about the kaddish project

mira z. amiras, ph.d.
erin l. vang, b.mus., m.mus., pmp

The Academic and the Musician. The academic immerses in Kaddish with thoughts of thinking rather than feeling—the emotions being too raw. The musician spends her time in making us feel, whether we want to or not.  And making the music of kaddish. Making music kadosh. A flurry of emails ensue between the two. They blog. Their blogs lock horns, as do the writers themselves. They try to live the life they are given with now a new ingredient. A commitment to a year-long project has begun: a kaddish in two-part harmony.

The cast of characters:

  • the musician who must play and record “Kaddish” every day for a year and a day
  • the listener/s who will hear it each day, for a year and a day
  • the pair — academic and musician — each day, in kaddish conversation

The rules:

  • one take, no editing, no practicing Kaddish before recording it (practicing yes, Kaddish no)
  • one Kaddish every day, and multiple Kaddishim on all Yahrtzeits
  • the music is allowed and expected to evolve
  • the writer and the musician have never met and will not meet during the year, neither face to face nor by phone  [this rule was suspended in month 4 when technical difficulties made meeting a way of saving  labor, time in trouble shooting,  and sanity]
  • the writing must not be allowed to become a daily tyranny for either party
  • that this kaddish in two-part harmony serve the needs of others not just ourselves

The supporting cast:

  • the musician’s wife
  • the dog and the cats of both, who sit patiently (mostly) next to the writers and who will inevitably be heard on the musician’s recordings
  • the musician’s rebbe, who will provide the words, the voice, and the rebbeness
  • the musician’s dad, who has requested the impossible
  • the healers who have left us
  • the tzaddik, lamed-vavnik, in the world to come
  • the heeler who died
  • all those who have departed, in one way or another
  • disease, misfortune, and the woes of the world
  • malkah, the shekhinah herself, if she so wills it

The academic is not required to listen to Kaddish. She must hear Kaddish. The ear is an involuntary muscle.  This is not an easy task.

A wise woman has defined rebbe thus:

rebbe (to be distinguished from rabbi) a wise rabbi we consider as our teacher and treat with reverence, which everyone else we know thinks is misplaced.

Commitment to a yearlong process together, to becoming a minyan of sorts.

An exploration of how the playing of “Kaddish” and the saying of Kaddish transforms throughout the year.

Immersion in the dynamic between mourner and musician when they are the same woman.

Immersion in the line between memoirist and academic anthropologist in which the mourner seeks to escape the process of mourning, by means of the comfort of analytical processes and storytelling.  Yizkor means ‘remembrance’ — these tales should help us to remember.

Celebration of the dynamics between text, music, musician, listener, and writers.

Some of the (best) writing will be privately transmitted and not appear here or in the separate blogs.

The entire enterprise both private and public will make an appearance after the conclusion of the project. Only then will the Academic and the Musician greet each other for the first time face to face. [This sounded like a good idea at the time, but could not be sustained].

Starting points, or “what’s going on here?”

If you’ve just arrived here by following some link to an individual post, or a tweet, or a Facebook status update, or someone else’s comment, then you’re probably hopelessly confused. Here, for you, is a chronology of events in the form of a list of starting points—links to follow, in order—that will give you a sense of where this thing came from and where it might be going:

On 8 October 2010, Tina R. Fields suggested to her friend and bandmate Erin Vang that she might find her friend Mira Z. Amiras’s blog interesting.

Erin clicked the link and started reading a post or two from time to time. Erin left a few comments on Mira’s blog that were intriguing enough to earn  equally intriguing replies from Mira.  From Mira’s point of view, these comments were coming from an utter stranger — not knowing that the link had been made through a close mutual friend.  She was terribly confused about the conversation that ensued.  Erin could have been anywhere, anyone — a kindred spirit, but nevertheless a phantom of the virtual world.

On 28 October 2010, Mira stayed up late writing a blog post about studying the text of Kaddish, the Jewish mourners’ prayer, in her ongoing Study Group at  Beit Malkhut. A few days later, Erin read it.

On 4 November 2010, Erin stayed up late writing a blog post about performing “Kaddish,” a piece for solo horn by Lev Kogan, on her senior recital in college, and again on her master’s recital at grad school, and again, and again… She left a comment on Mira’s post linking to her post in reply.

These originating posts are now incorporated into this website, too:

On 5 November 2010, Mira and Erin exchanged a flurry of comment replies, then Facebook messages, then email messages. It emerged that both Mira and Erin had lost a number of loved ones important to them and were each involved in multiple simultaneous layers of bereavement. They discussed Mira’s proposal that musical performance is seduction, and Erin’s (private) reply to the contrary elicited this response from Mira.

On 6 November, Erin first discussed with her rebbe and then proposed to Mira a project in which she and Mira would share a daily Kaddish, for a year and a day, and write about it.

On 7 November, Mira wrote a blog post accepting the challenge, with some conditions.  She instantly came up with the title for the project, for what else could it be but a kaddish in two-part harmony?

And they were off…


The joint blog for this project: kaddish in two-part harmony

Mira’s blog: and this part is true

Mira’s academic site:  http://www.sjsu.edu/people/mira.amiras/

Erin’s blog: So you think…?

Erin’s consultancy site: http://globalpragmatica.com

If you want to listen along: https://beitmalkhut.org/?page_id=464