding population. I'm not saying they aren't holy, merely saying that provenance alone fails as an arbiter. Besides, while I might claim that every Lubavitch niggun is the holy of holies, a Modzhitzer will claim the same for his niggunim, even if I think his aren't Jewish.

Vos redstu? Is Purim inherently Jewish? (And, as we know, it’s higher than the seemingly more inherently Jewish Y"K.) How about the name Mendel? Is cow hide inherently holy? Anything in this world is klippah until it’s used for kedusha.

Chabad anything is inherently different. Not because I have certain subjective affinity to Chabad and may even call myself a pseudo-chossid from time to time. But because there is an objective advantage of Chabad as the pnimiyus of Yiddishkeit. (And at this I am informed that my statue of limitations has ran out, so good Shabbos again.)

Crawling Axe said...

TRS — oy, let’s keep loshon harah anonymous. (That was a British oy, not a Jewish one.)

Crawling Axe said...

(Btw, I think Mottel had an interesting thread about this not so long ago. There was even an argument in the comments about why certain “musicians” are not Jewish, etc.)

The Real Shliach said...

Chabad anything is inherently different? I'm glad you think so. Even I think so. But in my new morally equivalent world...

Why is that loshon hora? Besides, you mentioned he was your friend in that frumsatire post...

le7 said...

How come you're okay with listening to people who have um... not such clean actions in the area of you know what... but you won't listen to someone who does drugs (allegedly).

HELLO! You'll listen to a child molester and not Matisyahu?

The Real Shliach said...

What's wrong with being a hypocrite?

le7 said...

Whatever...

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...

i think all music is holy, because it is the poetry and soul of a sceret tzaddik!!

The Real Shliach said...

le7: what do you want me to say?

Lars: Whatever floats your boat.

Cheerio said...

i wanna talk more about CA's comment. what is music? my frustration in this area is based on the fact that because there's so much paranoia about music being Jewish, there's an inhibition about producing quality music. people are afraid, or ignorant, and because of this, they produce the same crap music over and over and over again.

The Real Shliach said...

One man's garbage is another's piano grand. You don't like it? Don't listen to it. Taste is subjective. No one's forcing you to listen to anything. You want to tell me that society forces you to (in whichever way that is)? So that's a broader problem in society, which is merely reflected in music, among many other issues.

Crawling Axe said...

My extremely dilettante ten cents:

Would you listen to the paricular song/piece if you didn’t know the words or if the words weren’t there? Take the accompaniment or the melody of a song you like and hum it. Do you enjoy humming it? Does it create by itself emotions in you? Does it have musical message? Does it have Jewish message?

For instance, Anim Zmirois, which, from musical point of view, is a simple enough melody, can be enjoyed even without the words. Oftentimes I just sing the tune, without the words, because I want to focus on the music. When the words are added, they just contribute a parallel stream of information (perhaps compatible with the musical information).

Poltaver niggun has a message by itself. Both musical and Jewish (although the Jewish message is up to interpretation, obviously). If there were words put to the niggun, it wouldn’t improve the niggun itself — it would just add an additional layer, which I may or may not enjoy.

Also, definition of good music is not about taste. There are composers whom I recognize to be good composers, but they are not my favorite. Some I don’t understand. Some I do understand but just don’t like so much. Or the pieces. Or even within Jewish music — I have preference to particular niggunim and don’t enjoy others so much. Some niggunim (the particular slow ones) I don’t understand. But all of them I recognize as music, even good music.

And, if you say, that it is about taste — fine, there is such thing as bad taste. People dress badly, people eat junk food and like cheap wine, people think American cars are good, people listen to music of poor quality, people read cheap detective novels and watch trashy movies. All of these categories of people have bad taste.

Not because I personally don’t like detective novels — they are not my personal favorite cup of tea, but I recognize a good detective novel when I see one, and also recognize garbage (in any genre) when I see it.

Crawling Axe said...

Finally, if you say that for instance, a Chossid shouldn’t care so much about type of wine, literature, music — fine, I may agree (about wine I for sure agree), but that doesn’t negate the fact that objectively speaking there is such thing as bad wine and good wine. Whether or not you should care or focus on it.

le7 said...

I dunno. I can't be friends with hypocrites. Goodbye.

The Real Shliach said...

CA: The only thing that determines quality is the market.

I don't care what/if a chossid cares about, but your black and white view of the world is a bit disturbing.

le7: Whoops. Um. Yeah.

le7 said...

But don't worry because to you it does not apply seeing as we're both so chassidish that we're not friends with any MOTOGS. :-)

The Real Shliach said...

What does that have to do with anything? MOTSG can't be hypocrites?

le7 said...

My point is I can't stop being friends with you even if you're a hypocrite since we're not friends.

Crawling Axe said...

From economical point of view, it’s an arguable statement. A high-quality product that costs too much will not be as successful on the market (e.g., German cars which, invidivudual car vs. any other car, are arguably very good cars — their parts are better, they handle better, and they break less frequently — but, Japanese cars are more successful on the market b/c of lower cost and still decent quality and reliability).

