Sounds of Spirituality
I have a 30-minute bus ride at both ends of the school day. On the bus, I often read, sleep, do homework, or text my friends. The one thing that I do almost every day is listen to my iPod. I love putting in my earphones and getting lost in my favorite songs and artists.
I am not alone in this love of music. Most of the teenagers in my neighborhood have an iPod, or some form of music-playing equivalent. Even in the hallways between class periods, people are plugged in to blast a few tunes before returning to study.
What, then, are we listening to? I am in the minority in the genres for my personal taste in music. Approximately 60% of my iPod is country music, but the most significant percentage is actually the 25% of music that is based in Judaism. Dan Nichols, Josh Nelson, Alan Goodis, and Rick Recht dominate my time with even more in outer playlists. I love listening to the musical interpretations for different prayers and hymns.
On my bus ride to school every morning, there is one playlist that I listen to most often. This playlist is called "service". It contains each prayer for a morning prayer service as perceived by many different musical artists. For me, I don't always have enough time to sit down and open a prayer book to praise God. I do, however, have the time to listen to and be enlightened by the music that I have on my iPod. In fact, of the 25 most frequently played songs on the music player, about 10 of them are specifically Jewish, containing either prayers, psalms, or meditations that speak particularly well to me.
Not everyone needs to go and load their music playing device with cantorial, operatic music. The diversity of styles in contemporary Jewish music may be a surprise to many people. The tunes of today are much more related to those heard at a rock concert than those heard at the opera.
Additionally, the technically "Jewish" music is not the only place to find good listening material. The message of many songs can relate to prayer in ways that actual prayers themselves sometimes cannot compare to. The only outlet for some Jews is through meaningful music that sounds to be technically secular, meaningless noise, but instead can be incredibly enlightening and deeply spiritual.
I am a big believer in the fact that all of our actions need to represent Judaism in some small way. Nothing we do can be entirely secular, for fear of losing our religious identities along the way. That being said, there is so much trash that is appearing on radio stations across the country. Music that emphasizes drinking, sexually inappropriate behavior, maltreatment of women and minorities, and all of the other of a plethora of negative ideas conveyed by the industry saturate our listening patterns, and often work to sabotage the work that we do to make our lives holy and meaningful.
This is not to say that anything that is not Jewish or Godly is not acceptable. It is, rather, important to note what it is that we are listening to and to make sure that the material that we are taking in is meaningful to us and conveys messages that we not only enjoy for pleasure but also ideas that we endorse and support.
So next time you plug into your headphones, listen closely to the underlying meaning of the music. Without music, our lives would not be as open to creative expression and connection. Let our listening habits reflect our views of the world.
Austin Zoot was the Religious and Cultural Vice President of NFTY-CAR. He also writes on his own blog, The Zoot Perspective.