Neve Shalom Gallery

Why I Don't Have the Blues

Part 1

by Rabbi James Stone Goodman

My life was altered one afternoon
just after Passover
Jerusalem I think.
Twenty seven years old
I am a student
I arrive in July.

I met an Israeli musician who heard me playing guitar
on the steps of the school
he set me up in an avant-garde theater
an old house on King George street.

One afternoon, just after Passover,
I sat down in a park
heard a series of performers on a stage.
Everyone was barbecuing meats with their families,
sitting on the lawn.
"What is this?" I asked.
"Maimuna."
North African Jewish celebration
loosely in honor of Maimonides.
On stage, oud players, dancers, singers.
I had never heard such sounds.
It changed everything for me.

I came back to the States
Maimuna I never forgot.
I could not get the oud sound out of my head
I bought an oud on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

It got inside me and rearranged everything.

 

Part 2

He told me to close my eyes
listen to the notes
hear them first
then to find them on the fingerboard.

I couldn't hear them at first
I had never played them before.
They are not ordinarily a part of Western music at all.

"Listen," my teacher said
I closed my eyes and heard the note in my head
then I found it on the fingerboard.
It was more mental than physical.

The real work of playing an instrument
is internal. "You have to listen,"
my teacher said, "then you play."

 

Part 3

It would be this way the entire time he taught me
I showed up, we played for two or three hours
talking only music.
He knew nothing about me

I knew nothing about him.
We spoke only music to each other
I headed back to Jerusalem
just as the sun began to find its way home in the west.

As the darkness settled over the north,
I watched the Arab villages on top of the hills
in the distance light up. The traffic diminished,
soon I smelled the Sea.

I was home in Jerusalem just over two hours later.
I was not at all tired, I practiced for two more hours that night.
Through music we had entered a place deeper than our differences,
before the separation of Isaac and Ishmael,

the music of Abraham.
The oud had opened my mouth,
it was singing the world.