Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Awareness Of Its Power And Impact"

(Picture courtesy of Soundassets.com)

Ron Benvenisti commenting on Trapped In The Lower Levels - Jewish Heavy Metal

My first performing experiences were of original rock which were mostly social commentary, consciously avoiding the sensuous and risque in lyric. At that time I was not religious yet I felt that the music should be uplifting if you were going to get on a stage and play it. Having been in the middle of the rock music revolution, opening for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, I had a sense the mission was not 100%.

Fortunately my A&R person at Atlantic records was the Academy Award winning musical genius Elmer Bernstein who showed me the inner beauty of music and lyrics, through craft and theory and its the awareness of that spiritual Pnimut that moved me away from the raw gut rock (although meaningful as a social and political voice of the generation) to the more "eternal" aspects of musical theory and composition and it's ability to touch the soul deeply through a mystical resonance that goes far beyond the surface sensual. I was seventeen at the time.

I have since come to understand what the G'ra and Rabbi Nachman meant regarding the origin and power of music.

I think Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop and other "urban" types music are valid contemporary cultural styles whose expressions can be adapted to any purpose. (Just like Elmer worked on Rock and Roll). In that sense it is fair game for Kedusha as is practically any form that is produced or adapted with the right Kavanah.

One of my most requested songs is a "hot" Salsa version of "Shir Ha'Maalos". I'm currently working on a large ensemble jazz arrangement of Naomi Shemer's classic "Eucalyptus" (hopefully to be debuted by the Lakewood Jazz Ensemble). I have played with Hip-Hop and rock styles and even composed orchestral pieces and songs based on the sequence of Aleph-Beth (translated into their corresponding musical notes) from Pasukim in Torah and Tanach.

It's all fair game if the Kavana is right. If the Kavana is right, it will connect. You can check out some examples at my website:

Sound Assets

The amazing phenomenon of music just at the physics level of sound and frequency and mathematics is particularly Kabbalistic with many sources to back that up, not to mention its unparalleled ability to resonate with and inspire the soul. It's a power that needs to be respected and not abused just like any other power.

As far as Yosi Piamenta copying Men At Work and various Arabic love songs, I know Yosi for over 30 years as a dear friend and I can safely say that he is fully qualified as a Jew and a musician to extract whatever sparks are trapped there. On the other hand I have seen Jewish musician's show up early at MBD and Avraham Fried Motzei Shabbos concerts, before Shabbos was over, sporting Yarmulkes out of their gig bags along with treif frankfurters and Chinese food. Did that affect the music? I don't know for sure. Perhaps it was just another gig and they had no connection with the Ruach. I can't say. Would I like to see a group of totally committed halachically Jewish pros? Absolutely. They could do any style and I'm sure it would be amazing. I don't think we've seen that yet. The SoulFarm, Blue-Fringe, Heedoosh, etc., leave alot to be desired on both fronts, spiritually and musically in my opinion. Peter Himmelman approaches the mark. Other newcomers like Mattisyahu and Lipa Shmelzcer are promising but we have to see how they evolve.

I am glad to see some real pros who are frum getting the limelight and not just the session guys who play at the concerts and on the CDs. We have yet to see a Kiddush Hashem from Gene Simmons, Dave Mustaine and Bob Dylan, etc.

Plus, there is a real culture clash between the frum world and musicians as well. When Yosi and Avi Piamenta recount their experience with Stan Getz they always remark about how shocked they were at the lifestyles of the musicians and how they couldn't hang there. So many of us have had those experiences and turned away from the music "mainstream" as a result. Even turned off to the styles, not being able to separate the music from the musicians and audience.

To be sure it is a complicated cultural issue but music at its core is a wondrous creation of Hashem that deserves respect for it's structure, power and effect, and like all things should be treated as such and done with the proper intentions.

I'm not saying that gentiles or non-frum folks can't make "Kosher" music - so many have, even unintentionally. If you listen to Barry White singing "You'll Never Find A Love Like Mine", or Bobby Caldwell singing "What You Won't Do For Love" (for example) with a Jewish perspective, you can have a wonderful religious experience! The mathematical structure behind J.S Bach is absolutely Kabbalistic! Gordon Jenkins big band and orchestra arrangements of Yiddish Folktunes on "Soul of a People" is amazing. How about my friend and admiration, Yaron Gershovsky's arrangements and playing of Jewish material?

I think there are many paths for music to touch the soul, it's not the music per se (which at it's source is a holy creation for sure) but the musician's respect for its divine origin and awareness of its power and impact.


At September 5, 2006 at 9:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm totally with him on the session player issues. I wrote about that a few years back.

We've played a number of shows over the past few months, to predominantly non-Jewish audiences. What impressed them the most was not the music per se (although they were certainly impressed with it), but the fact that is was coming out of these obviously frum people.

At September 5, 2006 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Ron Benvenisti said...

Thanks for your generous response!

BTW, that picture represents the physical dimensions of the Luchot which calculate out to the precise musical frequencies of the diatonic scale! Moses trumped Pythagoras by a millenium!

At September 5, 2006 at 12:06:00 PM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Fascinating take on the issue from an insider. Thanks for posting. Considering how powerful a force music is, it is not surprising that it could lead to the extremes of kedusha and hedonism. I think the point that music is holy but that it is the musicians' attitude which effects how the music is perceived is very much on target.

At September 5, 2006 at 2:13:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Ron mentioned in this post that he had "composed orchestral pieces and songs based on the sequence of Aleph-Beth (translated into their corresponding musical notes) from Pasukim in Torah and Tanach."

I listened to a couple of the mp3 files from Ron's web page that were developed in this fashion and was very impressed! Ron should run this sound past some people at Juilliard, etc.

At September 25, 2009 at 12:13:00 AM EDT, Blogger Ron Benvenisti said...

I revise my opinion on SoulFarm. After some serious listening I have found it to be singably inspiring, especially tunes like "Dig Down Deeper". Straight from the heart and stylistically very eclectic and subtly sophisticated. Honest and passionate, I bought several CDs and ripped what I like into a "best of". Hasn't left my CD changer yet.


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