As we are about to launch the 2013 Boston Jewish Music Festival, I’ve been thinking a lot about the very concept of religious music. For instance, on March 3, the Celebrity Series of Boston is presenting the Eternal Echoes concert program of Itzhak Perlman and renowned Israeli cantor, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. BJMF is incredibly honored to be a marketing partner for this event and to sponsor a special reception with the artists after the concert. Yes, a limited number of tickets are still available by clicking here.

But my thoughts aren’t about selling tickets (at least right now they aren’t). I’m pondering just how universal is religious music. Does music itself open you to divine presence or do you have to be open to it? How spiritual an experience will this concert be for the non-Jew?

Personally, there have been several non-Jewish music recordings and experiences that I have savored both musically and mystically. Don’t get me started on the magic that happens in trhe Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And hearing an old Sam Cooke and the Soul Sttrrers live version of Nearer My God to Thee always gets to me. Hear it for yourself (stay with it…it builds each minute to an unbelievable climax).

And lately, I’ve been held by rapt by a CD of hymns that jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas released. These were songs that his mother wanted him to play at her funeral. I hear God’s presence in every note though I wouldn’t recognize a hymnal from a science textbook. Well, that is an exageration. Hymnals do have musical notations and science texts doesn’t.

Two very different approaches to praying to God musically. Let’s try one more, one of ours.

Why do some of us only hear divinty in country gospel or qwaalii music, chazzanus or a Springsteen revival concert while others can hear it in all great music? If we really do believe that there is one God, then lets accept the idea that the divine is present in so many different musical styles? Personally, i think music is one of humanity’s greatest gifts to god.

What do you think? Of these three examples, what touched you? Why? Care to share a piece that speaks to your soul?

And lets talk about it and share all this and more here on this blog and at the festival, March 1-10.

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