Posts Tagged 'audience'

Babel on the Hill: We All Need an Audience

Zoom-fatigue is real. I need people. These screen and zoom boxes are not cutting it.

This reminds me of a troubling story told in the name of the Besht:

There was a king who loved music but his real passion was the violin. A fiddler was brought to him to play and one particular melody captivated him. He instructed the musician to play this melody several times a day. After a time the musician grew weary of the tune and found it hard to play it with the same passion as before. To rekindle the fiddler’s love for his favorite melody, the king was advised to summons a new audience every day. Strangers were brought into his palace who had never heard the melody.
This arrangement seemed to work. A new audience stirred the fiddler to play with enthusiasm again until there was no one left to invite. What to do?
It was decided to blind the musician so that he never see a human form again. He then sat before the king and whenever the king sought to hear his favorite tune he would simply say “Here comes someone new, One who has never heard you play before!”
And musician would play his tune with the greatest joy.

I will come back to violence another time. But it is clear that we need an audience. It is really hard to perform without one. I was thinking about this when reading John Winthrop’s, oft quoted homily, City on a Hill from 1630. He wrote: 

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

John Winthrop
Searching for the City on a Hill: Tracing the Roots of America's Metaphor

It is interesting that Winthrop and subsequently America has cast an imagination that the whole world is watching as they build this city perched on a hill. Our civilization is the stage and the world is our audience. It speaks to this basic need to be seen. And yes we will fail, but in having an audience we will always strive to become better.

I was considering all of this when thinking about the failure of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.”—Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar.— And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

Genesis 11:1-4

I offer for your consideration that they failed in building their Tower on a hill as an exemplary civilization precisely for the reason that ” everyone on earth” was involved in the project. They were all on stage. In not having audience they lacked motivation, inspiration, or accountability.

Showing Up as a Prosumers: Standing at Sinai and the Foo Fighters

Recently I have had a number of conversations with people about the aesthetic involved in crafting a wedding. It is noteworthy that in most weddings the committed couple is very much ushered through the event. It often feels that the couple is on stage performing the ritual with the help of a mesader kedushin and we their friends and family are their audience. In many ways it seems that Temple Grandin was the architect of the ritual ensuring that the couple go straight through the experience getting hitched without a hitch.

My suggestion is to ritualized a moment during the ceremony where the tables are turned and the people who come are on stage and the couple is the audience. Surely the guests did not just show up to see the new couple they also came to be seen. There are a number of ways to do this, but this is no doubt a holy moment and a great use of time. If done well every can truly be present at this meaningful moment of creating community, and that moment will last forever.

This idea of showing up and blurring the line between performer and audience was beautifully explored at a now famous Foo Fighters concert. While the design of a concern is that there is a small group performing and a mass of people in the audience. At this concert there were 1000 musicians all playing the Learn to Fly at the same time.  Check out the video:

You can see in their participation the joy of really showing up and being seen. They are true prosumers of culture making something excellent for the sheer love of it. At the end of the video the organizer said it best that the true audience of this 1000 person rock band was actually just the 5 band members of the Food Fighters.

I was thinking about the porous lines between the performers and the audience this week when reading  Parshat Nitzavim,this week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites standing at Sinai. We read:

You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers … for you to enter into a covenant with Hashem, your God … in order to establish you today as a people to God and God will be a Lord to you … and God spoke to you and as God swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaakov. NOT WITH YOU ALONE do I forge this covenant and oath but with whoever is here, standing with us today, before Hashem, your God, AND WITH WHOEVER IS NOT HERE WITH US TODAY.” (Excerpts from Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

On this  ‘WHOEVER IS NOT HERE‘ Rashi comments that this means to also include the generations that will exist in the future. Rashi’s comments are based on the Midrash which says:

The souls of all Jews were present at the making of the covenant even before their physical bodies were created. This is why the verse says ‘with us today’ and not ‘standing’ with us today. (Tanchuma, Nitzavim 3)

What does it mean that we were all there? I hope that we were not just on stage getting married. I like to think that the revelation at Sinai we allowed God to show up, be “seen”,  and be part of the experience. In my mind Sinai was millions of us musicians rocking out “Learn to Fly”.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova

– For another piece on prosumers check out Tail of Two Jewries: Some Innovative Lessons From Chris Anderson and Jewish Summer Camp


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 228 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: