Question & Answer With Shlomo Katz - "Composing" Niggunim
A Simple Jew asks:
Each night, I put my 16 month-old daughter to sleep and I sing to her a niggun I "composed" which is put to the words of Tehillim 101:2 אַשְׂכִּילָה, בְּדֶרֶךְ תָּמִים מָתַי, תָּבוֹא אֵלָי. As I sit in the rocking chair holding my daughter in my arms, I sing and my daughter attempts to sing this niggun along with me.
Undoubtedly, I must have borrowed a bar from another niggun that was lodged in my memory. My attempts to figure out which niggun this was, however, have been unsuccessful. As someone who composes his own music, at what point can you consider a composition to be your own and not derivative of another piece?
Shlomo Katz responds:
Your question couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Just last week a well known musician who co-hosts a radio show approached me after appearing on his show. He told me he was in the midst of putting together an album in the style of a Shabbos Tisch and wanted to know if he could buy any songs from me. Knowing that this concept of selling songs exists, I found myself at a complete loss for words, not having any clue as to express to him what I felt at the moment. My response was a very confusing one, basically telling him that it's not so much my thing to sell a niggun.
However, I truly feel that a niggun is not something one can sell. You can sell songs, but a niggun, a real niggun is a gift from shamayim which only has one real owner, Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Having said that, we must always remember that chazal teach us that since Matan Torah there hasn't been any chiddush, meaning to say that all our Chiddushei Torah and niggunim which we 'compose' are (hopefully) a tapping into the one word, ANOCHI. This based on the Ba'al Shem Tov's explanation of David Hamelech saying 'Toras Hashem Temima', Temima meaning complete.
On a totally technical note - When you think a niggun came down to you yet one of it's parts is note for note the same niggun that someon eelse brought down, I would definitely recommend to really daven over it, and only then see if it still shayach to be put out.