Waves of Sound, Waves of Soul

by Shira Kline

Everything has a vibration or a frequency.  From the molecules to the mountains, from the rocks to rock n’ roll, from our quiet to our not so quiet thoughts and feelings. Kirtan chant master, Rigani, explains, “We all resonate at different frequencies, and these frequencies change according to what we are doing and thinking. So when we are all doing the same thing–chanting, breathing, and moving to the same rhythms–our vibrations begin to synchronize and the resulting experience is very powerful.”  This is a one-of-a-kind feeling.

Sometimes we sense synchronized frequencies in our gut. “I really like that guy’s vibe,” or, “Hmmm, there’s something off here.” And sometimes it’s more distinct, like when you’re tuning a guitar.  The feeling of it being out of tune is actually the strings’ sound waves bumping into each other, not lining up.  So you adjust the tuning pegs until the waves align and then, ahhh, no more dissonance, rather harmony, unison. And you breathe a little better. And your shoulders relax a tiny bit. And you may even smile.  Or you may cry.  Either way, something opens up and something inside you is moved.

I want to talk more about this “alignment.”  When we come together and sing, our voices, our buzzing vocal chords, our rhythmic starts and stops and our harmonies, these vibrations align and we can feel it.   Add in kavanah or heart intentions. We feel it in our bodies; it becomes a physical thing.  And it’s a unique kind of feeling because it bypasses the intellect entirely.  So rather than leading to our mind where we qualify and judge and question all of our feelings, we are led to a whole different plane of feeling.  This is the feeling of alignment, or oneness, with the people around us.  The more conscious we are of this feeling, the more at one we are with ourselves.   And the more conscious we are of being at one with our selves and one another, the more we are at One with God and all of creation.  And for me this is the same “Echad” that we are referencing when we sing the Sh’ma.

And we didn’t have to do much to get here!  All it requires is a release, letting our guard down and opening up to these feelings.  Easier said than done, I suppose. 

I want people to sing out loud together. I believe it is one of the singularly most successful ways to bring an entire group of strangers together. The problem is that as a performer and worship leader, I’ve learned that asking people to sing out loud, especially people in their 20s and 30s and especially during worship, can be like asking them to take off their clothes, their killer boots, all of the things that they dress themselves in, their cover up, their “this is how I fit into my culture” jacket, and get naked.

I met Michael in a tattoo studio a few weeks ago.  He had chosen an incredible art piece for his back that would remind him of his life story and honor the memory of his mother.  He’s a doctor, a busy modern guy.  He asked me, “What do you do for a living?”  I start to explain my work with sacred music and story, ritual, prayer, song leading, etc. Michael looks at me with wide eyes.  He has never talked about religious-type stuff with someone in his own generation that he could so easily relate to.  It turns out, like so many people I meet, Michael very much desires to have spirituality in his life.  “I’d love to experience it [meaningful prayer and sacred practice] but I just can’t connect to it. I don’t know how,” he says quietly.

“Yes, you do!” I want to shout out excitedly.  God, spirituality, is right here.  It is not anywhere else.  And it is yours for the taking!  Don’t be afraid of it. 

For many, spirituality or connecting with God is a foreign thing only some people know how to do. It’s a kind of complex act that requires some kind of difficult vocabulary and ability.   It seems unfamiliar and scary. Opening up, being one’s most authentic, exposed and vulnerable self, for sure can be daunting.   And for being this true, the reward is great.

We are all seeking peace, balance and real connection in our lives. Singing allows us to experience release and feel this as Divine presence. I believe that when we sing out together, the simple nature of this act aligns us with our self, with our community and with God. It is our fears that keep us separate. Music is a way to walk through our fears together.

Every year for the High Holidays, I have the joy of leading services with my good friend and colleague Amichai Lau Lavie.  In a popular NYC music venue, hundreds of strangers come together as a temporary congregation.  Our service is a remix of traditional liturgy and chazzanut with story, live music and prayers, revisited in modern conversation.  While the intellectual and emotional journey of atoning is always powerful, it is definitely the singing throughout that allows people to close their eyes and soar.  When we’re singing, we can cry, shout, laugh, listen, and connect.

Any time we sing out together, we come together.  All opportunities to sing together are devotional. For the stranger who walks into the room, regardless of her level of knowledge or desire to participate, if there is devotional music present then she will feel it. It is palpable.   And if deep down she is feeling afraid of sacred experience, of making contact with others and herself, then this might just be the “vibe” that she needs most and will be drawn to again and again. 

As a worship leader, I want to create a space for this connection.  I want to say, “You are welcome to walk in this door and join in song.”   When we offer music as a way to align with each other, that’s it!  There’s nothing better. And in fact isn’t that what Synagogue 3000’s Next Dor is seeking?  To create a sense of belonging for the next generation of Judaism.  It is essential that we continue to build this connection especially in a time of privacy settings and reality TV.  Singing together isn’t just a feel good tactic, its one of the greatest gifts and most powerful tools in our ancient toolbox.