Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson Sing Maoz Tzur

Odom and Robinson. (Screenshot)

I wouldn’t have had an answer to this question a year ago, but while putting together my latest holiday album, I asked my wife, Nicolette Robinson, who’s biracial—her mother is Jewish and her grandfather was a rabbi—if there were any Hanukkah songs I should include. I wanted to make sure that the Festival of Lights was represented in the album. Nicolette said that “Maoz Tzur” (“Rock of Ages”) had a beautiful melody and that the Hebrew was really lovely.

We’ve been together 12 years now. So that’s 12 Passovers, 12 Hanukkahs. Experiencing the Jewish traditions and incorporating them in my life in a meaningful way has expanded my idea of how big God is. I connect to holiness. I connect to anything that is getting at that chamber that exists within us, that exists within humanity. I call it the God chamber. It really can only be filled with a relationship with God. So I connect to the song’s beseeching of God, the begging of God to come to your aid, to come to your defense and the humility of that.

There’s a mystical, ineffable quality about music that is not meant to be spoken about. It’s meant to be heard and experienced. That’s why it exists. So my words are going to fall short, but I can feel the Holy Spirit in the “Maoz Tzur” melody and in what is happening between the notes. There will be people who listen to that Hebrew and have no idea what’s being said, but they’re still going to feel and understand the God in it. Capital G.

Leslie Odom Jr. is an actor and singer who originated the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway production of Hamilton, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and a Grammy Award as a principal soloist on the original cast recording.

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