My simple mp3 player which costs much less than iPod Touch and has only the features I need from mp3 player is better suited to my tastes and needs.

From artistic point of view, I find this statement distasteful. But interesting…

I don’t know what you mean by black-and-white view. I explained that I don’t consider something bad just because I don’t like it. As far as Chassidus, I certainly see the world in many colors; just recognize which colors are appropriate for me. Same with science, for instance. I recognize that Intelligent Design is a point of view. But it is not science. Psychology is a point of view (on our mind), but it is (currently) bad science. According to objective criteria of what makes science good or bad.

Crawling Axe said...

On the other hand, I personally dislike Chemistry, but it would be extremely idiotic to state that it is not a science.

The Real Shliach said...

le7: Oh, right. I should have known.

CA: Nu, so everyone gets what they want, or something like that. My point is, don't be so quick to say "this is good" or "this is bad". All things may not be relative when it comes to moral questions, but with questions of taste?

Crawling Axe said...

Dude, you’re not hearing what I am saying.

Preferring BMW to Mercedes is a matter of taste. Because on average they are of the same quality, but have different aspects highlighted. Perhaps Nissan vs. Toyota vs. Honda. Rachmaninoff vs. Prokofiev. I don’t know… Avram Fried vs. Yossi Green vs. the third guy (something ben Dovid).

Preferring a Ford to BMW is a matter of money or ideology (e.g., not buying Nazi cars, etc.), but it cannot be a matter of definition of a good car, unless the person defining has no idea what makes a good car a good car.

Crawling Axe said...

The reason things may not be relative about moral decisions or about science (in my example) is b/c these things are objective, not subjective (like taste). I am saying there is something about music, food, clothes that makes it good or bad objectively beyond taste.

I may like Classical music more than Jazz. But I know good Jazz when I hear it. And I know bad Jazz.

Otherwise, teaching music or art in schools would be meaningful. Who is to say that I play like a butcher or paint worse than a chimp? It’s a matter of taste…

The problem with the liberal mumbo-jumbo is exactly this: inability to recognize that there are rules in everything. True, within rules there is room for pluralism and different opinions, etc. Eilu v’eilu vchu’. But, still, there are rules.

Crawling Axe said...

meaningless* (need sleep)

The Real Shliach said...

If there is an objective way to measure something, then yes, it can be measured. Then there is taste. A teacher can teach you how to do something...but are the musicians playing for Avraham Fried any worse than those in the Rolling Stones? Probably not. So it all depends on your taste in music.

Crawling Axe said...

Yes, but when I play a very deep Chassidishe niggun on piano, I am worse. And if you think I am better, than your taste is bad.

As I said, take some of the songs and hum them without words.

The Real Shliach said...

You are worse than what?

And therefore what? You think I listen to music because of the words?

Crawling Axe said...

Forgetting music topic for a second, do you think this is Jewish music? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBby_P9nkYs

No idea.

The Real Shliach said...

Whose definition?

Crawling Axe said...

Yours.

The Real Shliach said...

I don't make judgment about this sort of thing. Even for myself. I simply have the artists I listen to, but I wouldn't say that someone's music (which meets Yossi Green's definition) is or is not Jewish.

Dowy said...

Hi i occasionally read ur blog and this is an intresting post.
I think the real point here is that when it comes to music you cant hide who you really are. Music is only as good as its composer. You cant fake a good song. And music is expressive, it gives over what you are feeling.
so basically someone who really wants to be the beatles, but becouse of religeous restriction cant, takes the same tune and just changes a couple words is going to produce music that is beatles in sound, but without the feeling, its going to be shallow - case in point: varitions. by extension someone who takes the 'style and adds a posuk to it' will basically have a similar vibe since there is no real emotion attached to the song, only the intent to make a song that sounds something like that, as apposed to the origonal song that actually had real emotion put in.
(This is why i actually like matisyahus music, as the emotions are real and raw(and i happen to like reggae) even though right now his songs are a bit depressing, to say the least, but hes only expressing the way he really feels.)
Obviously its impossible to label music, and decide who puts what emotion in, and what he had in mind when he made up the song, its just one of those things - you know it when you hear it .
when it comes to kosher food it doesnt matter what kind of person you are, as long as you make sure everything is according to halochoh, its cool. but when it comes to music theres no such thing, you have to determin the charachter of the person who made the song.

Crawling Axe said...

TRS — I must have misread the last couple lines, before “conclusion”.

Fine. Vusever.

The Real Shliach said...

Emotion: ich vais nisht. I know people who love variations and shlock rock.

Character vis a vis Jewish music: is this the real determinant? Because I know people, like Yeedle and Shlomo Carlebach, who by this definition are not Jewish musicians. I've heard tell of other Jewish musicians who are not exactly mentshen. Is their music Jewish? Again, ich vais nisht.

Dowy said...

