Skip Navigation
August 31, 2015 | 16th Elul 5775
The below postings include discussion about:
  • Balancing Familiar Music with New Music
  • Introducing New Music
  • Creative Use of Volunteer Choir
  • Music Balanced with Silence
  • Providing Congregants with Music and Cassette Tape
  • Listing the Musical Settings in a Handout
  • Music Resources

  1. We are blessed with a sing-along congregation. We love to learn the melodies that are created by talented musicians to songs we knew growing up as well as songs we learn as new. In our congregation new music is introduced at special services, b?nei mitzvah/confirmation/Purim/ All the festivals as well as the High Holy Days, etc. We are also aware that not every congregation in our great movement does the same things we do. That is what is so "reform" about us as a movement. We are a family and not everyone in a family is the same as another.
    200 units

  2. My congregation has found it challenging to find a comfortable balance between the old and new melodies. One thing our ritual committee did was decide that a limited number of "newer, contemporary" melodies may be used in any given service, and that, when possible, at least one of them would be 'taught' to the congregation before services began.

    I have found, too, that frequent use of the same newer, contemporary melodies in successive services over a period of several weeks helps the congregation adjust its thinking more easily. Suddenly, the 'new' becomes 'more traditional' as it becomes more familiar. Still I'd hate to see only the newer tunes used; there is a wealth of really wonderful, energizing 'traditional' Jewish musical liturgy. Its loss from our services would be a shame. So, yes, the conflict, or tension, between old and new will probably always exist. With care, however, the process of finding a balance between them can take place.

    50 members

  3. Not only older members object to new music. Someone in her thirties told me she wants the music to be the same as when she sat next to her grandparents at Temple. When I replied that maybe what she heard with them was new to them at the time, she was respectful, but still wanting the feeling from the past. For those of us who come to services often, the new music is now familiar and we are able to participate. I think that makes the infrequent attendees even more uncomfortable. Even though the cantor will teach a new melody at the beginning of services, there are also those who are coming to relive memories.
  4. When it comes to music and worship, we are facing many challenges. Not in the least: how do we develop a vocabulary that will allow us to discuss these matters with as little negative baggage as possible. What does it mean to talk about "warm and accessible" worship music? What is "participatory?" Does that mean singing/reading along, can it also mean actively involved listening, meditating? Does it mean doing everything together, in the same way, at the same time or can it mean everyone participating in their own way, at their own pace? Can we get away from using "solos," "camp music," as terms that are so loaded with judgments?

    I personally like the "Tour guide" model. Sometimes (often in my case) people like to explore on their own and have great experiences. But sometimes, we want to be taken along by an excellent guide who can show us places or details that we would not even know to look (listen) for, and that can make for a different experience.

    I really do not have any pat answers, but I think we have to keep asking the questions.


  5. One of our first projects is to improve the participation level in the music of the service. We have no cantor, but a cantorial soloist leads the music with her guitar. We found that by pitching the music to a lower key, people are able to join in more easily.

    We are also planning to have some pre-service music sessions to go over the prayers and songs that will be used in the service. We provide transliteration for the Hebrew selections. The process is indeed lengthy and the amount of Hebrew in the service is a main area of contention. For every person in the congregation who would like more Hebrew in the service, there is a counterpart proclaiming "too much Hebrew. "

    I know our committee's study will help us come to a consensus based on a better understanding, but the next step is to bring the rest of the congregation along. I think that adult education is a major partner. We are about two thirds of the way through our first adult education Hebrew class. It has been a major success with over 30 attendees. I see more people than before pointing to the Hebrew text as we read from the siddur.

    250 members

  6. In song leading at temple, with my guitar, a cappella, or with the electronic piano, I have found that, when people learn about and understand what they are singing, it often "sticks" and influences their recall. It also informs our choices of melodies (does this tune well serve the words?) or even how we sing certain sections.

    A case in point is Adon Olam. If we use a traditional tune and a forte (i.e. louder) for the first few majestic verses, we can soften to piano (i.e. softer) when we sing that we are putting our souls in God's hands at night. People have told me that they've sung those words for years and never knew what they said, translation at the bottom of the page or not.

    I think it's important also to consider the mood that we have just set in the service when choosing a melody. For example one should not immediately jolt people out of a contemplative meditation with a high energy Oseh Shalom without easing into it.


  7. I am thrilled to be able to report that our congregation held its first Shabbat of Song this past Friday evening. We developed a service filled with new easy to sing/repetitive songs and familiar ones. There was very little reading.

    Our volunteer choir learned the music over the past month. On Friday night they sat throughout the congregation to stimulate all of the congregants to raise their voice in song - which they did! (This is not normative behavior in our congregation.) It was wonderful. Like Friday Night Live, it brought people together, and will, I am sure, like Friday Night Live, grow as we continue it.

    It exposed our members to a variety of new music, some locally written, along with a variety of nationally known contemporary Jewish performers. Do consider trying such a service. If you would like to see our service - and own DavkaWriter - send me an e-mail and I will be glad to send it out as an attachment to you.

    770 families

  8. I have read the dialogue regarding the role of music in t?filah with great interest. I lead a Friday evening service once a month in Los Angeles. We call the service Friday Night Live and attract over 2000 people each month.

