As we approach the High Holy days, I have been hard at work preparing with the musicians and vocalists that help make our worship so powerful and meaningful. We sing songs by composers spanning hundreds of years of history here at Temple Beth-El. Music connects us to generations past and inspires us for the future. It transports us to the sacred and grounds us in community. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah in a few days, here are some things you might not have known about the music we sing at Temple Beth-El:
Salomone Rossi (1570-1628) wrote not only secular music, he was also the first Jewish composer to introduce three to eight – voice compositions into synagogal music. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, you can hear his Esa Enai (Psalm 121) in all its choral splendor. Rossi began his long association with the Gonzaga family in the court of Mantua in the late 1600’s, initially as a singer and violinist and later as a leading composer and director of the court musicians. Rossi was a great inspiration to Jewish composers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The Great Aleinu was first introduced into the Malkhuyot (“Sovereignty”) section of the Rosh Hashanah additional service (musaf) liturgy. This original placement is certainly fitting, as Aleinu calls for a time when all people will accept God as their Sovereign. By the twelfth century, the text found its way into the daily morning service as a concluding prayer, and was later added to the end of the afternoon and evening services. That popular melody was composed by Solomon Sulzer in the 19th century. The melody you hear from the Malkhuyot portion of the Rosh Hashana service is a Mi-Sinai tune: a cherished melody developed in the Rhineland between the 12th and 15th centuries. As the name suggests, these songs are held in such high esteem that they are traditionally believed to have originated with Moses on Sinai. They include the High Holy Day Barchu and Kiddush, the Kol Nidre, and many other melodies specific to the Festivals and High Holy Days.
If Not Now by singer/songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, is a contemporary piece that you will hear following the rabbi’s sermon on Yom Kippur morning. Ms. Newcomer’s composition is beautiful and her lyrics remind me of Rabbi Hillel’s inspiring words: “If I am not for myself, who is? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Ancestors, 1:14). You can listen here.
Oseh Shalom by the group, Nava Tehila, bridges our relationship with Israel. This composition has become quite popular at Beth-El and many other synagogues around the world.
You can listen here.
We hope that you will be nurtured, inspired and uplifted by the music of the season. As we enter this season of reflection and repentance, remember that the most important voices in our sanctuary are yours. We invite you to join us in song and hope that these melodies stir your soul as they have ours.
Cantor, Judith Seplowin.