What is a Nigun?
by Rabbi Dovber Pinson
A Nigun would be literally described as a wordless tune. Yet, within the world of Niggunim there is not one standardized style of Nigun. Generally it is maintained that there are two distinct styles of music. Let us term these, for convenience's sake as 'Western' music, music which originates from the Western society, and 'Non-Western', music which is derived from all other cultures, particularly those of the East and Africa. Western music is usually recognizable as 'goal oriented music.' This means to say, music that is narrative in structure, consisting of a series of progressive 'events', so to speak. The listener feels the progression of the music, and it evokes a sense of movement within him, it feels like the music has a destination and it takes the listener on its journey. Non-Western music is characterized by a prolongation of a single note, or a select group of sounds which continues in a set pattern throughout the entire melody. This type of music arouses a more contemplative state, evoking within the listener a sense of timelessness and inner space. The nigun can be found in both ends of this musical spectrum. There are some niggunim that are structured and progressive, these tunes are to the Western ear, 'sophisticated' tunes, consisting of a beginning, a body and a climax. There are other niggunim which are containments of a repetition of single, individual sounds. As a whole, the aspiration of Chassidic music, which we know as the nigun, is an extension of its philosophy, that is, to set free the melody from any dogmatic principles.
While Neitzsche suggested that the 'fire magic of music' is to be found in its anti-rationality, and what he sought in music was its 'ecstatic irrationality' the Jewish mystics, and particularly the Chassidic Masters look to unveil within music its transcendenceWhile Neitzsche suggested that the 'fire magic of music' is to be found in its anti-rationality, and what he sought in music was its 'ecstatic irrationality' the Jewish mystics, and particularly the Chassidic Masters look to unveil within music its transcendence. A wordless tune is the way two individuals can communicate on a soulular transcendent level. Any breakdown in the verbal communicated mode can be repaired by creating a conduit that transcends words. When a person feels alienated from God, or for that manner, from his fellow man, a wordless tune which exists on a realm that defies distinctions, separations, and disharmony, is the most fitting remedy, causing a unity of souls.
Deveikut -love and fusion with God and one's fellow man is the hallmark of Chassidim, the nigun is one of the many tools employed to achieve Deveikut.
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