Jerusalem Concert to Feature Fantasies of the Temple's Lost Music

Musician Ilan Green to lead event that is part of a return to sacred texts in the Jewish music world.

At the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, every day had a song of its own, played before morning prayers, says singer and instrumentalist Ilan Green, formerly a member of the group "Nekamat Hatraktor." Green will lead a performance of the Levites' lost musical traditions on Thursday night at Beit Avihai in Jerusalem.

"Music was a central element at the Temple," he says. "Every Shabbat and holiday was accompanied by music, to the point where the scriptures pose the question of whether we may replace a string on Shabbat, to which the unequivocal answer is yes."

"Could there be any stronger statement than that, that for music it is permissible to violate Shabbat?" he says.

Green plays in a number of ensembles, holds workshops on instrument building at his Moshav Sde Hemed home and heads the music department at Jerusalem's Musrara art school.

When Beit Avihai approached him two years ago about a potential musical project, he knew he was interested in investigating the instruments used in the Temple. Green's journey reflects the wider return to sacred texts in the Jewish music world, which includes artists such as Ehud and Meir Banai's renditions of liturgical songs.

Green says he does not consider himself religious, but he is very interested in the Jewish scriptures. He says that he discovered early on that this was barely charted territory.

In combing the Bible, Mishna and other texts, he discovered that aside from the familiar violin, trumpet and lyre, at least 30 musical instruments are mentioned whose sound and appearance are lost to history. Building on the few scraps of information he could find, and adding a heavy dose of guesswork, he reconstructed 16 of them from wood and metal.

Green says the mystery surrounding the instruments gave him a certain artistic license.

"It gave me complete freedom," he says, emphasizing that his project is not historical. "I'm not saying that these are the real instruments. My approach is artistic, and my interpretation is entirely personal."

Many of the instrument references came from Psalms, traditionally attributed to David, the harpist king, such as the enigmatic "For the choir director; on the Gittith" (Psalms 8:1).

"There's something mysterious in building musical instruments that just cannot be described," he says.