Shir hakhushim [A song of the senses] 2009
1 mvt | 12 min
a cappella

single print license

About this Piece

In order to prepare for The Esoterics’ CANTICUM concert series in 2003, I read through the entire Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of songs). Although I had read and sung excerpts from this book many times before, when I finally had the opportunity to read the entire text, I was struck by how this ancient love poetry appealed to each of the five senses. I wanted to create a piece that addressed the multiple dimensions of this text, so I combed through the entire Hebrew book (Shir hashirim), collected the verses that interested me, and arranged them according to sense. As I set these Hebrew verses, I started with the sense of sound (in music, an obvious place to start), and moved through the senses of sight, smell, taste, and touch. The piece culminates with verses about love that I set together as a “sixth sense.” My desire was to present each group of verses in close juxtaposition, repeated canonically, and intermingled within the same diatonic mode. As I moved to a different sense, and a new sense, I also modulated to a new key signature. I like to think of these cascading and coexisting phrases of ancient melody as plants in a lush garden. Actually, the garden is the most prevalent image in this book, and happens to be one of very few locales where one can experience all five (or, in this case, six) senses simultaneously.

Each musical phrase of this work is taken directly from the Hebrew cantillation for the Megillot. These orally-transmitted melodies have accompanied these sensual verses for centuries, and have weathered great cultural shifts over the ages. In this work, I have prepared a version of ancient Hebrew that is contemporary with the first recorded occurrence of the Song of songs, which is dated to about 300 BCE. The pronunciation of this Hebrew is not rabbinical; rather, it is much closer to Arabic or Aramaic in phonetic structure.

Text Credit

from The song of songs

Sample Text

We have seen…
Turn your eyes away from me, lest they overwhelm me. (6:05)
Who is that — as bright as the morning star, as beautiful as the pale moon, as brilliant as the noonday sun, as breathtaking as the stars at night? (6:10)
There he stands — beyond our wall: looking through the windows, peering through the lattices. (2:09)
His eyes are like doves beside streams of water — bathing in the milky froth, nesting upon the gentle banks. (5:12)
Behold, you are beautiful, my love; how very beautiful; your eyes are faithful, like doves. (4:01 & 1:15)