Friday, May 8, 2015

Jazzed Up - Lessons for Interfaith Marriage from the Soul of the Crescent City

Karin and Barry are wrapped in Barry's tallit (prayer shawl)
to receive the Priestly Blessing
I have written before about my love for  New Orleans, and this is a love I share with many people. I consider myself very fortunate to live in Dallas, where I am just a short flight away from the Crescent City. New Orleans just has a special magic that engages all of the senses. Every year I have a few couples who choose New Orleans as an in-country destination wedding location. A recent couple, Karin and Barry, inspired me to take a new look at New Orleans, in a way that connects the soul of the city to what I do, marry interfaith couples.    

Couples have different reasons for the dates and locations of their weddings. Having officiated over 260 weddings so far, I have probably heard more unique reasons than the average person. However, one of the most special and meaningful discussions I have had about this point with a couple was the first conversation I had with Karin and Barry.

Karin and Barry’s reason for marrying in New Orleans in the last week of April was not just their love for New Orleans, but their love of Jazz, and specifically their love affair with the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They wanted their guests to enjoy this festival, which they attend religiously. Barry even jokes that Karin actually put a good old-fashioned New Orleans voodoo spell on him the previous year during the festival, to get him to propose! Propose he did in an old New Orleans shop, and here they were again to seal the deal…

What is the essence of Jazz? As the Jazz musician and scholar,
Paul Hofmann, writes, Jazz has two characteristics that stand out, its swing beat and its improvisation. What is the swing beat? As another Jazz musician and scholar, Peter Brewer, points out, most music previous to jazz has a straight beat, which divides each single beat into groups of two, like this (read this out loud): 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Jazz however is based on groups of 3, like this (read this out loud, and snap your fingers): 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4, 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4.

Now, if you know anything about Jazz, you know that improvisation is not just a characteristic of Jazz; it is the very soul of Jazz. If a classical musician plays what is on the page, for the Jazz musician the page, if there even is one, is just the start. It’s not that there are no rules; it’s just that the rules are much less stringent. The main thing is to let the music flow, and really get into the groove.

There are some great lessons here for marriage. As I have written elsewhere, every marriage is an intermarriage; we each come from different families, and grow up with different sets of experiences. Interfaith marriage just involves one more difference between two people. Now, marriage might seem to involve the joining of these two; two getting into one straight beat. However, when you look a little closer, you see that much like Jazz, a harmonious marriage dances best to the swing beat. There are three beings that must be cultivated, the two partners, and the marriage itself. It is a third entity, which must be carefully nurtured by two people, working together as one in a loving relationship. And, if you know anything about marriage, you know that improvisation has to be its very soul. If there is a page, it can only be the start. It’s not that there are no rules; it’s just that the rules are much less stringent. The main thing is to let the relationship flow, and really get into the groove.

So, next time you hear some great Jazz in New Orleans, be it during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or not, remember these lessons for your own life and love. Dance to the swing beat, don’t be afraid to improvise, and let yourself get into the groove. That is the way to live life to the fullest. Just ask Karin and Barry, and if you’re there in late April, you can ask them in person…

Copyright 2015 – Rabbi David S. Gruber – All Rights Reserved

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