Tuesday, February 24, 2009

788. Beatles and trop

I've gotten into the habit of listening to Slacker Radio on my iPhone when I go to the gym (and not just because the name of the application makes me feel part of Generation Y, Z, or whatever comes next). Since I am neither cool nor hip, I set up just one channel: The Beatles, which also plays songs that sound like The Beatles. If I had to be marooned on a desert island, I would need no other cultural enrichment aside from the complete Beatles ouevre. (OK, plus Tanakh.) That I utter both words with the same breath indicates my admiration, once bordering on obsession, for the former. I hadn't paid much attention to The Beatles until my mother bought me their Red and Blue albums for my 15th birthday, long after they disbanded, and for years I basically listened to nothing else. Then I discovered Bach, and my aural landscape opened up. But nothing was ever the same.

(I have no idea how my mother knew I needed The Beatles. Her idea of pop music was "On Top of Spaghetti" by Tom Glazer. Anything else she deemed worthwhile to hear was by Mendelssohn or Prokofiev. But somehow she knew, and it changed my life.)

The Slacker Radio Beatles channel is heavy on early stuff, which is my favorite--British invasion, bouncy tunes in a major key. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much I love this kind of music. I was a huge, secret Wham! fan. I could care less about the words, but really like the rhythmic major keyness of it all. It sounds like fresh air, or that energy you get after a good workout (maybe why it makes such good gym music). It's clean and uncomplicated, a good anitdote to life's mishegas.

The other day as I huffed and puffed on the ellipitcal while Herman's Hermit's blasted in my ears, I suddenly thought of another reason why I like to chant Torah. Ashkenazic trop is in a major key, with a steady, interesting, fast rhythm. It tells a complicated story, but melodies are simple and upbeat, even when singing about war or skin diseases. I'm less of a fan of minor key tropes (haftarah, Eikha), which reminds me of how I used to think all Jewish music was supposed to sound. Once I discovered this was not the case, I was able to enjoy prayer so much more. Maybe this is why The Beatles entered my life--to lead me to Torah.

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