an experimental kaddish, and a kaddish for healing

Yesterday Mira and I conducted an impromptu experiment, with interesting results. Today I played a kaddish for healing, at Mira’s request. We welcome kaddish requests from our readers.

Yesterday Mira and I conducted an impromptu experiment, with interesting results.

I wasn’t feeling creative yesterday when it was time to make the daily “Kaddish” recording, but I noticed Mira was online, so I asked her to tell me how to play the night’s kaddish. She didn’t reply for a while, though, so —

[In fact, I was in the midst of replying at the time.  —mira]

— I proceeded without her instructions. I decided to attempt a seduction by Kaddish, in response to the fears Mira expressed so long ago in her essay preceding this project, “what is it about musicians?

I’m not sure how to make a prayer of mourning—or any other music, for that matter—sound seductive, but I gave it a shot. As I was bouncing the recording to disk, I received Mira’s response:

well, we’re not ready for seduction —

so let’s go for neti-pot advocacy:  pain / greater pain / release from pain

[How’s that for a nice bit of telepathic conversation?]

I was a bit shocked by how freakishly in tune with my thinking these ideas were—I’d just attempted a seductive reading, and meanwhile, I was grumpy because of all kinds of nasal misery.

[Thus the neti-pot reference]

I saved the first recording as kaddish_2010.12.05_optionA and thought, “well, let’s just see if you were right about that, see which one works better for you…” I then proceeded to record kaddish_2010.12.05_optionB, an attempt to conjure all the annoyance and aggravation of a messed up nose/sinus system, which I happen to know only too well.

[Ah, here it comes:]

This summer I had major surgery on my nose to correct a deviated septum and oversized turbinates, and last week I had a minor procedure to address something that still wasn’t working quite right in my right nostril. That nostril has been driving me nuts ever since. It’s occluded from swelling, has sutures poking out, and is all achy. The swollen blockage has been annoying enough that I’ve resorted to wearing those weird “Breathe-Right” thingies just to open it up a little so I can think straight. I can count on several more weeks of this annoyance while it heals.

Meanwhile, Mira’s nose needs help, too, and so far she’s been avoiding surgery. [Being a real wuss on such things]  She’s also been resisting my attempts to persuade her to try using a neti pot. It’s become a bit of a joke between us:

“Try using a neti pot, Mira!”

“Nyet. Jamais. Ma-nimshish… Ma-n’hibush… No fucking way.”

Which cracked me up…

Anyway, hence her suggestion.

Option B is all nose aggravation all the time. Then “that THING” (the stopped passage) represents surgery. I couldn’t make it represent neti pot/greater pain, because using a neti pot just doesn’t hurt. After surgery, we wandered through a bit of painful recovery. The affirmation bit was the feeling of breathing easily for the first time in I don’t even want to count how many decades.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I emailed Mira that the recordings were ready, but I didn’t explain them. She sent her responses:

[You can follow every line with the music, if you like]

option A (seduction)

Sicily again!!
There’s a struggle—
The Complaint is stated
There’s Consolation
Grandma (nona)’s lap
There’s some comfort—
But anticipation—
No— it’s still okay—
But then — — wait for it — —
Oh fucking shit  [was going to edit this out, but no— it belongs there—that’s exactly what they would have said]
Troops from Verona in the distance!
But you play on, regardless
In the fields
Above the sea
Upon the cliff


From mafia, complaint, consolation, comfort, anticipation, lovely, to [terrible words that—as has been pointed out in comments below— don’t belong in our kaddish] (ouch!), fields, sea, cliff, Brava!, I’m gathering that she was right. This was not a successful aural seduction. Apparently it verged but didn’t quite connect. I didn’t read joyful surrender of control in her response.

Her response had me laughing hard enough that the cats were worried about me, though.

[Well, I disagree here.  Giving someone visions — and visions that reach from Sicily to Verona and back— I mean, what could be more seductive than that?  And, well, I should explain:  I don’t really hear music, I see it, when it works for me.]

