The Patchwork King

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 9:40am -- Cantor Phil Baron

THE PATCHWORK KING

1 Cheshvan 5778

A number of people at VBS have asked me about a project I’m currently involved with, so I’m taking this opportunity to include some background and information in this week’s Clergy Corner. Please excuse the shameless plug (!), but I truly believe you will appreciate learning about this unique program.

When I was a cantorial student, my colleagues and I spent a good part of one semester studying the two books of Samuel.  These books read like a novel – possibly the first novel.  They are filled with fascinating and very human characters, pithy dialogue, epic battles, and plenty of romance.  Oh, and one nasty giant.  This is also the story of King David.

I remember how amazed I was to study this oft-told tale and to “discover” a complex and epic story with much to teach us.  I also thought at the time, what a wonderful subject this would be for something musical.

Now on Sunday evening, November 5 at Stephen Wise Temple, 14 composers and I will premier a new musical work entitled, “David’s Quilt.” This free concert will feature a 17-piece orchestra and 30-voice choir from UCLA, as well as professional soloists, actors, and even a dancer.  The process involved in creating this work has been nearly as complex as the story itself.

Nearly three years ago, I gathered composers of the Helfman Institute at a retreat to study the life of King David with Rabbi Feinstein.  Since that time, the rabbi and a string of noted biblical scholars have informed our understanding and our work, and over the past six months we have produced 18 new pieces, each a musical impression of one episode of David’s life.  Strung together chronologically, these pieces are a patchwork of styles and musical sensibilities that we hope will reflect the episodic nature of the Books of Samuel, and most importantly, stimulate a renewed interest in this remarkable story.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to peruse the books of Samuel recently, here is an extremely brief, 10-point synopsis:

  1. The people demand a King.
  2. Samuel the Prophet relents and chooses basically the first big, strong, handsome guy he sees and makes him king.  His name is Saul.  The crown never really fits him.
  3. We go to war against the Philistines.  Our enemies send up their biggest, baddest, meanest dude they can find to challenge the Hebrews.  Our fighters take one look at Goliath and  say, “Uh-uh, not me.” Meanwhile, a local shepherd named Jesse sends his youngest son to the front with his brothers’ lunch pails.  The young lad hears the giant’s rants against Israel and takes offence.  Eschewing armor and garbed only in his deep faith, David chucks a rock at Goliath and nails the giant right between the eyes.
  4. David is a hit.  Even Saul’s son Jonathan and daughter Michal are crazy about him. Saul’s jealousy and feelings of inadequacy begin to drive him mad.  He tries several times to kill David, but fails, in part because Jonathan and Michal are his allies.
  5. Saul chases David all over Israel for several chapters. David spares Saul’s life twice, which makes Saul even more obsessed with destroying him.
  6. Against his own law, Saul goes to see a sorceress who predicts he will die in battle.
  7. Saul dies in battle, along with his son Jonathan.
  8. David becomes king and dances the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.
  9. Now that he’s king, things get a little boring.  While the troops are off doing battle, David seduces Batsheva, the wife of his best commander Uriah.  Now, while the Torah is filled with stories of women with fertility problems, Batsheva is not one of them.  So David sends for Uriah in hopes that he will spend the night with his wife and David’s sin will be covered up.  But Uriah has more integrity than the king and refuses to leave his troops.  David sends orders for Uriah to be placed in the front lines.  Uriah dies, and so does the child of David and Batsheva’s encounter.  David is not looking too good, but eventually owns up to his bad behavior.
  10. But after this, things start to go even worse for David.  His sons revolt against him.  David feels like a failure.  However, he and Batsheva have another son named Solomon who, as King, will build the Temple and usher in an era of harmony and peace.  We leave King David at the beginning of the Book of Kings, in his heart still a man of great faith, a savvy leader, and warrior to the end.

I hope to see you on November 5 for some moving musical interpretations of this timeless story.  In the meantime, here are a couple of short videos about “David’s Quilt.”