Category Archives: David

Tuneful Bones

Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Singing is a whole body activity. It involves resonating chambers in the belly, mouth, chest, head and throat, various articulators—teeth, tongue, lips—and the structural support of the spine, shoulders, knees, neck and so on. The more practiced and seasoned the voice, the more fully engaged and holistic the system. King David is known in biblical folklore as a masterful, accomplished and mellifluous singer. It is therefore fitting to find this lyric placed in his mouth: “All my bones will say, ‘Lord, who is like You?’” (Ps. 35:10).

Located in a psalm petitioning the deity for deliverance from foes, this phrase is meant to stress the severity of the situation and the intensity of the plea. “All my bones” is a poetic euphemism for the whole body, and to “say” really means to sing. Thus, we have a psalmist, identified as David, using his entire body—his complete instrument—to sing an entreaty for victory (in this case against foreign armies on the field of battle).

Less musically sensitive commentaries focus on the thematic context of the verse, understanding it to signify that the author’s bones thrill at the idea of justice being served and fearful circumstances being attenuated. But a reader aware of the physical effects of singing sees the words quite differently. The singer’s body, down to the bones, is vibrating with melody.

The religious intent of the verse opens the door to further exploration. Enter Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), famed Austrian philosopher and esotericist. Much of Steiner’s work strove to find a synthesis between science and mysticism and, more specifically, between the cognitive approach of Western philosophy and the spiritual needs of the human being. This venture led to some imaginative theories, including his concept of “universal tone.”

Steiner believed singing to be more than a physical process. It begins with physiology and technique, but “must be freed from a mechanistic approach and the singer awakened to an understanding of true tone as a spiritual reality.” In Steiner’s vocabulary, “true tone” refers to an oscillating spiritual energy present throughout the universe, which is carried into our ears and penetrates our inner being. So, when the singer emits a melody, she is actually reflecting back the sound of the universe. Steiner put it thus: “the singer [has] the all-engrossing experience of the whole being as a ‘resounding column of sound.’ The entire etheric organization of the human being—all of his life forces—then becomes involved in the singing process.”

The parallel between Steiner’s elucidation and the verse from Psalms is obvious. In both, the entirety of the person is said to sing. For the psalmist, this was an intuitive feeling—a feeling intensified by the gravity of circumstances and the urgency of the song. Steiner saw it as a metaphysical resonance with the cosmos: the singer is filled with the universal tone, takes hold of it and produces a song.

Not insignificantly, Steiner maintained that great singers are prone to this experience; they are trained and expert in the art of full-body singing. Someone like David, the vocal legend of the biblical world, would have attained this feeling regularly—especially when the song really mattered. But Steiner was optimistic that anyone could, with proper orientation and preparation, sing from the bones. “Now the path to it must become conscious for all,” he wrote. “Not that we can all become professional singers, but we can all learn how to sing well. This is one way to help us find our humanity.”

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Composing Legends

Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Prolificacy is a common characteristic of the creative mind. The creator must create. By definition, a painter paints, a sculptor sculpts, a cake decorator decorates cakes. Yet there is a certain (if unspecified) quantity of creating that must be done before one can earn such a title. And in most creative fields—artistic, culinary or otherwise—a substantial body of work is a prerequisite for being considered exceptional. In the musical world, astounding output is seen as a sign of special insight, sensitivity and genius. The giftedness of a musician is thought to be proportional to his or her productivity. Thus, we find large sums of music attributed to two biblical figures remembered for their astuteness, sagacity and wisdom: David and Solomon.

Tradition ascribes the entire Book of Psalms to King David, and 73 psalm chapters bear his name. A version of the Psalter from the Dead Sea Scrolls goes further, claiming that David wrote 3,600 psalms, along with 450 additional songs. Solomon, David’s son and successor, is said to have authored 1,005 songs and 3,000 proverbs (1 Kgs. 5:12). That reference prompted a veritable library of Solomonic pseudepigraphy, including two biblical psalms (72 and 127), the books of Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Solomon, and the Psalms of Solomon (an extracanonical book from the first or second century B.C.E).

Doubts have been raised about whether these monarchs authored any of the songs to which their names are attached. For one thing, it was customary to put wisdom in the mouths of kings, regardless of their reputation. It could thus be that David and Solomon were made into fertile songwriters as a way to venerate their wisdom above that of “ordinary” monarchs. Another problem is that epigraphical evidence from their time is scanty. The world of David and Solomon was virtually illiterate, and it is likely that neither was capable of writing—let alone scribing beautifully intricate verses.

There is a more basic question apart from these historical considerations: Is it even possible for the kings to have been so musically prolific? The answer is a qualified yes.

Über-prolific musicians have been known in every epoch of human history. Purandara Dasa (1484–1564), the father of Carnatic music, wrote at least 1,000 songs. The oeuvre of German Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is believed to comprise over 3,000 pieces. Simon Sechter (1788-1867), who taught music theory at the Vienna Conservatory, wrote over 8,000 pieces (a comparative few of which were published).

Super-productive musicians of modern vintage include Sun Ra, an avant-garde jazzer and self-styled extraterrestrial, who is credited with 159 albums. Musical polymath Frank Zappa put out 62 albums during his brief lifetime, and 29 additional albums have been released posthumously. Minimalist composer Philip Glass has nearly one hundred albums to his credit, and Ennio Morricone has provided scores for some 340 films.

It hardly needs mention that the work of these creative personalities is not always masterful in terms of quality, originality or care of construction. Anyone who has done a lot of anything knows this to be an inevitable truth. Nonetheless, a simple fact must be acknowledged: prolificacy requires time, diligence and dedication. This makes the idea of David and Solomon as fertile songwriters all the more doubtful.

As a rule, prolific musicians are fully absorbed in their calling. In contrast, David and Solomon are portrayed as warrior kings whose days were full with diplomacy, strategizing and nation building (not to mention their eventful personal lives). At best they would have written songs in their limited spare time. So, even if we set aside questions about ascriptions and literacy, the volume of material attributed to them would have been exceedingly difficult to achieve. It might be a remote possibility, but remote bordering on highly improbable.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.