{[Well… hm… that’s gratifying! —Erin]]

option B (nose pain, greater pain, release from pain)

Where the FUCK am I?
There’re gonna be elephants.
Yup, here they come
clump clump clump
Oh. OK, we’re in the Ngorogoro (Crater)
BRAY! fucking BRAY!
Can’t get to the fucking water
Panther’s there
Something I miss [POV elephants]
No. No — it’s all part of the established order
The fucking park rangers gunning their motors again in the distance
[which gives the elephants automatic lengthy hard-ons]
[AND STILL MORE] [POV elephants, still]

[DON’T BLAME ME—THIS ISN’T MY VOICE AT ALL!!  So much for channeling…]

The sun is setting
Bummer day
[Elephants] clumping off — —
Stage Right

I’m gathering from [all the expletives] followed by sunset and exit that the pain came through better than the relief, but the relief did squeak in.

Once again, her response had me laughing hard. I think the cats might have tried to dial 911.

At this point, I explained to Mira what I’d been up to and remarked upon the eerie synchronicity of her mentioning those two possibilities. And she wrote:

You did ‘nose’ and I got ELEPHANTS’ TRUNKS!!!!!!
I’m laughing my head off!
This really really worked!!

It was a fun experiment, so I suggested that she let me know any time she has an idea for the next “Kaddish” recording.

[Okay.  I need to say something here.  I must confess.  What we did in this experiment (suggested by Erin, I might add) is something that I’ve studied, worked on, been part of a three-year experiment on, and also something that I teach.  It’s a version of Remote Viewing / telepathic resonance — although I had never tried it through the vehicle of music before.  So.  You might accuse me of cheating.  But I must say, in my own defense, that I wasn’t trying to ‘receive’ at all.  But I’m thrilled when it happens of its own accord.   I DO think, however, that years working with remote communication makes this less freakish or extraordinary, and more about two people in the midst of a focused practice.  It also makes me reaffirm that the strength of our resonance in this project is enhanced by not having ever met each other.]

Today she got some unwelcome news about an aging family member’s health—cardiopulmonary trouble—so she suggested a Kaddish “for a good prognosis.”

My response was kaddish_2010.12.06_goodPrognosis and these words:

[Note: Kjersti is my chocolate lab and running coach, and the jingling of her collar is frequently heard in the daily kaddishim.]

First Kjersti insisted that we take care of our own cardiopulmonary fitness, so we knocked off a quick mile together, and she did a few other things for her healthful functioning. Then we came back in and made your kaddish together. As usual, her role involved ethereal bell sounds.

I realized while we were running that I do know what a good prognosis is. A good prognosis is that she spends the rest of her days, months, or years breathing easily, peacefully, and comfortably. These are things we don’t take for granted when dealing with cardiopulmonary problems, nor when people we love are dealing with them.

May you both breathe easily.

Mira’s reply:

aaaaaaaah. soft and warm and smooth, and yummy
makes me want to curl up under a flannel comforter
like a kitty
or with a kitty
licking my chin

very very sweet
thank you

ah. I know the right word:
I will convey it!!

Perfect. A kaddish for healing.

[I thereafter conked out under the blue flannel, with kitty — Vlad — tucked in behind my knees, and was out completely for a restful, healing antidotal hour.  Thank you Erin!]

[[Thank you!! I love it when I can be useful as a musician. Paul Hindemith was big on the concept of Gebrauchsmusik, literally “useful music,” and I am too. This is one reason I actually appreciate opportunities to play at funerals and memorial services. Weddings can be another story; when they’re joyful, it’s fun, but so many weddings are stressed-out parades of mishegas where I worry for the couples, thinking “if they’re this worried about pomp and circumstance, how will they deal with relationship troubles when they come?!”—Erin]]

Kaddish requests are welcome

We have almost eleven months of daily kaddishim yet to go in this project, and on our yahrtzeit dates, I’ll be making multiple recordings. It’s a little daunting to imagine how I’m going to keep this one piece alive for almost four hundred recordings, so please—if you have a kaddish request or idea, please let me know! It will be my privilege to play a Kaddish for your loved one.

Also, we invite you to leave your remembrances in the comments on our “yizkor” page. Please tell us about the loved ones you mourn as you join with us in the “kaddish in two-part harmony” project.

By erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…

26 replies on “an experimental kaddish, and a kaddish for healing”

Y’all sure are pushing the boundaries of kaddish. Copious quantities of Anglo-Saxon expletives are not what I’m used to associating with the prayer. Anger is a natural stage of mourning, of course, but I personally have never felt the urge to swear during kaddish. No doubt others have. You’ve got me thinking, at least.

I remember writing some awful poetry in college that took Anglo-Saxon liberties with a chunk of the Lutheran liturgy. I was a bit annoyed, you see, with how the church was… well, but that’s another essay.

