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{Colorado Springs Gazette, 2011-12-07}

“Comfort ye my people”. A lone tenor voice begins Handel’s “Messiah.” The words soar to the roof of the Academy Chapel, soon joined by the combined voices of the USAFA Cadet Chorale.

I know the singer. He’s majoring in computer science, currently fighting his way through my advanced programming languages course. Once he’s commissioned, he’ll be a skilled cyber-warrior. Who knew he could sing? Could Handel, three centuries ago, have imagined his music made real by a young man with such skills?

Computer scientists supposedly know only of machines and logic, zeros and ones. What could we possibly know of beauty, art and awe? And yet, this cadet does. As a singer in one of the greatest musical works in human history, how could he not?

Another student of mine braves the challenge of “Thou shalt break them,” soloing through octave-wide jumps and long coloratura passages. I know how hard this music is, written for professional singers trained to perform for the court of King George II. Where do these young men and women find the time to sing at all, let alone well, in a place like the Air Force Academy that demands so much of them?

And yet, they do.

What am I, Jewish by birth and a skeptic by nature, doing in a Christian chapel listening to a profoundly Christian work? In addition to some cadets, I know a few musicians in the orchestra. I’ve gigged with the bassist, and we chat briefly afterward. But I didn’t come to make a social call.

In fact, maybe I shouldn’t be here at all. There are good reasons for Jews to worry about “The Messiah.” The alto recitative from Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” is a mistranslation used against Jews for over a thousand years. The Hebrew word is in fact “almah”, which means merely a young woman.

But the original mission of the authors of the Gospels was to convince Jews that Jesus was the savior foretold by Jewish texts. This idea carried through the early days of Christianity, influencing translations up to and beyond the King James Bible. The rest, as they say, is history.

That history shows us while evil can spring from religion, it is not unique to it. The same is true for good, and that is why I am here. I am here because I am human, with an innate capacity for wonder, inspiration, beauty and awe. That is what I seek in “The Messiah.” It is absolutely what I find.

The beauty of music is rooted in our common humanity. We are all shaped by the same forces of nature.  We breathe the same air, and we are equipped through evolution to respond to changes in its pressure waves. The musical relationships of the octave, the fifth, the third are fundamental properties of the physical world we all share. To me, this makes music more beautiful, not less.

Every once in a great while, a human being is born with an innate grasp of musical relationships and a desire to create beautiful sounds. Every once in a greater while, they produce lasting works of true genius. These works touch the inner humanity of all who hear them. They make our lives better.

Hearing such music, sung by young men and women dedicated to something greater than themselves, I can’t help but feel inspired, uplifted, and ennobled.

Yes, there is evil, misery and suffering in the world. But there is also goodness, beauty and hope. “The Messiah,” if nothing else, should teach us that.