The Power of Music

Cantor Brian Mayer
Dean, School of Jewish Music
April 25, 2013

It's a cliche: "The power of music reaches the human soul in ways that words cannot." Maybe it's because I'm a musician, but I am tired of this cliche. I bristle when I hear people say it to me since I've heard it a million times. Maybe because I spend my life either making music or teaching music, I've become numb to this statement.

Silly me. Last month, as I have done for 15 years, I was one of the conductors for the HaZamir Gala Concert in New York. HaZamir is the international Jewish high school choir, and I spent three days with 280 Jewish teens in a Catskill Hotel, and a fourth day with them at the Lincoln Center in New York City. I had the privilege of conducting two concerts in the Rose Theater, and both performances were thrilling.

Sounds impressive, I know, and this entire HaZamir enterprise is quite remarkable. But I was knocked off my chair yesterday when I read the results of the post-festival surveys that the kids filled out. Check out these numbers:

  • Seventy-five percent of the participants credit this experience with increasing their connection to the Jewish community and to Israel;
  • More than half said they would pursue Jewish musical ensembles after high school;
  • Well over half credit the festival with introducing them to Jewish practices and themes they were previously unaware of;
  • Eighty percent said this musical experience makes them feel closer to other Jewish teens;
  • Eighty percent of young-adult alumni cited HaZamir as having a played a key role in their appreciation for Jewish culture and Jewish heritage;
  • Well over half of these alumni said that HaZamir was instrumental in their making Jewish friends.

The power of music! Oh, right, this is why I chose the cantorate for my career 30 years ago, when I was graduating college. People used to ask me frequently (and sometimes still do), Why didn't you become a rabbi? You seem like the right type! And I used to respond to them by saying, "The power of music reaches the human soul in ways that words cannot."