Delaney: Chichester Psalms

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(Host) Commentator and former State Senator Dennis Delaney has been
thinking about the work of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and
it’s brought to mind a serious question.

(Delaney) If one were
to look at the Biblical Psalms only as expressions of religious feeling,
a portion of humanity’s most sublime poetry would be short-changed.
Here’s why.

In 1965 the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein
was commissioned to set to music a number of Psalms, which he did for a
centuries’ old music festival in Chichester, England. The composition
became known as the Chichester Psalms.

Right now it’s my great
pleasure to be rehearsing them, in Hebrew, for a concert and as a member
of a magnificent choral group. Bernstein’s creation is moving; but it
has also piqued in my consciousness a never-answered question: "Why? Why
the forever hatreds between Jew and Muslim?"

Take, for example,
the composer’s rendition of Psalm 2, thundering forth in the boldest
fortissimo: "Lamah rag’ishu," crying out again and again, "Why are the
nations so angry?" But from there we move to Psalm 133, set to music in
the gentlest pianissimo: "Hineh ma tov," "How good it is for brothers to
live together." No cry or question of despair here – just a musical
sign of well-being and thanks.

But what about the Muslim side of the coin?

ago, in the dusty desert town of Kano, northern Nigeria, I, a skinny,
idealistic American expatriate, went to work in a small Muslim
university. In those days Kano was wrapped tightly in a finely woven
blanket of Islamic culture and piety. Today,
sadly, it is riddled with terror and death at the hands of Jihadi
extremists. To my memories, however, the experience was one of warmth,
welcome, and friendship to me, an outsider.

In Muslim lands, the chant call to prayer on Friday afternoons is clearly the necessary summons of the week. One Friday
afternoon, I went to the local mosque to witness the response to the
call, the prayer. From the minaret above the mosque, in the most
haunting, other-worldly tones, went out the call to the faithful. Never
before, and only once later in Pakistan, had I witnessed a display of
such extraordinary reverence, piety and concentration. I was moved – so
much so I never went back, because I felt like an intrusive outsider. In
spite of my feeling, however, I found not the slightest rebuke in
anyone’s eyes.

When Muslims greet one another, they say, in
Arabic, "As salaam aleykum" – Peace to you. When Jews pray, and
sometimes sing, you may hear, "Hineh ma tov" – How good it is for
brothers to live together. Muslim and Jew, they have both got it right.
No moral juggling at all.

Then – what’s not working? Why is the hate not diminished?

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