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September 2, 2014 | 7th Elul 5774
Lesson Plan

DIVREI SHIR: WORDS OF SONG
A CURRICULUM FOR THE STUDY OF SYNAGOGUE MUSIC

Module #1: An Introduction to the Study of Jewish Music

I. INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

Welcome the participants and have them introduce themselves and briefly share what they hope to achieve/accomplish in this course. Give a brief description of the topic of each module, as well as the overarching goals for the full curriculum. Review the specific goals for Module #1, outlined above.

Inform the participants that in this first module, they are going to be exposed to a wide variety of Jewish musical styles and genres. Tell them that the psalms (don't reveal which one) will be the vehicle for conveying the wide range of Jewish musical expression.

II. INTRODUCTION TO THE PSALMS

  1. Ask the participants: "What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Book of Psalms?" Record their answers on the flip chart or chalkboard.

    (Responses might include "The Lord is my shepherd," a book of songs, a lot of prayers, songs of praise, King David, etc.)

  2. Share the following basic background information from Solomon Freehof's introduction to The Book of Psalms: A Commentary:

The psalms are the divinely inspired songs of the people of Israel. The Book of Psalms is known as Sefer T'hillim in Hebrew. The word t'hillim is derived from the root (halal), which means "praise." English readers will recognize another familiar derivative in the word hallelujah. The psalms are traditionally called the "Psalms of David," although other authors likely wrote many of them in much later times. Several names of people that appear in the superscriptions above the psalms seem to be the names of authors, contributors, compilers, musicians, or others associated with the composition, compilation, and use of the sacred lyrics. In addition to David the names mentioned include Solomon, Korach, Moses, Heman, and Asaph.

The Book of Psalms contains many of the great religious ideas that arose among the Israelites. The psalms depict the entire life of a people, encompassing the full extent of human emotions. Although they describe the challenges and issues of the entire people of Israel, they have a very personal tone. They capture every aspect of an individual's spiritual life-from ethics, community, and values to the myriad of emotions including joy, fear, depression, awe, contentment, and celebration. It is because of this that they speak universally to all peoples. The Book of Psalms is the most widely read of all the biblical books. Its words have continually had a profound influence on the lives and thoughts of the people of Israel. These words are an integral part of our prayer book, which includes many of the beautiful phrases from the psalms throughout the liturgy.

III. PSALM 150: TEXT STUDY

  1. Share the following information about Psalm 150:
    Psalm 150 is the last psalm in the Book of Psalms. It is also the last psalm in the P'sukei D'zimrah (Verse Offerings of Song) section of the morning liturgy.

  2. Distribute Handout #1: Psalm 150 and Handout #2:
    Questions for Text Study. Have the participants form chevrutot (study partners) to read the psalm and answer the questions on Handout #2.

  3. Reconvene the participants. Ask the chevrutot to briefly share their answers with the large group. It might be helpful to record the answers on the flip chart or chalkboard.

IV. MUSICAL SETTINGS OF PSALM 150

  1. Distribute Handout #3: A Listening Tool.
    Inform the participants that they will listen to a series of musical settings of Psalm 150. Give the following instructions for listening to the music and then play each of the musical selections in order, providing time for the participants to write their responses.

    Read the following aloud:

    1. Please listen to each of the following settings of Psalm150 with an open mind.
    2. Working individually, listen to the first setting of the psalm and write your responses to the questions provided on Handout #3 for Setting #1.
    3. Ask participants to indicate by raising their hand if they have heard this piece of music before. If they have heard the piece, inquire where they have heard it.
    4. Repeat this sequence for Settings #2-#5 and answer the questions provided on handout #3 after listening to each one.

  2. As a group, ask the participants to share and discuss their individual reactions to each musical setting by responding aloud to the remaining questions on Handout #3. Have them compare and contrast the relative merits of each composition.

    Read the following aloud:

    1. Which of the settings was the most familiar to you?
    2. Which of the settings reminded you of familiar music or styles? How?
    3. How did familiarity affect your responses to the various settings?
    4. What were some of the different ways in which the composers matched their music to the text?
    5. How do you think the various settings enhance or support an individual's religious or spiritual development?
    6. Are there any overall observations or conclusions that you can draw from this exercise?

  3. Distribute Handout #4 Composer Biographies, which contains information about the lives and music of the composers whose settings are heard in this module. Explore the chronology of the various composers' lives and identify the influences that may have influenced their compositions.

V. CONCLUSION

  1. Share with the participants the rationale that explains why this course of study begins with this particular variety of settings, as articulated below:

    Read the following aloud:

    1. They reflect a range of musical genres and influences that are accepted as being within the spectrum of Reform Jewish liturgy and practice. These are the genres and influences that we will be exploring in future modules.
    2. They help reveal three fundamental principles that are elemental for the study of Jewish music: how the composer makes use of the text; which musical techniques the composer employs; and how a musical piece evokes certain emotions or religious or transcendent feelings and thus communicates a particular message.

  2. Introduce the following outline for the rest of the course of study:

    Read the following aloud:

    As the course progresses, you will be introduced to additional principles that will provide a foundation for understanding Jewish music by further exploring:

  • The relationship between the music and the text
  • The musical elements used within the liturgical cycle
  • The history and development of Reform Jewish music, which will reveal the factors that influenced its evolution both in Europe and in America

 
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