I always wonder what makes a song become popular. What is that secret ingredient that people latch onto that makes them want to listen to or sing it repeatedly?
I’ve noticed that there are two distinct types of songs that draw us into their spell. One song could be called a ‘show piece.’ This is a song that only a professional singer can sing. We enjoy listening to this type of song, and we can appreciate when someone sings it well.
There is a second type of popular song, which is much simpler. This song sounds good no matter who sings it. It is this type of melody that will be sung at a kumzitz or at the Shabbos table.
Looking at these two types of songs, we can observe that the first type of song usually comes into our consciousness and goes out the way it came. In contrast, the second type has a staying power. The simple, beautiful melodies of decades ago still grace our modern day kumzitzes, alongside newer additions of this type.
There are two types of aspirations that are espoused by our society. One is the desire to become what we could call a ‘star player.’ This is the Rosh Yeshiva or maggid shiur who has a profound effect on many people, or perhaps even someone who spends his entire life completely dedicated to learning, affecting the entire world in a more subtle way.
Then there is a second type of personality, who is much simpler. This is the ‘balabos’ who goes about his life in a way which may not be as glamorous. He provides for his family and is involved on some level with providing a service to others. He tries to balance his time with a kvias ittim and three tefillos a day.
For some reason, when it comes to a song, we can more easily resonate with the simpler song. When it comes to our societal aspirations, we don’t necessarily appreciate the true value of the simple ehrlicher Yid.
A few months ago, I had the zechus to be involved in leading a very special Shabbos retreat for Yeshiva bochurim. The goal of the retreat was to uncover and expand the hidden potential that lies within each of us.
One of the exercises encouraged these young men to push past their comfort zone and recognize that there is untapped talent within them that can be accessed. The option was given for each person to sing in front of the rest of the group. This proved to be a formidable challenge.
Although, at first, the volunteers were not forthcoming, Hashgacha Pratis provided for the eventuality that would lighten the atmosphere and give the young men an opportunity to push past their limits.
Some mistake had been made when the lights were set before Shabbos, and just as we began this exercise, the lights in the room all went out. There was only a bit of light coming in from outside, enough to remain there, but not enough to see each other well.
This was when the magic began. One by one, the bochurim started to sing. Each one began his solo with a noticeable lack of confidence, but by the end of each performance, there was a sense of conviction that was enhanced by the almost palpable encouragement in the room. A burst of applause completed the picture as each of them sat down with a sigh of relief.
With the close of this exercise, we all joined arms in a circle, singing a moving and simple melody together. As we swayed in tandem, singing in unison, I couldn’t help but reflect on the beauty of all the perhaps unpretentious voices coming together to create such an exquisite sound. As each individual found the unique elegance of his voice, we sang a song, as one, that seemed to rise to the heavens, offering a most simple, yet profound praise of Hashem.