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Our Jew-Per Hero Musical Brains

12/01/2018 08:18:42 PM


Ilana Axel, Cantorial Leader

Chanukah is here with its stories of bravery and self-sacrifice that keep us together as a distinct people. As we light our candles and sing our songs about miracles and courage, we might also do well to consider the research of Professor Daniel Levitin, a former record producer who runs the Laboratory for Music, Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In his book “The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature” (© 2008, published by Penguin Books) Levitin explains the theory that hominids who possessed musical brains survived and thrived over those that did not. Yes, we have language, but other species share language as well, just different from ours. The musical brain went beyond language. It provided the ability to encode nurturing relationships; transmit information; raise a loud, organized, and frightening ruckus when defense was needed; and increase learning and bonding between generations. Indeed, Levitin theorizes that all modern humans share the same basic 6 songs, or rather, six general modes of human expression that are encoded through our musical brains. Who can retell what those six songs might be (try it first, then look at the next sentence)? FRIENDSHIP, JOY, COMFORT, KNOWLEDGE, RELIGION and LOVE. Six basic survival modes that define us as human, rather than non-human, creation. As a group, humans with musical brains simply survive better than those without, or, at the very least, this is the type of human we are today because Darwin’s homo sapiens possessed this musical brain. Either way you look at it, you are all inheritors of the musical brain, even if you can’t carry a tune.

The ability of the Jewish people (over 3500 years) to maintain and transmit a complex and growing heritage of ethics, collective endeavor, story and song is most likely due to this musical brain. So, in a way, every member of our community has a super Jew-per hero brain that we flex every time we gather in community to celebrate our holidays and rituals and connections to one another. I invite you to think about this consciously while we sing our songs of glory together at our Shabbat Chanukah service “Lights & Miracles” on December 7.

Ma’oz tzur y’shu’ati, l’cha na’eh l’shabe’ach.

Stronghold of Rock, my savior, it is right to give praise to You.

For God created our universe that the minds of humankind might flourish in just this way.

Shehecheyanu! I look forward to flexing our collective six songs together.

Chag Same’ach! Happy Chanukah!


Musical Heroics At Beth Tikvah Past & Future

A million thanks to our musicians & sound team who made the month of Tishrei, from Selichot to Simchat Torah, so tuneful.

Kolan sang delightfully at the Barnes & Noble Chanukah event on November 18.

Kol Shirah Youth Song Leaders will lead us on Shabbat Chanukah Friday, December 7 at 7:30 pm, joined by Kolan and Kol Tikvah.

Shabbat Shirah is Friday, January 18 at 8:00 pm. This, the Song of the Sea, is a prime example of the Jew-per hero musical brain. Join us!

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784