Last night I went to a magnificent concert at St. Mary the Virgin, a jewel-box of a church smack in the middle of Times Square. Historically this is not a neighborhood where one would expect to find anyone or anything with "virgin" in its name--but St. Mary's has remained a fixture from the years of topless theaters all the way to today's Disney era. Tallis, Taverner, Tye... it's been awhile since I listened to early music, which used to be my breath and bread. I still shudder at perfectly tuned chords in glorious major keys, the floating trapeze of bell-clear sopranos, gentle tenor incantations, grounding forces of basses and altos.
Sometimes I miss singing those complex sounds, clear as glass. Although I couldn't name it at the time, I used to see God through that window, and loved last night's glimpse. But these days I need the dusty wilderness Voice of lower down on the mountain, where it's OK to go a little flat or lose the beat every once in awhile. I think ragged edges make the music enter one's heart even faster. Yesterday morning the Aseret HaDibrot, the "Ten Sayings," were chanted at my synagogue by a tiny teenager, dressed stylishly in black leggings and enormous tallit, with a voice that would have made the Mouseketeers proud. She was rock-solid in her reading, didn't miss a single vowel, and added some California-style uptalk to her phrasing, as well. Maybe this is what we really heard at Sinai, who knows. If any nation ever needed a cheerleader, it was the Israelites. You go, God!