But perhaps this is less about swearing during Kaddish and more about the range of what you can transmit while playing the same music or saying the same words. In this experiment, I recorded the same music, same notes, same basic rhythms and even dynamic markings, but in two different moods: seductive (yeah, well… calmly intense?) and pained (and angry). I didn’t think of myself as swearing as I played the second one, but I wasn’t surprised when Mira’s transcription of her visual responses took that form. Certainly I have done plenty of swearing about my nose, before and after surgery, so my managing to provoke that in her suggests that my attempt to convey nasal agony was effective.

I finally listened to “Kaddish for healing;” and of the two, that’s the version that’s calmly intense to my ears. Mira got circus and elephants; I got calmness. Caution, perhaps, especially at the end; and knowing what the intention was, I ask, “Is it gonna hurt more? Or is it getting better now?”

You had mentioned (somewhere in this maze of commenting) that you’d extended the stopped portion in this version, which is in fact why I made a point of listening this morning. IMHO, in this version it goes on for one phrase too long; it should end on the higher … “D” or “D flat,” whichever you said it was. Split the difference. And then the next phrase, the one that ends on the very low note, is where I would start to rewrite Kogan, I suppose, if I were brash enough to do that.

But I repeat: this just isn’t written to match the words.

Deb, I think there has been a confusion of filenames. You and she agreed about the Kaddish for healing (_goodPrognosis.mp3). The circus elephants were in _optionB and the one that didn’t work was _optionA.

Erin and I made a commitment not to edit — although it seems that she is beginning to edit her kaddish pieces. But I have no intention of editing my listening experience. If that’s what I hear, that’s what I hear. Please note that my listening is NOT my kaddish. Or, should I say rather that my listening is not MY kaddish.

A few other points:

1 — the Kaddish is a prayer only in the sense that people jimmied it together in the 13th century, and today they use it thus. Dissect it, and it ceases to be a prayer at all. It becomes something other, but nevertheless very much worth exploring.

2 — I don’t pray. I consider.

3 — What is quoted above was a private communication. Raw and in the moment, conveying (as it turned out) resonance with with intent of the playing of the piece. The line between private and public has been breached here.

4 — I’m not much of a swearer either! So, to see that it print here is a problem for me.

I do not edit.

Or, I should say, I do not edit the performances. I make the daily recording in an active household, so after I start ProTools rolling, I walk to my position, wait for the dog to stop barking, and if others are around, announce, “Stand by.” I then play the piece in one take, walk back to the computer and stop the recording. Next, I delete the noises before the piece begins and after it ends, and then I bounce the music portion out to disk, as is. On a few occasions with collaborators, we have done several takes, and I have deleted the conversation between takes. This in compliance with our rule that Mira and I will not meet during the year, in person nor by voice—if my voice is heard (talking with collaborators, or telling the dog to pipe down, for example), I remove it. I edit out the intro and outro noise, and a few times I have adjusted levels (when the inputs were too hot, due to accidental knob-bumping) so that distortion would be minimized. I have NOT edited the performance itself, which is preserved in all its clamful glory. I have wanted to at times, though—oh, how I have wanted to.

I do swear, but I try not to in public. As Mira described, this was a public accounting of a private exchange. Raw. Immediate. Astonishing. And yes—embarrassing. That we reach for the vernacular in private exchanges, though, is perhaps not so much occasion for embarrassment as recognition. Among friends, we communicate in shorthand. Sometimes the shorthand is crude.

David’s comment led me to edit the original post, but not as thoroughly as I might have. At first I was deeply embarrassed. And then in the middle of hitting the delete button, I thought, you know, this isn’t my voice at all! This is what ‘they’ call channeling.

Soldiers cuss. We know that. And that’s what I got in Option A

But who knew that elephants could get so crude?

I should add that when we do several takes, ALL of them are shared. we have a one-take rule, and my interpretation of that is that if collaborators have ideas about further takes, we add them without deleting the first.

The spirit of this rule is, for me, letting go of perfection. Allowing the record to reflect how it really sounds each day, no matter what. Identifying the musician/s as participants in a daily ritual, who are not privileged over listeners or composer or the music itself.

Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, I think, makes the point (in the new Reform Mov’t prayerbook, perhaps?) that Kaddish as a prayer may function (& may have been written/redacted to function) more as a mantra or aid to achieving a meditative state than as a more conventional prayer.

