Singing and Synagogues

By: Katie Rosenberg

October 20, 2015

Katie Rosenberg conducted interviews with Georgetown undergraduates from diverse religious backgrounds on how faith inspires their artistic work as part of her research as a Doyle Undergraduate Fellow.

Ari Shapiro is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Ari grew up in a traditional, Orthodox Jewish home and continues to practice here on Georgetown’s campus. He is also very involved in the performing arts; Ari is a member of the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society, and an upcoming member of the Georgetown Chimes.

Ari describes his transition to the religious life at Georgetown as relatively smooth. He states, “At school, I’ve found it pretty easy to keep on doing what I’ve been doing. I go to synagogue and services here sometimes, or at a modern Orthodox synagogue down the street […] I pray, I keep kosher to the extent that I can at Leo’s, I keep Shabbat; pretty much the same stuff.”

Ari has also found a way to continue to pursue his passion for music, and he particularly loves to sing. He explains, “I grew up singing. Both my parents have always been into music and played it a lot around the house. From a very young age I would sing along to whatever was on the stereo.” In elementary school, Ari discovered musical theater and performed in many musicals, including The Wizard of Oz and Annie, and this passion continued for many years. He states, “I was in a bunch of shows in high school. Now, here at Georgetown, I am still involved in theater but more on the technical side.” For example, this spring, Ari is currently serving as an assistant stage manager for Mask and Bauble’s production of Urinetown the Musical. 

Ari explains how his passion for music goes beyond his life at school, however, and informs his religious life as well.  “A lot of my religious upbringing was going to synagogue and singing the prayers. I always connected more—felt more into it—when the prayers were more musical rather than just rote recitation… I just think there’s something emotionally that music captures that words can’t quite touch on in the same way.” He cited the influence of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose movement and emphasis on the power of music brought a lot of Jews back to Judaism.             

In particular, Ari described the way in which a capella music has informed the Jewish community. On Shabat, and over particular periods of mourning in the Jewish calendar, Jews are not allowed to listen to instrumental music. Ari explains how this has led many Jewish musical groups towards a capella. “Since it’s not instrumental, it’s not the same type of music, according to Jewish law. So you’re allowed to listen to a capella stuff during those periods. There are loads and loads of really cool Jewish a capella.” He cites the performance group “A.K.A. pella” as a particular favorite. This group takes modern pop songs and transposes the words of Jewish prayers over the melody.

Ari describes how a capella makes music special: “I can’t fully express all of the music in the same way that I could necessarily when it’s not Shabbat. But, that also makes music a higher, purer form because it’s just the voice–just personal singing and it’s not being filtered through anything else.” Having this religious restriction makes the enjoyment of music all the more special–whether religiously or secularly. Whether he is singing socially with the Georgetown Chimes, or listening to Jewish prayers through music, this music plays an important role in Ari’s life.

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Singing and Synagogues