By Gwen Orel
The tune of “Zamru l’Adonai” has been in my head all week.
That’s because I recently played violin with the band that plays music sometimes for Friday night services at my synagogue (before sundown, when we all have to hustle to put the instruments and amps away and carry them out of the building before the “no carrying” rule on shabbos applies).
The melody by Noah Aronson is gorgeous, the singers’ voices soared, and peace settled on everyone like a silk blanket fluttering down.
For the past few years I’ve been playing Irish music, learning tunes by ear, and playing in sessions. At sessions you learn tunes from other players, or you find out the name of a tune and go home and learn it.
Sessions are often held in pubs. Children leave tips in a jar, diners take pictures on phones. It’s too casual to be a performance, but it’s not not a performance, either.
It’s playing inside the music, and bringing others in, too.
For the synagogue band, congregant Mark Goldenthal had created individual parts for us. It’s been a while since I learned a tune through sheet music.
But reading music and having a stand partner (in this case, flute player Jonathan Engel) came right back to me.
There we were, giggling over the “where is that repeat?” and “my music ends before the song does.” There I was, cribbing my entry from him with a surreptitious glance.
When I think of playing as a girl at Interlochen music camp and in New Jersey regional orchestras I forget that it was fun. What I usually remember are challenges, when conductors give you a passage to learn and then your section votes on whether you keep your seat or move up or down.
To be honest, just writing that makes my stomach clench up.
I usually remember fast runs that I couldn’t keep up with and looking around to see if anybody else was faking. I remember the tedium of the second violin part in Beethoven, where it sometimes seems like you are playing the same two notes forever and never get the melody (Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, spreads the melody around).
I forget the camaraderie and the fun, like the time in All State Orchestra when, during a break in rehearsal, the strings began playing the Pachelbel Canon and then went into “Spiderman.”
“Zamru” is a beautiful tune, but what really made the night for me were the children dancing all around to “Rom’mu.” Everyone smiled. Congregants made noise with little egg shakers.
As the hokey-pokey says, “That’s what it’s all about.”
Why do people sing karaoke? Because it lets them go inside the music, and create it, with others. It’s why live performance will never ever go away, as long as there are people, and babies still respond to lullabies.
If you play music, there is nothing better than playing with and for a group.
If you don’t play music, you’re missing out, and should take up an instrument right now.
It’s not too late.
At Catskills Irish Arts Week, there are always some people in their 50s and 60s who’ve been playing just for a few months.
And to me, it’s even more impressive when people who’ve achieved mastery at one instrument decide to become a beginner in another.
As trumpeter Ted Chubb, Jazz House Kids’ summer workshop director, told me last week, “It’s hard to be a beginner at anything. It’s humbling to be a beginner.” A person who makes that choice is “a pretty cool person,” Chubb said.
Jazz House Kids has an Adult Ensemble you can join. I am seriously considering doing that. I have never played jazz, but watching the kids who do made me want to “reclaim my time,” as Maxine Waters says, and go back and be a kid at Jazz House Kids.
In the Jazz House Kids Summer Workshop, the kids come in on cue. Boy, are they having fun.
When Oscar Perez tells them to get softer, they do. In Ed Palermo’s ensemble, he crows “boom!” as he points to each student to take their solos, snaps his fingers and says “boom!” as they improvise.
There’s an excitement in the rooms, anticipation, collaboration and just fun.
Twelve-year-old sax player Catie Farrell told me she learns from playing with people better than she is. Farrell and all the kids in the Jazz House workshop will perform this Saturday at the Montclair Jazz Festival, playing inside the music, for people who love it.
When Friday services were over, the bongo player shook my hand and said, “Nice playing with you.” Session players say that too.
It means, “That was fun. Let’s do this again.”