At Central Synagogue

Cantor Mutlu’s Reflection on Chanukah

Posted December 19, 2017

By Cantor Daniel Mutlu

Back in 1994 when I was a sophomore in high school the most wonderful and unexpected thing happened to me. I had signed up for a computer programing class as an elective, but my guidance counselor sadly informed me that the class was already filled with juniors and seniors. I would have to choose another class, she explained. I was bummed.

“What other classes are available?” I asked her.
“Touch typing or music theory,” she answered.
“Music theory? What the heck is that?”
“I have no idea, but it looks like one of your friends is in that class.”

That was good enough for me! I committed myself to taking music theory but didn’t expect much beyond getting to spend some more time with one of my buddies. Little did I know, the course would forever change my life, and the very first session would become the turning point. It’s as clear to me now as it was 23 years ago. Our teacher had us listen to a piece by Bach (his fugue in G minor BWV 578–for those of you who really know your Bach), and before and during the playing, he explained what we would hear and how all of the musical elements fit together. My mind processed the technical explanations; my ears took in the new sounds; and a part of my soul that had never before seen light was illuminated. Something within me had been awakened and I became obsessed with studying and performing music. My pursuit was not motivated by aptitude; rather it was fueled by an unexpected passion. I felt spiritually fulfilled and fed by this very new hobby. Even more than that, however, the support and encouragement I received from teachers and friends convinced me that I should keep at it.

As we prepare to light our final Chanukah candle this season we were reminded of the power of bringing light to the parts of our lives which were previously unilluminated. But Chanukah teaches us something more powerful: the importance and urgency of bringing light to others’ lives so that they might be lifted out of their own dark places. In fact, we are instructed to place the menorah in a window, because its light is not simply meant for those lighting, but for others to see. Like those who helped and inspired me as a budding musician, the menorah lights up a spiritual path for all of us. It is a demonstration of our commitment to one another: we help each other become better versions of ourselves so that our souls can shine.

I am so grateful that on Friday, January 26th at 6 pm I will be installed as Central Synagogue’s senior cantor. Looking forward to this event I am reminded of all of my guiding lights along the way: from the instructor of that first music theory class to the rabbis, cantors, colleagues, and teachers who continue to show me the way. Already, I feel incredibly supported and strengthened by the love and light of the Central Synagogue community. May we continue to bring that light ever further out.