August 23, 2007
Music and religion reflect singer’s commitment to God
Talking with Dana Mase is like listening to her sing.
Her gentle voice calms, even soothes, and you find yourself compelled to listen as she recounts experiences of her troubled childhood and her passionate faith. |
"I didn't like being Jewish," the Orthodox singer said. "The school I went to was an all-girls prep school, it was WASPy, and I didn't like being singled out as 'the Jew.' I didn't like temple. There was nothing I liked about it. I was just so lost."
Her openness is uncommonly direct and honest. She gets the messy stuff out of the way so she can talk about what really matters: music and God.
To Mase, art and religion are two streams of the same water, and both reflect her deep commitment to Hashem. Her recently released compilation album, "The Colors of Black and White," is the culmination of her struggle to find an authentic Jewish place in the world -- a place beyond a turbulent childhood, beyond a journey through evangelical Christianity that eventually led her back to her Jewish roots.
"Life is a big spectrum -- things are not just black or white. Now I'm allowing my songwriting to cover the full spectrum of what that means, not that everything is all good and happy," she said in a phone interview from her home in Monsey, N.Y.
Now a practicing ba'alat teshuvah, Mase feels she's where she belongs -- at home with her yeshiva-educated children and her husband, breaking the Orthodox mold by moonlighting as a soulful singer.
Her delicate voice croons with sexy, edgy lyrics. On the track "Stronger Than," Mase sings, "There's a place that's deep inside my soul/ where I recognize you're in control/... stronger than Wall Street/ stronger than the Internet/ stronger than money/ stronger than the best sex."
Like her lyrics, her past is decidedly unorthodox. To escape the tension of a broken home, Mase hung out with a rough crowd of teens whose high school hobbies included sex, drugs and hatching plans to skip town.
"I was thought of as the goody two-shoes, so I had to prove them wrong," she said, reflecting on her past. "I had to be tough and cool and do things that were self-destructive."
Her parents divorced when she was 12, and her father subsequently abandoned the family. With very little money to live on, her mother couldn't afford to pay membership dues at their temple. Mase remembers they were told not to return, and she interpreted the social and financial emphasis of her synagogue as an indication of spiritual vacuity.
The young Mase withdrew from her family, never feeling safe or sheltered. Years later, a spiritual epiphany transformed her life.
"I was at my friend's house, and I got up to leave and started blacking out," Mase recalled. "I was lying on the couch and ... I just started thinking about my life and all of the sudden I thought, 'What if there is a God?' And in that moment, a whole new world burst open to me."
A spiritual fervor reinvigorated her life and she set out searching for God.
"I started to ask friends if they believed in God, but my friends were drug addicts, so they didn't know what they were talking about," she said.
And then a Catholic friend invited her to a Christian coffee house.
"I told [them] that I was Jewish, and everybody loved that I was a Jew -- their favorite person to get -- I was a star," Mase recalled.
Inspired by the positive strokes, she decided to attend Oral Roberts University, an evangelical Christian college in Oklahoma. Though musically gifted from an early age, it was during her studies that music became a conduit for her spiritual passion.
"The realization that God was in the world was when it all came together," Mase said. "I had a deeper well to write from and a strong belief -- a strong drive to make music."
Creating rhythms and harmonies came naturally, but the Christian beliefs met with an internal spiritual discord.
"Being around Christians made it very obvious that I was a Jew," Mase said. "I would hear anti-Semitic comments, and it stirred something inside of me -- my Jewish neshama (soul) was bursting to come out."
Mase began wearing a Jewish star, and her Orthodox sister encouraged her to move to New York. The sisters shared Shabbat dinners and engaged in ongoing dialogue about Jewish law, customs and theology.
One afternoon while walking in Central Park, the singer met her future husband, Jewish musician Barry Mase. The two started a band together called Puss and Boots, and although he wasn't religious, his desire to learn impressed Mase, and she encouraged him to study Judaism and Torah.
"I was so burnt out, but I wanted to be with someone who had a spiritual backbone," she said.
Mase has since found a home for herself in Monsey and isn't concerned with how she's perceived by the rest of the community.
"I don't fit the Orthodox mold. I play music. I'm in a rock band. I teach handicapped children how to ride horses. This is who I am, and I can't shut these pieces of me down," she said.
After all she's been through, Mase is not interested in pretense. For her, embracing the ba'alat teshuvah lifestyle invites spontaneity, and she is perfectly comfortable figuring it out as she grows.
Mase said her toughest struggles these days are carpooling and getting dinner prepared. She is focused on transmitting her love for Judaism to her children and channeling her spiritual growth into music people of any background can relate to and share.
"I don't want to candy coat my music. If I'm feeling joy, I want that to come through; if I'm struggling, I want that to come through. I want my music to be authentic in terms of what life is about."
Dana Mase -- She Never Knew She Never Knew
JewishJournal.com is produced by TRIBE Media Corp., a non-profit media company whose mission is to inform, connect and enlighten community