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Week 26: "Music and Rituals, Together!"

Daniel Barash

Slowly but surely, everyone began to arrive. Some on bicycles, others on foot, and one in a van big enough for a very large bass. Homemade food was set on the picnic tables, and children found their way to the playground that was steps away.

All this, the beginning of a gathering last Sunday to welcome spring! While sunny Californians had not been hibernating for months through the dreadful winter of 2015 (sorry Boston!), a new season is definitely upon us here, with splashes of color and sweet scents filling the Berkeley air. What better way to celebrate than gathering in community, partaking in food, music, and movement?

The event was sponsored by the East Bay Community Music Project, an organization that holds twice-monthly indoor Sunday gatherings for community members to make music, together! For this special spring gathering, the festivities were brought to the outdoors, in beautiful Ceder-Rose park.

Old favorites were sung, a circle dance was taught, and a seasonally-inspired “marching band” was organized, which wound it’s way around a big soccer-gathering nearby, eliciting warm smiles that suggested “Only in Berkeley!” And finally, the world-premier of a spring planting song by Molly Skuse, along with the planting of Sunflower seeds in tiny compostable pots, affording everyone the opportunity to bring home and tend a little sunshine from the morning (amidst the clouds that accompanied the festivities, which even managed to release a little much-needed rain).

Dancing on the Green.

Dancing on the Green.

At the conclusion of the morning, Ryk Groetchen, the founder of EBCMP (who is also a fabulous teacher with East Bay Music Together) spoke about the ritual of music-making that he experienced as a child. His grandfather had a guitar and a songbook, and every Sunday night, without fail, Ryk and his extended family would gather in the living room for an hour to make music. And now he continues this ritual, this tradition, with new family and friends, at least twice a month.

As he was speaking, it didn’t take long for me to think about all of the other traditions and rituals in our lives that encourage us to fully experience the moment at hand. We pray, we mourn, we march, and we celebrate. But we don’t do it alone, we do it in community. And when we are experiencing these rituals, we often sing and make music! We hear our own voices, singing in unison with those around us, creating harmonies in the process.

When I think of this in the context of Shabbat, memories of gathering around the Friday night table while growing up, both at home and at summer camp, come flooding in. Communal Shabbat singing is a staple at such gatherings, before and after the partaking of the ritual wine and challah offerings.

What I had never really thought about, until now, were the ways that community and music could also accompany the preparations for such festivities. Specific to this year of “Challah-it-Forward,” how might baking challah in community, and delivering it in community, strengthen this weekly ritual, this new tradition in our family? And how might the singing of songs together throughout the process deepen our experience?

And so, I now extend an open invitation: If you and your family are up for a little messiness in the kitchen, a short walk through the neighborhood, and some soulful singing along the way, let’s make a date to bake, together!

Planting Sunflower seeds and making music...

Planting Sunflower seeds and making music...