Tho even more conventional prayers, IMHO, are best understood like poetry.

You two are amazing, and not a little bit scary together (though for me that applies more to you singular, Mira, than to Erin, singular, but that’s because she doesn’t worry about falling through to the other world. I am very curious about that, someday. Why only one other world?) Erin, how fair is it to attempt a seduction Kaddish upon a woman who’s got reason to resist such a thing? (Powerful post back there in November, Mira.) I am very struck by the fact that you *see* music when it works. For me I get such things in my kishkes.

And — synchronicity — J has been trying to convince me this week to use a neti pot and even bought one and I looked at the instructions last night. My bottom line: Not until I see a real person use one. Swimming has taught me to fear getting water up my nose: It’s equated with drowning.

It was obnoxious of me, wasn’t it? I suppose that my best defense is that I had no thought of it actually being effective. Did you think it was?

I will make you a neti pot demonstration video later, when my camera’s battery is recharged. I’m hoping I qualify as a real person.

Your video demonstration, featuring a real live human being that you know, me, is ready here: Good luck!

I also wrote extensive notes on why and how to do neti under “In praise of neti pots” at .

Mira, to avoid hearing my voice, turn your sound off before clicking the youtube link. I don’t say anything that you can’t read in the neti post.

After about a week of using a neti pot for the first time ever, sinus infection was gone, but post-nasal drip was terrible. (Yes, thank you Erin, I never would have tried it without your video demonstration. Even with it I resisted for several more weeks.)

Yesterday, about 2 days into awful post-nasal drip, someone who also uses one happened to mention that she’d read that over-use of neti pot can lead to exactly that problem. So, presto, stopped using neti pot, and it seems like all is *finally* healing.

Which leads me to:

Everything has its time,
And there is a season for every desire under the sky:
A time to birth, and a time to die…

…a time to use a neti pot, and a time to refrain from using a neti pot…

That’s odd; for me, failure to use it leads to that problem. Never heard of the opposite. Are you sure you’re using enough salt? Try a little more next time. Too salty doesn’t seem to cause any trouble, but not salty enough does.

Not sure what the scary part is.

Multiple worlds: Well, there is a debate about this. Michael Harner’s experiments (as yet unpublished) has come up with shamanic peoples essentially popping up in the other world (sic) but from different angles — like entering a city from different roads in, and therefore seeing it from a vastly different angle and view. He posits, however, that they are in fact all in the same other world.

As for me, I’m not attached! I think if I use the term ‘other world’ is more of a convention — I may not have been thinking at all about which world that might be. So. Something definitely worth considering.

Seeing music: I’ve been on a musical sabbatical for the past two years, and the idea of having to listen to the same piece every day seems like a cosmic joke and personal hell. I don’t like the piece. I have big problems with certain sections of it. This is a grueling exercise for me! So for me, the amazing part is that it IS different every single time. And I’m grateful that I can see a different landscape. But believe me — it’s not from effort or trying!

Good question: What did I mean by “scary”? I guess part of it is that any other world is entirely theoretical to me. This one, in all its human messiness and glory, is the only one I know the least little bit about. So I suppose that seeing the two of you take shortcuts through another world, as it were, is unsettling. Interesting, but unsettling.

Yes, it was obnoxious, and I don’t know if it worked — ask Mira. Personally, I thought it was way too self-conscious about itself.

Mira, I have a question about your statement in the post, “It also makes me reaffirm that the strength of our resonance in this project is enhanced by not having ever met each other.”

Where is the evidence that our not having met contributes to the resonance? Isn’t it possible, even likely, that we’d have more resonance if we met? You see that differently—why?

ALL our collective energy is going into our kaddish in two-part harmony project. It’s not going into “look at my cool new kitchen.” We’re not enjoying the company of mutual friends. We’re not trading recipes (though we are recommending books). We’re not flipping burgers in the yard. There’s no other distracting stimulus to dissipate the energy onto trivialities. There’s no scheduling problem.

If our practice were a physical one — Aikido, for example — then writing, email and online contact (Facebook, for example) would be the big distractor. With my Aikido partner, we’d meet in the woods or the park somewhere, anywhere, really — and do sword-work or throws, for hours. Or just move energy around until we got it. We’d innovate. Experiment. A few years of that, and the ki generated was enormous. We became downright telepathic, even later across the Pacific. Turn it into friendship — and it becomes just that: friendship. Not a practice.

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