Last night, Stereo Sinai–that is, my friends Alan Jay Sufrin and Miriam Brosseau–got married. It was a ceremony worthy of spectacle, and one that really reinterpreted the traditional framework of a wedding as a kind of skeleton outline and embellished it in every sort of way to crank it and fine-tune it to be as unique as possible. When the wedding parties marched in, traditionally, the rabbi or somebodyâ€™s pre-pubescent nephew or a friend with a good voice sings the Jewish song â€œMi Adir.” It wouldnâ€™t be very proper to upstage the bride and groom at their own wedding, considering they both have some of the best voices in the state of Illinois, so Alan programmed his own version of the song, with Miriamâ€™s vocals, and the wedding party led in the groom to a recording of Miriam singing.
Miriamâ€™s voice, which is, by the way, low and sultry like an Etta James growl, died down, and then the rabbiâ€”who was standing in front of the microphone, and conducting the ceremony, and, I guess, needed to do somethingâ€”he started singing â€œMi Adir.” His voice, you must understand, is low, really low, low like Brad Roberts, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies. It took us all by surprise, especially after Miriamâ€™s vocal soloing, but I think it would have caught us by surprise in any case. And then he dropped out, and Miriamâ€™s voice came back in, and, just when you thought everything was over and the chuppa was overflowing with people, the music started up again with the groomâ€™s voice, and Miriam walked in.
â€œThis is totally the Spinal Tap remix,” the rabbi standing next to me whispered, and I was like, Yes, it has to be — ambient, droning keyboards set a rhythm that was grand but simple, a little bit churchlike and a little bit trancelike, and one that simultaneously embraced and undercut the traditional need for way-overpowering synthesizers, which almost always, nay, always always happens at Jewish weddings.
Often, lately, I question my motives for praying, my demonstrativeness and my verbal and physical presence. I do these performance poetry shows onstage where I get really demonstrative and bouncy and leap around while I talk, and I sometimes get that way when Iâ€™m talking to a group of people, too. When I pray, I will occasionally get that wayâ€¦not often, but when Iâ€™m thinking about the words and nothing else, or when Iâ€™m not thinking about anything at all.
As much as I go back and forth on the idea of religious rituals as performance, and whether itâ€™s a good thing — that is, am I doing this to get myself into a certain kind of mood? am I doing it for God? or am I doing it for myself, so that I get into a certain kind of mood? — I feel like, at its core, performance is one of the most effective methods to get to a place where you believe in what you’re doing. Whether it’s me saying these prayers over and over again, trying to get to a point where I believe what I’m saying, or whether it’s Alan and Miriam rewriting the service as their own, it’s a way of owning our relationship to God, not just digging in prayerbooks and mumbling the same repeated words every day.
Thereâ€™s that old Chinese axiom, â€œWe have to be careful what we pretend to be, because we are what we pretend to be.” Iâ€™ve only ever heard it used as a curse. But depending on what we pretend to be, whether it’s just a dramatic cover version of a psalm during daily morning prayers or singing a radical remix of the traditional wedding nigun, can be one of the most effective ways of personal growth.