The Elul Pop Music Project Revisited and Continued!

photography: Esther Hugenholtz

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה, שִׁיר חָדָשׁ; שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
'Shiru la'Adonai shir chadash, shiru la'Adonai kol ha'Aretz
'Sing unto the Eternal a new song, sing unto the Eternal, all the Earth!' 
~ Psalm 96:1

Music has always been an inextricable part of my spirituality. I didn't grow up in a 'musical' family (we were the sort who cultivated the 'visual arts') but the musical choices of my older brothers did rub off on me: Bob Marley, Queen, Nirvana, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Tracy Chapman. 
Queen and Bob Marley were especially formative to me. It was in this music that I found my earliest spiritual inspiration. When I was 19, I discovered Tracy Chapman and was so inspired that I decided to teach myself to play the guitar and have been writing songs ever since. Once I started getting involved with the Jewish community, I also started composing liturgical and religious music.

As a rabbi, I love engaging with music professionally. Service leading in synagogue allows me to cultivate love of song in congregants and when appropriate and desired, I play the guitar.

And so the 'Elul Pop Music Project' was born. There is a lot of wonderful Jewish music, including contemporary music, 'out there'. But there's also a lot of fantastic non-Jewish pop music with spiritual themes that can uplift us. The purpose of the Elul Pop Music Project is to post one spiritual/religious pop song a day, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Rosh haShanah, that matches the themes of love, teshuvah (repentance), forgiveness and God. Some of it may be contemporary Jewish music (Sheva, Matisyahu), some of it may be from the Christian rock genre appropriate to Jewish ears (Hillsong) or from other faith traditions (also appropriate to Jewish ears). Some of it is explicitly religious while other songs from secular artists may hint at spiritual themes and leave you to explore the metaphor yourself. The list is not yet complete and is a little experimental but please join me, offer your own suggestions and enjoy the music as a preparation throughout the month of Elul for the High Holy Days. 

Here is the list of songs posted on my Facebook Wall and their themes (including brief snippets of lyrics for contemplation). This list will be amended as the month progresses.

Day 1 - Repentance: 'What I've Done', Linkin Park: 'Let mercy come and wash away what I've done - I'll face myself to cross out what I've become.'
Day 2 - Social Justice; 'Hands', Jewel: 'Cause where there's a man who has no voice, there ours shall go singing.'
Day 3 - Spiritual Intimacy/Divine Kingship: 'King without a Crown', Matisyahu: 'I want to be close to You, yes, I'm so hungry - You're like water to my soul when it gets thirsty.'
Day 4 - Forgiveness: 'Baby can I Hold You', Tracy Chapman: 'Forgive me is all that you can't say, years gone by and still words don't come easily, like forgive me.'
Day 5 - Praise: 'All God's People', Queen: 'So all you people, give freely, make welcome inside your home - thank God you people, give freely, don't turn your back on the lessons of the Lord.'
Day 6 - Faithfulness/Shabbat theme: 'Shir la'Ma'alot, Psalm 121', Sheva/Yosef Karduner: 'I lift my eyes up to the mountains - from where does my help come? My help comes from the Eternal, Creator of Heaven and Earth.'
Day 7 - The Prophetic Voice: 'Love, Where is Your Fire', Brooke Frazer. 'Imposters have been passing, offering good-feeling glow, but I'm holding out for what You are about, an inferno that burns to the bone.' (based on Jeremiah 20:9)
Day 8 - Bearing Witness: 'Albertine', Brooke Frazer. 'Now that I have seen, I am responsible - faith without deeds is dead.' (Song written to commemorate Rwandan genocide).
Day 9 - Walking with God: 'With Us', Hill Song. 'Before I call, I know You'll answer me, You'll make a way beyond what I could imagine. What could separate from the love You give?'
Day 10 - Redemption: 'When You Believe', Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston. 'In this time of fear, when prayer so often proves in vain, hope seems like the summer birds, too swiftly flown away. Yet now I'm standing here, my heart so full I can't explain, seeking faith and speaking words, I never thought I'd say.' (From 'Prince of Egypt').
Day 11 - Sacrifice: 'Akeda', Matisyahu. 'Abraham, Abraham, take your son, take your blade, take your rope. Three long nights, three long days. And approach the mountain of the Lord. Yes, you've been there many times before. In your dreams, your fantasies, realities, yeah, they all bleed. Teach me to love, Ayeka.'

Please check back for regular updates of the list.

My own music: I've recently started the process of recording some of my own liturgical/religious music. Please check my Bandcamp account for the following songs:

Music: Esther Hugenholtz
Lyrics: traditional liturgy/Esther Hugenholtz
Guitar, vocals: Esther Hugenholtz
Production: Dave Middleton
(Please keep in mind that these recordings are my intellectual property... and... that they are by no means professional! :))


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