Question & Answer With Yossele Kvetch - Rebbe Nachman & Don Ross
A Simple Jew asks:
The above video clip comes from guitarist Don Ross. Sony Music notes:
"Don Ross has emerged as one of the most respected musicians in Canada and one of the top guitarists in the world. In September 1996, he managed to do what no other player has done: win the prestigious U.S. National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship for the second time (he first won in 1988). The competition, held yearly in Winfield, Kansas, cannot be won only with immaculate technique, but the player's music must also display a high degree of emotion and intensity: hallmarks of Don's style."
I too use to play guitar from my elementary school years until my freshman year in college and thus have an tremendous appreciation for the musicianship exhibited by Don Ross. While in the past my music tastes included blues, R&B, heavy metal, and rap, since Pesach I have listened exclusively to Jewish music.
In Likutey Moharan I, 3, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught:
A holy melody gives strength to the forces of holiness. But the music of the sitra achra, the other side, damages these forces and lengthens the exile. It makes people stumble and traps them like birds in a snare. Be very careful never to listen to this kind of music at all. The musicians and singers who produce it have no religious intentions whatsoever. On the contrary, they only want to make money or become famous. Listening to this kind of music can seriously weaken your devotion to G-d. But the melodies played by a truly religious, G-d-fearing musician can be very inspiring. They can strengthen your devotion immensely
Is Rebbe Nachman advising me that it would be better not to listen to Don Ross? Although I can certainly imagine that chassidim would have problems with heavy metal, Don Ross's instrumental guitar music seems a little less egregious and does not appear to be offensive to religious sensibilities. Is it really that different than C. Lanzbom's Strings of the Soul which is also a CD of instrumental guitar music?
Yossele Kvetch answers:
For many years I did not listen to secular music -- although I grew up in a musical home, where I played classical cello from ages 9-14, and then switched to other instruments and styles. From 1981-1998 I tried to listen to Jewish music exclusively -- despite MASSIVE frustrations -- until as a result of working as a music producer professionally, I began to slip. Jewish music seemed to be in such a dismal state of golus that I couldn't deal with it any more. Often the only thing "Jewish" about the music that is popular in our communities is the lyrics, which tend to be strings of cliches bonded to mediocre rock and roll. So I gave up. Today, I listen to all kinds of music again (mostly instrumental, b'geder halakhah: no kol ishah, no avodah zara, and nothing that brings to hirhur). I don't say that this is ideal, but it is what works best for me at this time in my life.
As for Torah Gimel (Akrukta), Reb Nachman is speaking about live music and an evil singer specifically. So maybe I can be saved on a technicality! In any case, I try to learn Torah she-bal peh every night, if only a few halakhos and / or a few mishnayos.
Fedora Black was right in his e-mail that there is an avodah of "raising up" music from unholy sources by singing such songs on Shabbos. I have seen teachings about this from both Chassidic and Sefardic Kabbalistic sources, as well as in the Breslov sefarim. There is an entry in Reb Nachman's Sefer HaMiddos, too, about conquering the klippah of a nation by singing its anthem. But this has to be balanced by the Rebbe's words about not listening to a menagen rasha in Torah Gimel, and about different kinds of avodah zara and their songs in Torah Samekh-Dalet (Bo El Paroh). He is not saying that "anything goes." So how this works is a little unclear.
In any case, we are living through the darkness before the dawn. Jewish music, which is essentially so high and so holy, being rooted in prophecy and in the avodah of the Beis HaMikdash, seems to be in a state of eclipse.