Wednesday, October 01, 2008
I got the chance to blow the shofar this Rosh Hashana. The shofar service is one that I always love: the overtone-rich sound of one of the most natural of sacred musical instruments has always represented some part of what could be the voice of God to me. I always close off my other senses and allow my whole inner being to take in the sound. It is a sound that has as much presence and importance to me as the air around me, and it is a sound that I always associate with new beginnings and new opportunities. This year, with the absence of a student rabbi in our (very) small rural congregation, it was up to me to blow the shofar.
The blowing of the shofar is preceded by a great deal of seriousness. The responsibility I felt as its player was great, particularly since I was not really able to practice it for very long: there are only a finite number of blows in this non-brass-player's lips. There are a few stable notes on the shofar, and I was worried that I would not be able to find a single one of them when the first "tekiah" moment came.
The shofar calls are immediately preceded by a reading of the shehekianu, prayer; a prayer that is only used for only the most special of occasions. It set up the collective mindset in our Jewish community that the notes that would (or would not) come out of the instrument were sacred.
They did feel special. An odd kind of special.
And when I picked up my fiddle to play the music for the rest of the service, the notes I played on it also felt an odd kind of special.
Blowing the shofar this Rosh Hashana somehow allowed me to think about the potential sacredness of every single note that I play. And it also helped me to realize the deep difference between a note that is sounded and a note that is sung, and it helped me to have a glimpse at the infinite musical possibilities available to me on the instrument(s) that I love to play. It also helped me to understand how much responsibility I have as a musician, and, in a population that otherwise does not seem to think of the music that I play as something beyond background sound, pleasant entertainment, or a way to get all the bridesmaids in for a wedding, how what I do can actually be, note-by-note, important and meaningful simply for its own sake.
Now, if I can only carry that sense of meaningfulness with me for another year!