Many years ago, there was a story on This American Life about some guys who attempted to use scientific data to create the world’s most annoying song. Admittedly, I love almost everything on this American Life, and it’s not just because Ira Glass was the magician at my 4th birthday party. (Really! It’s true!) But this story was one of my absolute favorites – I listened to it again at the gym last week and elicited suspicious looks each time I laughed aloud on the elliptical. The team conducted research to determine the musical elements that people find most distasteful, and then recorded a song using just about all of them, including synthesizer, children’s music, holiday lyrics, accordion, bagpipe, tuba, opera, rap and, of course, cowboys. You can listen to the song streaming here, but be forewarned, it’s both awful and strangely difficult to turn off.
I was reminded of this episode yesterday, after opening up the review copy of Dayenu, a new children’s haggadah and accompanying cd from KTAV publishers. Why is it that so much contemporary Jewish music seems to draw its inspiration from the same research as the guys on This American Life? Overly earnest children singing atop synthesizers, with lyrics that try to cram way too much information into way too few beats. (At least there’s usually no opera-rap.) I may not be crazy about dayenu and chad-gadya, but I have no desire to replace those classics with “Moses was a shepherd when he saw a bush a-flame” or “free to be LIKE you and me” which seems criminally close to Marlo Thomas’ glorious soundtrack of my own childhood.
I would not, in a million years, use this haggadah at my seder. But, believe it or not, I like it anyway. Sort of. As I type this, my daughters are listening to the cd for the fourth time in two days. (This time, with the door closed, thank God.) My five year old is belting out the Mah Nishtana, and after one listen, my three year old, who knows next to nothing about the story of Passover said “can we listen to the song about Moses and the burning bush again?” If they like it, I like it. If they are learning something, even better. Or to paraphrase Tevye, “God bless and keep this haggadah….far away from me.”