BY DEBORAH MOON
Seeking a deeper emotional connection to Torah, Mark Sherman began searching each week’s Torah portion for a lyrically beautiful passage.
A longtime service leader, Torah teacher and songwriter, Mark spent a year setting those lyrical elements to music. He found himself transformed. Wondering if the songs would have a similar impact on others, he invited a few friends and mentors to join him each week to fine-tune the 54 songs – one for each parsha. Halfway through the cycle, the meetings had to shift to Zoom due to COVID.
Now with the songs essentially complete, he has created a website and weekly Zoom sessions so others can experience each parsha lyrically. At the end of each of the five books, he will present a one-hour concert of all the songs in that cycle. He finishes Genesis this month and will present the full series of 12 songs on Jan. 4 (see below).
One of Mark’s mentors, Cantorial Soloist Ilene Safyan, says, “I so appreciate Mark’s Musical Midrash project. By combining the teachings of Torah with singable music, he has enabled the listener to take it in all in at once – words, music and message. The words become linked to the melody, and not only is it an easier way to learn and remember the words of Torah, but by singing them over and over again, these teachings go deeper and deeper into one’s soul. What a great way to learn Torah! What a wonderful teaching tool!”
For each parsha, Mark selects a beautiful passage in Hebrew and creates an English interpretation, rather than exact translation, with the same cadence as the Hebrew. He then sets the words to a melody that he feels evokes the meaning of the passage. He has drawn from diverse musical traditions including jazz, classical, western, children’s songs, love songs and mourning melodies.
Mark cofounded the downstairs minyan at Congregation Neveh Shalom 29 years ago and has led services regularly at Cedar Sinai Park for more than 25 years.
“As I deepen my own understanding and connection with Torah, I want to share it with others,” says Mark. “I’ve never felt a stronger connection to a Jewish project as I do to this one.”
Mark says having to share the songs online instead of in person has made the experience accessible to a much wider audience than his Neveh Shalom community. He says people from Israel, Central America, California and Montana log on to weekly sessions.
“Music is beyond and above the words; music unites people and brings us together to share the experience,” says Yael, who logs on from Israel each week. After she married Randy Suher in Israel, the couple moved to Portland in 1972 for four years, and she says she still feels part of the Neveh Shalom community. “We can’t visit anymore (with the pandemic), so it’s nice to have a different way to connect.”
Violinist Andrew Ehrlich is another of Mark’s mentors. Commenting on one song from the Genesis cycle, Andrew says that the lively children’s melody Mark created will make the passage attractive to children.
“Mark’s view of these moments in the Torah presented in a musical voice makes it come alive in a way that speaking does not,” says Andrew.
MUSICAL MIDRASH ONLINE
Musical Midrash: Genesis Cycle
Monday, Jan. 4, 7-8 pm
To mark the completion of the final parsha from Genesis join Mark Sherman for a presentation of the 12 songs from the Musical Midrash Project Genesis Cycle.
Weekly Musical Midrash Live Sessions
Sundays 8-8:30 am | Mondays 6-6:30 pm
Songs of Shemot/Exodus: Jan. 10-March 8
For Zoom links and information: musicalmidrash.com