Unexpected reaction

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

My friends know I’m not generally a romantic. Yet, when I was young, most of my favorite songs from Broadway musicals were love songs, usually because the music was so beautiful. What I considered one of the most romantic moments in a musical was not a traditional ballad: “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I” is an upbeat, cheery moment. Although no romance occurs between the characters, watching them sing and dance seemed like an ideal expression of love.
I recently heard that song for the first time in more than 20 years. Every week, I try listening to music with my cochlear implant. My musical adventures vary greatly from week to week. Some weeks I try to recapture my youth by finding rock and folk music from the 1960s and early ‘70s. Sometimes I try listening to music from more contemporary times – that of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when I last heard music – although those attempts are rarely as successful. Other times I explore my first love: show music.
After listening to several songs from rock bands, including Buffalo Springfield’s “Something’s Happening Here,” I suddenly thought of the musical version of “The King and I.” The best part of listening to music on YouTube is that I can quickly find almost anything I want to hear. What I discovered was a video of the dance scene from the movie featuring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. I was able to understand the lyrics and a good part of the dialogue, and found the song as wonderful as I remembered. To my surprise, though, tears started pouring down my face. Yes, I cried through the whole song.
That was not a completely unexpected reaction, since when I first began listening to music with the CI, I would cry with amazement that I could actually hear music again. Most of the first songs I experimented with were ballads – and many of them were sad. I used to love to listen to sad music, particularly when I was unhappy, because it made me feel better. My dad was the same way. That doesn’t work anymore, so I don’t listen to them as often.
Why the reaction to “Shall We Dance?” I’m not really sure, but even writing this column is bringing tears to my eyes. Perhaps the song struck an emotional nerve – some undefined reminder of things that will never be. It really doesn’t matter because the tears didn’t mar what was a wonderful experience, one I thought I would never have again: the chance to enjoy the music of my childhood.