Kabbala Soul Music
Rabbi DovBer Pinson
Generally, it is maintained that there are two distinct
styles of music. Let us term these, for convenience's sake, as "Western
music", music which originates from Western society, and "Non-Western",
music which is derived from all other cultures, particularly those of
the East and Africa. Western music is usually recognizable as "goal
oriented music". This means to say, music that is narrative in structure,
consisting of a series of progressive "events", so to speak.
The listener feels the progression of the music, and it evokes a sense
of movement within him. It feels like the music has a destination, and
it takes the listener on its journey.
Non-Western music is characterized by a prolongation of a single note,
or a select group of sounds which continues in a set pattern throughout
the entire melody. This type of music arouses a more contemplative state,
evoking within the listener a sense of timelessness and inner space.
Appropriately, these moods of music reflect the essential theology of
these two civilizations. In the West, the predominant belief is that Creation
began at a period of time, as time is linear, culminating in a future:
Creation, Revelation and finally Redemption. Reflecting this reality,
the music the West produces follows this pattern. It begins, reaches a
high point and climaxes. By contrast, in the East, where time is viewed
to be cyclical, with no "beginning", "middle" or "end",
its music, too, is cyclical and repetitive.
The Kabbala and Jewish mystical teachings, on some level, meld these
two together. Yes, Creation began at some point in time, and time itself
was created; nonetheless, Creation is continuous, moment to moment anew.
Nothing is merely in the past, nor hoped for purely the future. Everything
is within the eternal present. As such, the music that the Jewish mystics
produced, especially the songs of Chassidim known as "nigunim",
are reflective of both these musical spectrums.
There are some nigunim that are structured and progressive. These tunes
are to the Western ear "sophisticated" tunes, consisting of
a beginning, a body and a climax. There are other nigunim that contain
repetitions of single, individual sounds with little or no words. And
some contain both.
While Neitzsche suggested that the "fire magic of music" is
to be found in its anti-rationality, and what he sought in music was its
"ecstatic irrationality", the Jewish mystic looks to unveil
within music its transcendence. Perhaps not the transcendence within the
music itself, as some would argue that music is nothing more than "sonorous
air" or, as Leibniz had it, "unconscious arithmetic"; rather
the reaction to the music, the transcendence reached as one reacts to
A wordless tune (as is much of Jewish mystical song, particularly Chassidic)
is the way two individuals can communicate on a transcendent soul level.
Any breakdown in the verbal communication mode can be repaired by creating
a conduit that transcends words. When a person feels alienated from his
Source, or for that manner, from his fellow man, a wordless tune which
exists on a realm that defies distinctions, separations, and disharmony,
is the most fitting remedy, causing a unity of souls.
[Reprinted with permission from www.iyyun.com - copyright The Iyyun