“It is the same thing, singing and praying”

There are plenty of very moving scenes in John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath”. In one of them, Sairy, a sick woman who feels that her powers are leaving her, asks Casy, a former preacher, to pray for her, and tells him:

‘When I was a little girl I used to sing. People around used to say I sung as nice as Jenny Lind. People used to come and listen when I sung. And-when they stood-and heard me singing, me and them were together more than you could ever know. I was thankful. There are not so many people that can feel so full, so close, like those people standing there and me singing. I thought maybe I’d sing in theaters but I have never done it. And I’m glade. Nothing separated  me and them. And-that’s why I want you to pray. I want to feel that closeness once more. It’s the same thing, singing and praying, just the same thing. I wish you could hear me sing.’

***

About eight years ago, in the beginning of my interest in Greek music, I heard a song that I could not understand a word of. But in the refrain, and especially when it was sung by the audience, you could sense a kind of devotion, a plea of pain and passion, a kind of prayer that reminded me of the singing you can hear out of synagogues as you pass by them on holy days in our country.

But the words of the song are not connected at all to a holy worship. They are about a broken man, who fails in love time and again, and he is yearning to speak to an anonymous woman whom he encountered by chance at night, maybe in a tavern:

Whoever you are, whatever you are,

keep me company tonight.

I don’t ask you to love me

I only ask a little comfort.

 

If my fate is crippled

the world is not to blame, nor you.

Whatever I love, dies

and I start all over again.

 

All the women I have known

left away without reason

and yet I have not hated any of them

it has been written in my destiny.

 

If my fate is crippled

the world is not to blame, nor you.

Whatever I love, dies

and I start all over again.

 

Whoever you are, whatever you are,

say to me few tender words,

to relieve my soul a little

and tomorrow tell me goodbye.

 

When later I came to understand the words, I realized why I felt that this song is like a prayer. The woman is just a medium. The man is actually speaking to God. He tells of his distress to God, and it is God from whom he asks for comfort. The line “O’ ti agapaw egw pethenei” – whatever I love dies – is the essence of much of the pain of humanity, and for the audience it serves as a moment of putting their collated distress on the table; a purification of the soul and a search for consolation, and all this, as Sairy says, in spiritual closeness to each other, as in a prayer.

Here is Giorgos Dalaras with the audience in “Zygos” club in Athens:

(English subtitles by pressing YouTube bottom)

 

***

Here is a little story about a Hebrew song, a love song “Hayom” which means “today”:

Today we shall do something unforgettable

that will leave a memory of a blessed happiness

today I will lend a hand to caress your head

today I will make you smile at last

today I will drive the sadness out of your eyes

I will make this day the happiest in your life

And this non religious song, found its place, besides liturgical poems, in an evening of prayers to the health of an adored “Rabi” (a chief religious post in Judaism) where its writer and singer Ehoud Banai, took part. The “together spirit” celebrates again:

***

Let’s return to “Whoever you are”, the version of Haris Alexiou which, for me is really great, as the song is.

‘Opioa kai na ‘sai- Whoever you are-Όποια και να `σαι

Lyrics:Giorgos Samoladas

Music:Apostolos Kaldaras

 The quotation from Steinbeck had been edited by me from “folk” language

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