Having just finished celebrating an entire month worth of solemn and joyous festivals, you might think we are out of musical treats until Hanukah. Yes, we had Rosh Hodesh (the celebration of the beginning of a Hebrew Month), and that is a barrel of laughs, but still our ears and souls hunger for more, more, more… Don’t worry, our daily services are chock full of goodies that, with the aid of a skilled composer and a compassionate singer, will provide plenty of liturgical “good eats.” Let’s look at the weekday Shacharit or morning service for some tasty examples.
Many don’t realize that even before the morning service actually begins; the Siddur contains some inspirational prayers that have attracted the attention of gifted composers. One of the first of these gems is Elokai Neshoma, a moving prayer which thanks God for the beautiful and pure soul that was “breathed into us” when we were born. The prayer thanks the Almighty for keeping watch over our soul during the night and restoring it to us in the morning. At its conclusion, Elokai Neshama recognizes that our body is a vessel for the soul, which as on loan from God, and as such we all come in to the world in a state of divine purity. This classic setting is preformed by the contemporary Cantor Hazzan Yaakov Motzen on his recording entitled, In Concert ’88.
Our sages mandate that we spend time studying Jewish sources each day. In order to facilitate our carrying this out, they wisely included portions of traditional texts in our Siddur. Thus, one of the preliminary prayers is Elu Devorim Sh’Ein La Hem Shiur, “these are the commandments that have no prescribed minimum.” Taken from the Mishna, a classic Rabbinic work, this text lists compassionate acts such as leaving corners of a field for the poor to harvest, dowering a bride, welcoming visitors and supporting your synagogue. Of course, “the learning of Torah is the most basic of all.” Hazzan Mordechai Hershman, (1888 – 1940) know as one of the most prominent Hazzanic vocalists of all time, performs this well know gem, composed by J. Rappaport. The selection is taken from a recording entitled; The Complete Cantorial Collection.
Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving, is included on most weekdays as part of the morning liturgy. During the time the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, this psalm was recited in conjunction with the offering of a special Thanksgiving sacrifice that was brought after one was saved from a dangerous situation. Since the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., and we can no longer offer a sacrifice, we have employed the recitation of Psalm 100 in place of an animal offering. It is for this reason that Psalm 100 in not recited on occasions such as Shabbat, and the day before Yom Kippur when it was not customary to offer a Thanksgiving sacrifice. Our setting of this psalm Mizmor L’Todah, is by one of the greatest of all Jewish composers, Solomone Rossi (1570 – 1630). Rossi’s prominence was not primarily as a Jewish Composer but as one of the most popular secular composers of his generation. It is said that Salomone Rossi helped facilitate the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque period of music. This performance is found on the disc entitled The Songs of Solomon Vol. 2 Holiday & Festival Music by the New York Baroque Ensemble, Eric Milnes, Director
Part of the daily recitation of the Shacharit service includes the Song of the Sea. This magnificent hymn was sung by the jubilant Israelites after crossing the Red Sea in their escape for Egyptian slavery. The Spanish Portuguese Jewish tradition has a delightful melody for this prayer which has been adopted in may contemporary services. Hazzan A. Lopes Cardozo, (1914-2006) who for many years served the famous Spanish Portuguese Synagogue, released a collection of songs from this rich heritage called Sephardic Songs of Praise. This is his rendition of Az Yashir Moshe, the opening stanza of the Song of the Sea.
Our final musical treat is one of a number of settings of a blessing taken from the weekday Amidah (a collection of 7-19 blessings recited as part of each formal service.) Ata Chonen L’Adam Da’at, the blessing thanking God for bestowing us with wisdom is the text for this delicious setting by Hazzan Shlomo Mandel. Hazzan Moshe Stern one of the most acclaimed cantors of our time, performs this stirring rendition, whose refrain is guaranteed to stick in your head, but not in your dental work. This is available on a recording entitled, Tephilla L’Moshe (vol.4)
The above are a small sampling of the smorgasbord of musical possibilities that are served in a weekday morning service. So don’t fret, just as every new day represents a renewal of God’s creation, the daily prayer book is a perfect source for artistic creativity that will surly indulge your musical sweet tooth; and with no calories, sodium, sugar, saturated fat, or MSG, you can consume as much as you want. Enjoy!
If the embedded audio player does not work for you, please click on the name of the song that is in red and you can hear the music. You can comment on this post or send me suggestions for future posts by clicking on the comment link below. By commenting on the posts and contributing ideas, questions and suggestions; everyone can participate in this project. I am also available to help you if you need help with a Torah reading or Haftara and are not fortunate to have the services of a professional Hazzan available. If you would like to receive notification when this blog is updated, or to contact me directly, please send an e-mail to Hazzan@e-hazzan.com. You can also receive notification or updates by clicking on the link in the right column.
Special Opportunity For Those in Florida: Have A Cup of Coffee With God. Shabbat November 8, 9:45-11:00a.m.
A monthly parallel learners service that I conduct in the Ball Room during the regular Shabbat morning (Shacharit) service. We eat cookies, drink coffee and hot chocolate and discuss the meaning and origin of the prayers. Click on this link for the flyer, or email Hazzan@e-hazzan.com for more info.