By Hazzan Jacob Sandler.
When I dabbled in improv comedy, there was a game we played called “Sing About It!” where a scene would unfold based on audience suggestions, and some omnipotent other player would have the power of saying, “Sing About It!” and the actors would have to break out into song spontaneously about whatever it is that was happening. What made that game so silly is that a character might start singing about something entirely mundane, like grocery shopping or sitting in traffic or having nothing to watch on TV. And the audience knows that people don’t just break out into song for no reason.
When I first started learning how to write original song lyrics, I literally googled how to do it. Humble beginnings, I suppose. But the article I read was specifically about musicals, and it taught me that the music and lyrics allow the characters to express what ordinary speech cannot. The music comes only when the emotional state of the character is elevated beyond spoken word. It could be anything from jubilation, to devastation, to rage or panic or love, but unlike the improv scenes, a song in a musical reflects an emotional peak – not just groceries.
“אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה”
“Az Yashir Moshe uv’nei Yisrael et-haShira hazot L’Hashem, vayomru lemor: ‘Ashira L’Hashem ki ga-oh, ga’ah”
So Moses and b’nai Yisrael sang this song to God, and they said, “I will sing to God for He has triumphed gloriously.”
For the first time in the entire Torah, the entire Bible, we see the word “song.” Of course Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Schwartz would surely acknowledge that earlier parts of Genesis and Exodus were dramatic and worthy of songs like “Spark of Creation” or “Any Dream Will Do” the Torah itself doesn’t show the characters breaking out into song until this moment. All it took was 200+ years of slavery, 10 terrifying plagues, and an unbelievable miracle at the splitting of the sea. The emotional height of our redemption and our freedom moved us to the state where speaking simply doesn’t cut it. So we call this Shabbat Shira – the Shabbat of Song. This Shabbat we will be joined by my friends from New York called “The Choral Torah Collective” who add beautiful harmony to many verses, one piece for every parsha in the Torah. They will add harmony to our participatory davening, they will perform for us, they will teach us and they will sing with us. I hope you’ll join the song and dance Friday Night and Saturday Morning and Afternoon. It’s sure to be a Shabbat worth singing about!