There I sat in a darkened theater, listening to one of my favorite singer-songwriters up on the stage. His music had been nourishing to me over the years and had taught me plenty about the craft of songwriting.
So my reaction surprised me. Instead of getting lost in the worlds and the ideas that he was painting with his voice and his guitar, I found myself feeling heartsick at the wasted opportunity to hear all of the other wonderful voices in the room. I love his songs, but I also yearned to hear the songs of the stranger seated to my left and the stranger seated to my right. What would it be like, I dreamed, to stop the concert right then and there and call forth the wisdom and the insight and the yearnings of the many people in the room?
You see, my own sense of what songs and songwriting are for has been growing over the years. My songs are absolutely an expression of what I and I alone want to say to the world; I own that. And some of them are certainly meant to be shared in such a way that I sing and the audience listens. But the songwriting work I’m most excited about these days is much more interactive.
I use my own songs and songwriting to bring others into song. I’ve brought my innovative approach to synagogues and assisted living facilities, to yoga studios and rabbinical schools and even to the local state mental hospital.
My dream of stopping the concert and calling forth the many voices in the room? It came true! At my album release concert — in that very same theater! — in addition to sharing songs I had already written, we also wrote two songs together right on the spot. One was the Song of Complaints, to the tune of an old sea chanty; we lifted up our own complaints in song, lightening our individual loads by sharing with one another. And the other was “1,000 Times” a song on the new album to which audience members added their own wisdom about what helps you choose bliss and ease and peace in your life.
In the Jewish tradition, we are called upon to be partners with God in the work of creation. We call God, “The One Who Spoke-and-the-World-Came-to-Be” and in so doing, we imagine all of existence created through voice. This means that the work of creation is incomplete without every single one of our voices — our complaints, our yearnings, our hopes, and our fears and most of all, our stories.
I stood on the stage looking out into the darkness of the theater writing songs with people I couldn’t even see. We were making a new creation from the collective wisdom in the room and I felt like we were all there living out one of the lines of my new album’s title song: “the sounds of our voices” truly can “still connect us at the edge of the unknown!”
Releasing “at the edge of the unknown” means that these songs can ripple out to create and nourish connections with more people I cannot see. I especially love knowing that my songs are being sung along with, as one listener (and singer-along) wrote: “there r no words for the gratitude i am feeling right now at this moment as i am blasting your cd and singing at the top of my lungs. it is HEALING me!!!!!”