Kirtan rabbi offers old words in new beats
“Nondual,” the new CD from Rabbi Andrew Hahn, is forgettable — but in the best way possible. With its deep chants and arrangements, Hahn’s music pulls listeners into an almost meditative state from beginning to end with 10 tracks flowing fluidly from one to another.
This release is Hahn’s third CD. As with his prior albums (“Kirtan Rabbi: Live!” and “Achat Sha’alti”), Hahn builds upon his role as the Kirtan Rabbi, a name he adopted nearly a decade ago. In doing so, Hahn introduces Jewish philosophy and Torah via unconventional practices. He relies upon kirtan, a call-and-response chant developed in India and promoted by artists including Krishna Das, Wah!, Shyamdas and Jai Uttal. While Hahn acknowledges these artists as influences, he separates himself linguistically. Unlike his musical mentors and their use of Sanskrit lyrics, Hahn employs Hebrew and Aramaic liturgical phrases throughout his work.
Hahn’s reliance upon traditional Jewish texts creates a familiar yet jarring experience. Within Nondual’s second track, Kedushah Reggae, there is a backdrop of trombone, tenor saxophone and trumpet sounds. Roughly 30 seconds in, the chants gently emerge. At that point, many listeners will immediately recognize Hahn’s redaction of the Mussaf Kedusha (a prayer reserved for Shabbat services). However, as opposed to the traditional rendering of ayeh m’kom kvodo (where is the place of His glory), Hahn chants ayei m’kmom k’vodecha (where is the place of your glory). By deviating from the several-thousand-year-old text, Hahn raises theological and introspective questions. Perhaps kvodecha (your glory) refers to God, and the chant becomes a question by the petitioner to God, “Where is the place of Your glory?” Or, kvodecha (your glory) refers to the petitioner herself, and the chant becomes a reflective or rhetorical question by the petitioner to herself, “Where is the place of your glory?”
“The CD is offered as enjoyment and intellectual challenge on several layers at once,” he says.
“There is a deeper layer of Toraitic, midrash and discussion and neo-chassidism. The chants and choice of words are from deep within Jewish tradition. In the words and arrangements I have given each word or phrase much thought.”
Hahn’s album reflects an emotional and intellectual tension fueled by professional demands. As both a rabbi (with ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion) and academician (with a doctorate in Jewish thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary), Hahn has developed a deep knowledge of Judaism. But for years, combining both roles proved challenging.
“I had a two-track rabbinate, one was in-reach to the Jewish world and the other was a reaching out or taking Jewish wisdom and practice and Hebrew thought and language to the outside world.”
Recently, and with Nondual, Hahn was worked to synergize the role of heart and mind.
He regularly teaches adult education and has begun participating in Jewish meditation groups. Within the latter, he offers chants as a form of meditation.
Apart from these ventures, Hahn said that he also partners with communities, synagogues or Hillels for Shabbatonim. The weekend is spent with a dvar Torah on the merging of Judaism and eastern practices, and a performance on Saturday night of kirtan music.
Hahn grew up in Pittsburgh near Beechwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue on Squirrel Hill’s northern side. He studied at Carnegie Mellon University before transferring to Hampshire College. Although he now resides on the East Coast, Hahn says he would like to visit Pittsburgh again. Until that day arrives, Nondual will provide local listeners a chance to hear age old words in a new age beat.
The CD is “very music forward,” says Hahn.
“One thing that this CD is meant to do is just show or showcase a kind of Jewish practice and engagement that is fun. Meditation can be joyous. That’s the musical and emotional goal of the CD.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.