Im not really saying wether or not its jewish, im making a more general point: that watever the character of the person creating the music is thats what kind of music hes going to produce. for example sh. carlebach, he was an exeptionally loving person, and thats what his music expresses, feel good heimishe jewdeism. or bob dylan, young idealistic politacally driven music, thats his rythm. take most of modern pop music, there was vertually no intent in the music, and thats what it sounds like, shallow, and everything sounds the same.

The Real Shliach said...

I don't listen to modern pop, so I wouldn't know, but I suppose you have a point.

Dowy said...

i was actually refering to modern jewish pop music, but as far as i understand there is also a movement in the goiyishe world of anti-pop music.

The Real Shliach said...

Ahh. Hmm. Humph.

Crawling Axe said...

TRS — I don’t know if you listen for words, but the impression of words can overshadow the impression (or lack of thereof) from music.

The Real Shliach said...

And therefore? You are correct that sometimes a certain tune doesn't fit with the words it's put to, and vice-versa.

Crawling Axe said...

That’s not what I said.

The Real Shliach said...

Nu, so what did you say?

Crawling Axe said...

I said, take out the words completely. Let the music speak for itself. Would you still enjoy it, as a separate work of art? In comparison to other musical pieces? Jewishness of said piece and its composer notwithstanding…

I find many of the existing melodies primitive and tasteless (not to use words like vulgar or sappy), with no message whatsoever. Which leads me to conclusion that the music is not for its own sake, but only as an accompaniment to the words of the song, to the message — to make listening to the song bearable and excite basic circuitry recognizing harmony.

I won’t quote James Joyce on the difference between art and… V’dal (or not…).

The Real Shliach said...

Sometimes I would enjoy it, sometimes I wouldn't. It depends. But that doesn't say anything about the music itself, just about my preferences for it.

So you don't like them. Good for you. But some people. Why criticize what they like, or even worse, try to reeducate them?

not.

beeny said...

whilst we are on the subject, this past shabbos day i was by a close friend of mine's sheva brochos and the topic of jewish music came up and they were saying lipa, matisyahu etc... is not jewish music and therefore should not be played or brought into a jewish house. then to my astonishment they started singing some Zemiros to the tune of Sharm El Shike (the same tune used in good-bye gan yisroel) which is not a jewish tune. when i pointed this out to someone they immediately got very defensive and said, with jewish words it becomes holy/jewish. to which i asked and you say lipa is not jewish? he was stunned!

The Real Shliach said...

Nice going beeny!

Crawling Axe said...

So you don't like them. Good for you. But some people. Why criticize what they like, or even worse, try to reeducate them?

Well, normally I am just saying why we need better music. I am not saying people should stop listening to what they are listening to right now. I am just saying why things could be better and are currently unacceptable (in light of the supposed purpose of the Jewish music).

Just like in the story of Rebbe saying “they are nice divrei Toireh, but, unlike Chabad Chassidus, don’t teach a person about Hashem”, the Rebbe wasn’t saying necessarily that people should stop learning the “nice divrei Toireh”. He was saying: if you think that you discharged your obligation of learning Chassidus by learning that, think again.

There is, however, another way to look at it. My rabbi told me a story of his grandfather (the gabbai of 770) and another Jew learning the works of Maharal. He told about this to either the Rebbe or someone close (Rabbi Groner, Reb Yoel, etc.) and the response was in the general vicinity of: it’s a good thing you’re learning Maharal’s works, but had you been learning Chabad Chassidus in the time you spent on Maharal, maybe Mashiach would be here already. I tell the story as I heard it.

My point is: the message of the songs is good. The music is barely passable as accompaniment, to make listening to the said songs any different from listening to poetry. This is very bad use of the potential of music’s impact on human psyche. Music can carry an unbelievable message by itself which would greatly strengthen the message of the lyrics. And I am not saying it has to be Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto. It can even be a simple tune.

There is a saying in Russian: “You can’t drink away professionalism.” It means that if a person is a professional at what he is doing, if his car breaks in the middle of Siberian plain, he’ll be able to fix it, even if he is a drunk. Message of the story: you have to approach what you are doing professionally. Not just with great emotions and dedication, but with great deal of preparation and intellect. Which sometimes, alas, involves education.

le7 said...

Go Axel.

fakewood inc. said...

want modern jewish music go here
http://collive.com/show_news.rtx?id=2900

sarabonne said...

Cheers.

The Real Shliach said...

CA: I fail to see your point. You're saying that you want more meaningful music?

Fakewood: This is good?

Sara: For what?

fakewood inc. said...

where did i say that it was good when i wrote it. as for good music that a matter of opinion and is a worthless argument.

The Real Shliach said...

Oh, you meant modern. OK.

Crawling Axe said...

fakewood, thanks for the music. That was great. You inspired me to write a post, plagiarizing on myself, my rabbi and TRS.

And Giora Feidman. Preview.

fakewood inc. said...

i happen to like it personally,

The Real Shliach said...

Yeah, it is rather cute. A little touching up in the vocals maybe...

fakewood inc. said...

im talking in its ideal form i dont pass judgment on a unedited low quality recording that was recorded on a computer at best.