The Language Only Our Soul Can Speak
It’s that moment of arrival in music; that feeling of your kishkes bunching up and your whole body being in tune with the tune; the bottom of a killer downbeat; the visceral, electric muscle memory of hearing a beloved song or guitar solo or perfect drum fill or the blending of two well-suited voices in harmony or an earworming melody affecting you so deeply that it changed your life in a split second.
It’s the lifelong, never-ending pursuit of the multi-sensory high that music gives those of us who are lucky enough to feel it in the deepest levels of our body, mind, and spirit.
The first time I felt it was in my dad’s old beater, on a road trip, age about three. Abbey Road was on the 8-track, cranking. After having the shit scared out of me with I Want You’s white noise-filled abrupt ending, Here Comes the Sun came on. My tummy sank with the tractor-beam sound of the descending Moog at the beginning, giving birth to George’s serene voice and guitar. It’s still with me right now, and will be when I die.
Those songs live in your body like new organs and sneak up on you in the most unexpected moments, like they’re reminding you to live life well and to remain appreciative of being alive. I’ve been lucky enough to be punched in the gut by music so many times in my life. The list of songs and those life-altering moments is a mile long.
As a professional musician in Jewish worship services, I’ve long endeavored to help provide those moments to others. Pay it forward. It has always felt to me that the Jews have gotten this idea right long before anyone else thought of it.
A long time ago, I noticed that the gasoline that fuels the multi-sensory high a song can give you really lives in the music or qualities of the voice. It’s a language only our ears and body and soul can speak. The words, if there are any, are dressing. See Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 8, second movement. See Beach Boys, Surf’s Up, plaintive “tidal wave” section. See Adonai Oz, A section, by Kol B’seder. See Zeppelin, Rain Song.
And see the Chasidic nigun. The Chasidic tradition includes wordless melodies, or nigunim, which are meant to lift us higher in the moment, onto a higher spiritual plane; onto greater heights in prayerfulness; to cast us forward into the peace of Shabbat and out of our misery. Human experience; pain and sadness, happiness and gladness - they are all tied up in a great melody.
As an adult I came to realize that all of my feelings on this subject were best represented by a great nigun. It is the essence of that moment of being a kid and being given the gift of Here Comes the Sun - no dressing, no bullshit - just the moment of arrival. The drop of the downbeat. The muscle memory of the thousands of years that led up to you being here now in this moment. Thrilled to be alive.
Joe Eglash is a guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, accompanist, arranger, and composer in Syracuse, New York, where he happily resides with his wife and kids. He works as a management consultant for Transcontinental Music Publications.
This is one of a series of posts exploring the intersection of rock and spirituality, leading up to the release of In Pursuit, an album of original Jewish hard rock. Sign up for the mailing list to learn more.