Monday, September 27, 2010


The idea of Jewish approaches to Gospel music isn't brand new. Anyone who's following contemporary Jewish music has been exposed to Jewish Gospel music through Joshua Nelson's "Kosher Gospel" project. Nelson's been making a big stir with a string of well received performances and is becoming a regular on the summer festival circuit. The basic idea is that Gospel music is an African American form of spiritual music that predates the African Christian experience. So why not bring it's power and energy to the Jewish experience as well?

It turns out that Nelson isn't the only one to make this connection. Sharon Alexander has been working this area for years, quietly developing a popular workshop series and working on a PhD through the University of Bern. Here's Alexander's blurb and a video that gives a taste of her workshop and approach...
"Many non-Christians are attracted to gospel singing but feel uncomfortable by the songs' Christian themes. However, the actual secrets to the techniques of gospel originate from much older African wisdom, which invokes the power of song to raise energy, build spiritual community, and affirm its goals.

In addition, gospel reintegrates fundamental Judeo-Christian metaphysical techniques back into the prayer service. Gospel uses the conscious praising of God to help a congregation ascend upwards into personal conversation with the divine, and then higher still, into a state of absolute ecstasy. These techniques--like the secrets of Eastern meditation and yoga, recently discovered by western spiritual seekers--are available and teachable; potent tools, which can and should be added to the repertoire of all spiritual communities.

Sharon Alexander offers gospel choir workshops to the general community, teaching the theories and techniques of gospel singing and leading communities in ascending together to meet God. "

Interesting stuff. Alexander doesn't come close to Nelson's performance chops, but her workshops seem like they'd be interesting and a lot of fun. Particularly to the folks looking for novel and energetic Jewish music to add to their communities repertoire. I'm thinking Jewish Renewal groups and folks drawn to Hebrew Kirtan in particular, but any Reform group with a choir might want to give it a go. At least on the right occasion.

I will kvetch a bit and say that I'm not fond of the term "Judeo-Christian" and find Alexander's talk of "the secrets ...gospel and ... of Eastern meditation" a bit much....but I understand very clearly where she's coming from. There area lot of Jews out there that found Jewish liturgical practice very dry, formulaic, and lacking in any spiritual content. And this is for good reason...the latter half of the 20'th century wasn't kind on synagogue practice in a lot of places. One of the results of this was the rise of the "Jew Bu" Jewish Buddhist as well as the introduction of the folk song liturgy now becoming common in a lot of liberal temples and synagogues. Jewish Gospel is another thread in this weave.

For more info on Sharon Alexander or to book her workshop, check out her website Shir Ecstasy.

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