My Heart Sings

This is not the post I was planning to write, but today was the next to last Sunday afternoon concert at Tanglewood, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, and it inspired me. We have had such awful weather I was afraid I would have to listen to him on the radio, but the sun came out and it was a gorgeous afternoon for music on the lawn. The combination of natural beauty and brilliant music at Tanglewood is a spiritual experience.

There is a giant screen facing the lawn at Tanglewood. Sometimes I sit where I can see it and sometimes I just let the music wash over me. Today I did both. To see Yo-Yo Ma smile while he plays, his face radiating joy, never fails to move me. I have no musical talent whatsoever. In school I was told to stand in the back and mouth the words. My voice was silenced, but my heart still sings when I hear beautiful music.

Last week my Rabbi, Liz P. G. Hirsch,  gave a talk, “The Music Between the Notes,” based on a 2016 “On Being” interview with Yo-Yo Ma and a selection of corresponding Jewish texts.

There were three specific analogies I found especially relevant to listening to today’s concert while sitting under a tree. The first spoke directly to the concept of “the music between the notes,” which Ma attributed to Isaac Stern. Ma asks if, when transitioning from A to B, the second note is part of the first, or “a different universe?” Crossing the “amazing boundary” between the notes may create “a revelation.”

Rabbi Hirsch compared this idea to a contemporary interpretation of a statement describing the Torah (the five books of Moses) as “black fire written on white fire.” Rabbi Michael Strassfeld  suggests that the black fire is the Torah text and the white fire the larger world around us. Without the white spaces the Torah would have no context. The larger world “is an essential part of how we understand our particular story.” The spaces surrounding a sacred text or between the notes are an equal part of the experience.

The second concept was “audacious hospitality.” Ma says that when he performs he is the host and every member of the audience is his guest.  In addition to the transaction between the performer and the audience, playing and listening, the transformational, or “greater purpose” is “communing together.”

In Judaism and other faith traditions, Abraham creates the obligation for hospitality when he leaves his tent in the desert to invite in three strangers. I recently attended a presentation on Russian food and culture. Darra Goldstein talked about how hospitality is embedded in many cultures. When I visited Russia I said “no thank you” when offered what was probably my fourth or fifth cup of tea of the day. My guide later informed me that to refuse the tea was to refuse hospitality that is considered sacred. I didn’t have to drink it, but I had to accept it in the spirit in which it was offered.

The final concept Rabbi Hirsch highlighted was beauty. In response to being asked about “the meaning of the word beauty or the power of beauty in the world,” Ma says you can’t “say the word beauty without equating it with the word ‘transcendence’…” He speaks to the moment of “reception and cognition,” whether from music, a poem, an event or in nature. “The beauty of nature,” he says, “is the human cognition of that vastness, the awe and wonder, something that’s, in a way, bigger than yourself.”

How similar to the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

To be at Tanglewood and hear Yo-Yo Ma is to be amazed. Ma’s own sense of amazement is transmitted through his music.   The surroundings inspire awe. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Barbara Viniar2 Comments