In my life as a musician, many nights I’ll find myself loading my gear in the car and catching a quick
bite with my wife before we head off to my band’s rehearsal space or a venue for our next show. It’s
a routine that takes a little bit of getting used to, but it’s already assumed when we show up that my
wife grabs my bass guitar case and I grab my amplifier out of the trunk. We meet up with my band
mates and discuss what’s going down, either with the show or the rehearsal, and get to setting up. Being
a bassist and pragmatist, my effects-free setup only includes setting up my amplifier, tuning up any
basses I’m using that night, and then helping the drummer setup. After that, we play till sometimes 2
o’clock in the morning. This routine can, at times, fill up many nights of my week. However, there is
one evening of the week when not a single bit of this is guaranteed and the rest of my band knows this;
Being a Torah-observant musician in a secular music scene can be pretty rough, but it doesn’t have to
be. In fact, sometimes the two worlds almost parallel one another. Just like my routine for getting into
playing music, my Friday night routine takes some husband-wife masterminding. It’s understood that I
pick up the wine and that she helps her mother with dinner. She sets the table and I…eat what’s on the
table! In many ways it can be similar to a gig night, which both can end in throwing around gut-busting
stories from the past that get even more funny after a couple drinks. Even the dim glow of the Shabbat
tables as they burn down can reflect the dim lighting of a music venue. In both places, music surrounds
the room; just at venues, it’s a rhythm section and at the Shabbat table, it can be anything from Havenu
Shalom Aleichem to Hine Ma Tov.
With the similarities out of the way, I know many of the aspects that are different between Erev
Shabbat and gig night are difficult to come to terms with. Here are some tips for musicians as well as
other night-time workers who also make kiddush.
1. Change “I don’t play Friday nights” to “I can’t play Friday nights.” This simple wording trick
stresses much more importance on your Torah observance. People, especially in the secular
world, aren’t going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.
2. “I can’t afford to take Shabbat off.” You can’t afford NOT to take Shabbat off. I’ll admit, this
one is especially for those who are trying to get into the gist of Shabbat and could go for any
night-time or potential Saturday professionals. As B’nai Yisrael, your time to recharge is
Shabbat. That’s how we’re designed. Without that, it’s extremely to difficult to align your soul to
the Holy One the rest of the week or even to focus properly on other weekly tasks.
3. “My band will be upset with me if I can’t play Friday nights.” In that case, it’s probably time to
find a new band. If keeping Shabbat is going to be that much of a hang-up and your band mates
aren’t willing to respect that, there will probably be other things about you that they don’t quite
fully respect. Without that solid bond with your bandmates, the sound will end up suffering in
the long run as well as your friendships with them.
4. “Friday night is the hottest night of the week to play music.” In my musical experiences before
keeping Shabbat and what I’ve heard from gentile musician friends, Friday night might draw the
biggest crowds, but bigger is not always better. As human beings, we’re simply programmed
to let loose on Friday nights at sundown. Whether that means sitting down at a Shabbat table
with friends and family for wine and meal to sing songs, tell stories, and just enjoy each other’s
company to going out on the town and getting hammered because it’s finally the weekend.
Many times, even people that work the next day still feel this need to unwind on Friday nights.
So, do you really want to play when all the crazies are out? Wait till Saturday night when
everyone has gotten all the crazy out of their system from Friday night. The energy of the gig
will be much better.
5. “I’ll lose cred as a musician if I don’t play on Friday nights.” Negatory. If anything, you’ll gain
cred as a human being for standing your ground. In my experiences as a musician and just
as a person. I’ve witnessed some people who will do just about anything for a gig, money,
and the spotlight. Many times when I tell a promoter or band manager that I can’t play Friday
nights because I keep the Sabbath, instead of a scoff I usually get a “hmmm” followed by an
assortment of questions and finally a “Hey, that’s cool, man. I respect that.” Give people a
chance to turn you down for something before you just turn yourself down.
Keeping Shabbat isn’t impossible for a musician or any worker in an industry that conducts a large
chunk of their business on Friday nights and Saturdays, but it does mean that you are going to have to
put yourself that much more out there and work harder while you can work. For me as a musician, that
has meant I have really had to up my game and be a better player than the next guy in order to be worth
a band canceling all their Friday night shows for. After all, if you’re a mediocre player who can’t play
Fridays, why shouldn’t they find a better player who can?
Keeping Shabbat is never meant to be a burden, but instead a delight. How many of your non-Jewish
friends can you say have a certain day when they have absolutely nothing to worry about and just juice
up their batteries for the next week? If you keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath will keep you; I guarantee it.
Ken Lane is a freelance writer, musician and SEO maven.