This is the Month of Dreams
Commissioned by the Juventas New Music Ensemble and the Lorelei Vocal Ensemble. Premiere: December 2009, Boston, MA.
We light these lights for the miracles and for the wonders,
for the redemption and for the battles that you made for our fathers,
in those days, at this season, through your holy priests.
During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred,
and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them,
but to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to your great name
for your miracles, your wonders, and your salvations.
Blessed is the match that is consumed in kindling flame;
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret-fastness of the heart.
This is the month of dreams.
This is the month of dreams is a celebration of the Jewish tradition and of the winter.
It is a great privilege to be asked to create a new work in celebration of another faith; it is a task that must be approached with great care. In creating the text for this work, I chose three sources, each teaching me something and contributing in its own way to the sacred sense of awe, mystery, and gratitude that I have found in the imagery of this faith.
The traditional Hanerot Halalu, a blessing offered over the Hanukkah candles, reminds us of the need to keep sacred some part of our daily experience of the world. It tells us that each flame is lit for “no ordinary use,” but instead solely for the contemplation of the great mystery of God. This resistance of the quotidian through ritual and rite transcends boundaries of faith: we are all of us defined by the meaning we create in going beyond “ordinary use” in the creation of things which are unique, personal, and definitional in our lives.
Two lines from the poem “Blessed is the match” by the Hungarian/proto-Israeli poet Hannah Senesh connect the work to the modern world. In her lyrical testament to the ecstasy and nobility of self-sacrifice, she unites the great Jewish meta-narrative of persecution and redemption through the grace of God with a more personal experience of the divine, to which she alludes as the “secret-fastness of the heart.” This internal manifestation of the divine mystery of grace speaks to the meaning of the Hanerot Halalu: find that which is sacred to you, and find a way to connect to it and celebrate it every day.
The final line of the work is a reference to the Biblical winter month of Kislev, a month during which the meaning of dreams is referenced often and with great reverence. It completes the mysterious link from the individual and trivial to the cosmic and meaningful: the ordinary candle is a gateway into spiritual absorption, the personal experience of sacrifice and redemption mirrors the broad history of the Jewish people, and the simple dream of a winter’s night gracefully echoes the unspeakable vastness of a soul at home in the world.