The Psalms Project: New Musical Videos for Original Poetry

G-dcast‘s “Psalms Project” of short videos is part of the website’s efforts to transform how Jewish and broader communities engage with and interpret Psalms. This four-part series of shorts matches original poetry, music created by young Jewish artists, and compelling visuals. Sarah Lefton, G-dcast’s executive director, said:

It can be challenging for young people to connect spiritually with any religious tradition — the Psalms Project is a new kind of entry point that’s centered on the arts. It’s a way into the richness of Jewish tradition for people who are visually and musically inclined.

More after the jump.
The Project’s first two-minute video features a song written and performed by New York-based Elijah Aaron, 26. Psalm 1 opens with the verse:

Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.

Aaron chose this text as the starting point for his entry.

He is a Berklee College of Music graduate who grew up in a Conservative Jewish household. As he grew older, Aaron saw his Jewish learning opportunities as lacking in substance. He said that music allowed him to reconnect with the sacred text:

This project was the first time I really felt spiritual while composing. I had read many Psalms for inspiration, and the very first line of the very first Psalm really hit me. There is something very powerful about the deepest roots of Judaism.

The Project started last January with a live web seminar about the history, context and interpretation of the book of Psalms. G-dcast then opened a web-based competition, in which artists could submit their own interpretation of the Psalm of their choice. By the time the contest closed in March, G-dcast had received entries from professional musicians, rabbis, amateur songwriters, and seasoned slam poetry circuit competitors.

The Psalms Project was made possible with financial support from The Koret Foundation. G-dcast awarded cash prizes to four artists, and brought their interpretations into expression with four different visual animators. The first-prize winning entry, a poem that parallels the structure and themes of Psalm 90, was penned by San Francisco poet Rachel Lopez Rosenberg, 27, and brings the text to life through an emotional description of wrestling with cancer treatment. “We were impressed not only by the number of entries, but also by the quality of the submissions,” Lefton said. “Making the final selections was very hard for our judges.”

The Project’s three other films will be released during the next two months. G-dcast is now building a database to make all of the Project’s submissions searchable, and to allow for ongoing additions to the Project, with a goal of providing a well pool creative resources for teachers and students of verse everywhere.

“All of our work — from apps to films to teaching guides — focuses on making Jewish literacy accessible,” concluded Lefton. “The Psalms Project showed us that people can engage creatively with Jewish text in contemporary ways, and that we can facilitate that using new media.”


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