Lo Vashamayim Hi
by Gerald Cohen
A note from the composer
As a composer and cantor, I am quite steeped in the Hebrew Bible, and much less so in the New Testament. It has been fascinating for me to use the prompt of this project as an impetus to explore new texts. When I learned that the Greek of “noli me tangere” could perhaps be better translated as “do not cling to me,” the words suddenly resonated with me quite deeply, and also created connections in my mind with both Jewish and Christian and mystical traditions—of God being truly within each one of us—and with Buddhist ideas of non-attachment.
After an exploration of many texts, including several of the non-canonical Gnostic Gospels, and poems of Rilke and Tagore, I found myself drawn back to a favorite text from the most familiar part of my own religious tradition—the Torah. In Deuteronomy, Chap. 30, Moses instructs the people: “It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?’.... But the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” This saying is also echoed by Jesus, presumably referring directly to the text from Deuteronomy, in both the canonic and the gnostic gospels.
The first two sections of the piece, relating the quest to find the divine in the heavens or beyond the sea, are heard as dramatic, energetic outpourings; these then resolve into the gentle extended meditation of “But the thing is very close to you...”.
Composer Gerald Cohen has been praised for his “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift” and has earned critical accolades for his operatic, chamber, and choral music; he has received commissioning grants from Meet the Composer, American Composers Forum, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has served as Cantor at Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale, NY for 35 years. Cohen’s opera Steal a Pencil for Me was given its premiere by Opera Colorado in 2018; among his recent chamber music works are Playing for our Lives and Voyagers; these compositions, composed for the Cassatt String Quartet, will be the centerpieces of an album of Cohen’s music to be released on Innova Recordings in 2022. Learn more by visiting his website: www.geraldcohenmusic.com
Anne Slovin, soprano, is a third-year doctoral student at the Jacobs School of Music studying voice performance with Julia Bentley. As an associate instructor, she teaches undergraduate vocal pedagogy and is currently working on research in the area of disability-informed voice teaching.
Andrew Voelker is an Associate Instructor and third-year doctoral student in the Collaborative Piano department at the Jacobs School of Music. They were formerly an Adjunct Instructor and Opera Coach at Illinois Wesleyan University, and an Opera Coaching Fellow at the Aspen Opera Center. Their current research focuses on the management of art song discovery resources for considerations of concert planning.
Our project takes the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden after she discovers his empty tomb — noli me tangere (“touch me not”) — as a provocation for reflection on the COVID-19 pandemic, and on other pandemics, viral and social, that engulf us.