Thursday, March 27, 2008

Musical Mishnayos

There is a new music CD called "The Mishna Project" that is an interesting experiment in Torah study. The musicians (who are unnamed on the CD) put the first three chapters of Mishnah of tractate Berakhos to music. The theory is that after you study those mishnayos, your listening to it in an enjoyable format will help you memorize the words.

I'm a big fan of the memorization of what we tellingly call the Oral Torah. I think that having the sources at your fingertips is the first step to mastering the give-and-take of talmudic and post-talmudic scholarship.

What follows are my impressions of this particular CD:Click here to read more

  1. Overall, I like the CD, whatever criticism that follows notwithstanding.
  2. I think the instruments are too loud. The whole point is to be able to hear the words and overly loud drumming or guitar playing makes it hard.
  3. These guys can really sing and really play music. Maybe they aren't the next American Idols but, at least to this admittedly unsophisticated listener, all aspects of these songs are pleasing to the ear.
  4. Incredibly, there is a wide variety of songs for these mishnayos. And only one of them has some "nai nai nai"s to fill up space. I don't know if they can come up with new songs for the incredibly large number of mishnayos ahead of them.
  5. My third-grade son, who just started learning mishnayos and knows the first two chapters of Berakhos mostly by heart, really enjoys hearing the subject of his studies on a CD.
  6. However, I think that the CD in general fails because the songs are not singable by listeners. They are good, and I like the fact that wandering around my head is a tune to "nashim va-avadim u-ketanim peturim mi-keri'as shema", but I and my kids can't sing these songs. I think that this is a huge negative to the method.
  7. Part of that is due to these songs be very, um, trendy; very contemporary. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I can see some people over 30 being uncomfortable with these songs. Guaranteed to be called "goyish" by those who throw around such terms.
  8. That said, some of these songs are beautiful. In addition to the song mentionmed above, the song "kaveru es ha-mes ve-chazru" is just a great, slow song.
  9. There are some giggle-worthy moments when they sing songs about people who have bodily emissions, e.g. a ba'al keri. I know I'm an adult and I should get over it, but it's just weird.
  10. Additionally, these songs are too short. They vary in length, in that some go through the Mishnah once and some twice, but almost none are the length of a full song. You need instrumental parts and more repetition. If Lipa can make a full-length song out of the four words "Rabbosai mir vellen bentchen", these guys can make full songs from mishnayos. It's a real shame, because some of these are great songs but I don't think that Nachum Segal will play a 30-second song (although I could be mistaken). Regardless, I wish they were longer.
  11. From a marketing perspective, I'd recommend that they immediately proceed to Mo'ed; do not pass go or collect $200. Release each tractate before the relevant holiday -- Masekhes Sukkah before Sukkos, a funky Megillah before Purim, etc. Then do Eilu Metzi'os in Bava Metzi'a because it is very popular in elementary schools.
  12. In that spirit, quickly record a longer version of Berakhos 1:5 (which is part of the Passover Haggadah) and get it to Nachum Segal ASAP. Practically guaranteed radio time in this pre-Pesach time.
  13. In general, I look forward to the next CD but hope that the songs are more singable.
For those who are offended by the very idea of singing mishnayos, the CD jacket lists a number of sources to defend the practice (e.g. Megillah 32a; Tosefta Ohalos 16:8).

UPDATE: See these articles about the CD:

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