    It is truly a "happening." The service is a little over an hour and is 95% music with instrumental accompaniment including piano, guitar, upright bass, clarinet and percussion. The congregation sings along to everything and the music is extremely accessible. In addition to the actual service several things take place before and after the service that add to the Sabbath spirit.

      1. People are greeted outside and welcomed, not shushed.
      2. We urge people to introduce themselves to each other.
      3. People walk into a sanctuary that is filled with music.
      4. We dim the lights.
      5. We are brief.
      6. We have transliteration books and siddurim.
      7. We are flexible, spontaneous and very open to change.
      8. Following the service there is free food, a lecture, a class on t?filah, a guest artist and Israeli dancing. Often people leave the building after 11:30 PM.

    My strongest critical observation is that I think we sometimes sing and dance too much. While I am responsible for setting the tone of the music and have been a very strong proponent of group participation during t?filah, I sense that we might be singing too much! I am not a cantor, and therefore have brought this up with some of my colleagues and friends. Based on these conversations, I have become keenly aware that there needs to be a place for silence, a place for congregants to sit back and listen. It is this silence that accentuates the power of the singing. It is a balance between the group and the individual, the cantor and the congregation, each depending on the next, each responsible to help create a powerful, spiritual, prayerful experience.


  9. The worship at my congregation emphasizes congregational participation. Each member family receives a tape and a booklet of melodies for home and synagogue. These melodies are taught in the religious school and used for school services, junior congregation and regular Shabbat worship. The voices of the worshippers fill the sanctuary. There is other music that we use in services, but the bulk of it is participatory. It gives the congregants a feeling of "owning" the worship service.
    255 members

  10. Our cantor includes the musical selections in the Shabbat and High Holy Day handouts, and includes the composer and other information about it. It is a helpful way of letting congregants know what they are singing at the service and it helps them to recognize the many different composers and melodies.
    1140+ families

  11. One of the best short articles on the history of Jewish liturgical music that I know of is in the book called Sacred Sound and Social Change, Liturgical Music in Jewish and Christian Experience (L. Hoffman and J. Walton, editors), University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

    The chapter is called: Jewish Liturgical Music from the Bible to Hasidism by Dr. Eliyahu Schleifer (director of the 1st year cantorial program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem). The other chapters on Jewish music are good reading material as well (by Geoffrey Goldberg, Benjie Schiller, Samuel Adler, and Ben Steinberg). Another wonderful book on Jewish music is by Amnon Shiloah, Jewish Musical Traditions, Wayne State University Press, 1992. The Department of Synagogue Music is working with the ACC on developing an adult education curriculum for the study of Jewish music. These materials will include recorded examples, but they are in the early stages of development right now and will not be available until some time in the future.


  12. There is a Gates of Song that may contain melodies your congregation sings. You will want to confirm that the tunes you want to learn are in that book. Gates of Understanding is probably available, if still in print, from the CCAR ( Gates of Understanding, Volume 2 is available, but you may be looking for Volume 1. You could check the libraries of synagogues in your area. Chances are a larger congregation will have bought at least one copy.

  13. Jan 2007 Digest 004

                …Last week, for the first time in a Saturday morning Shabbat service, the congregation was led by one of the rabbis, the cantor and a group of terrific musicians who ROCKED OUT with some pulsating, compelling musical accompaniment that elevated the worship experience (for me, at least) about 10 fold. The rabbi brought us more deeply into the words of the service, briefly explaining some of the songs and blessings and the importance of the community coming together, and practically commanding us to participate--singing, standing, clapping, swaying…

                I understand that this kind of service may not be everyone's cup of tea. Some like more meditation and contemplative experiences, some more "traditional" (although the tunes we sung were the familiar ones that we knew). My understanding is that we will be offering this once a month on a trial basis and I'm sure it will evolve. But I'll tell you one thing—a lot more people than usual showed up for this that were not part of the Bat Mitzvah celebration and were glad they did. (It had been advertised to the congregation via email a couple of weeks prior.)

                By the way, we have had a once a month "Musical Shabbat" Friday night service for a few years now that is still very popular. It is led by our amazing cantor with piano, percussion, flute, guitar, bass and whatever else shows up. Most "regulars" attend the Friday night service more frequently than the Sat. Am, which is more centered on the B'nei Mitzvah. Since we have such a large congregation, almost every Sat. am service includes a double Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I think the clergy want to turn it around so that the congregants feel that the Sat. Am service is "theirs", too.

                So we keep at it--wrestling, striving and pursuing, living up to our namesake--Israel.


    1200+ families
  14. Feb 2007 Digest 026

                …It is becoming more clear to me that one of the qualities of an excellent chazan, whether an ordained cantor or a cantorial soloist, is the ability to balance new and old, familiar and foreign, comfort and edginess, to draw worshippers into participation, and to have a good sense of the congregation's personality as it is reflected in worship practices. Regrettably, really good song leaders don't always make really good chazanim because of the uniqueness with which music is woven into our congregational worship. Sometimes we see a tug-of-war between the cantor/cantorial soloist and the congregation (and maybe even sometimes between the cantor/cantorial soloist and the rabbi(s)) over musical styles.


    1100+ Units

URJ logo

Donate Now



Multimedia Icon Multimedia:  Photos  |  Videos  |  Podcasts  |  Webinars
Bookmark and Share About Us  |  Careers  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright Union for Reform Judaism 2015.  All Rights Reserved