Eric Chasalow, a composer at Brandeis, writes a lot of music with texts. It’s an intricate and fine-grained process, one that requires “living with the words — feeling the musicality of the words and how that connects to their meaning,” he said recently. And it requires him to have a deep familiarity with a text’s language before embarking on a musical setting.
So in April, when he saw a proposal from a fellow faculty member soliciting projects dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, he was torn. On the one hand, he was attracted to the idea of delving into these mysterious and often fragmented texts, illuminating them through music. On the other, he didn’t know much about the scrolls, he knew no Aramaic, and he remembered only some of the Hebrew he’d learned growing up.