“Sing unto God a New Song”

Posted on January 5, 2017 by Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus

On the sunny first day of the secular New Year, I sat down at the piano to take a peek at Gershwin’s First Prelude, also known as the last piece I tried to play before I gave up piano lessons as a kid. Every once in a while, I look at it and attempt to struggle through. It has a great little jazzy solo melody to the intro, and then, immediately after, you play the lowest Bb of all the 88 keys, with the pedal for awesome sonority, and then, a delicious G minor seventh chord: twice. The pattern goes on for a few measures. At the moment, I don’t really have the pianistic ability to go on – who knows what the months of Tevet and Shvat will bring? – but just being able to play and sense the Bb and the G minor seventh chord was a great way to bring in. It made me think about the power of music in my life, the relationship of music to prayer, and my musical experiences in tefila over the last few days.

Our choir, the Tefila Band and Kathy Shanklin sounded so lovely this past Shabbat Chanukah. The first part of the service gave me a joy in the power of communal music-making that lifted me, opened my heart, and taught me to perceive the inspirational words of the Chanukah service that followed in a new way. And then, the following morning, over 20 voices were raised in happy chorus for Shabbat morning minyan as Rick Miller and Henry Nerenberg accompanied us on guitar. Different kinds of songs, and different kinds of singing. Some music was intricate and complicated, and there was satisfaction in having mastered something. Sometimes, a song was just fun to sing. People tried new things. Once in a while something didn’t quite work, but that was okay. There was just sheer delight in listening to the sounds of other people.

I’m looking forward to seeing how music will open our hearts and elevate the prayers of this community in the coming icy months of Tevet and Shevat. We have many Shabbat morning minyanim ahead, where I look forward to singing and praying with any and all of you. We will have another Shabbat b’Shir with the Tefilah Band on January 28. And this year, we will celebrate Shabbat Shirah, the great Sabbath of song, and Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees, with the choir accompanying services on Saturday morning, on February 11. Tu BiShvat is particularly compatible with song, as it is said that the trees have a song to sing, and it is traditional to sing the Psalms, which reference trees at that time.

May we look towards the New Year of the Trees, with a renewed sense of the purpose of music in prayer. To paraphrase the famous Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav: “Call forth a new song to the world, a song of wonders, as the Psalmist wrote: ‘Sing unto God a new song, for God has performed wonders’ (Ps. 98:1). We will offer You our thanks with a new song for our redemption and for our spiritual deliverance. We will sing, chant and make music before You, creating new melodies, songs and praises, songs of wonder that transcend nature….”

 from: “The Flame of the Heart: Prayers of a Chasidic Mystic, Reb Noson of Breslov”, translated and adapted by David Sears with the Breslov Research Institute (Jewish Lights, 2006).

Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus

Originally published in the January-February 2017 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives