Before attending a symphony concert, a play or even an opera that I have not heard for a time, I pop in a cd or even play a “vinyl” to ready my ears for what I am about to hear and experience. It is my way of preparing for the event. And so I ask, are you ready for the High Holy Days? Even in the wane of summer, it is not to early to ready ourselves for this emotional, theatrical and spiritual time in our calendar. We will be together in schule longer and more often than perhaps we are all year long. And this takes practice and preparation.
Our High Holyday Machzor is a tantalizing compilation of moving theatrical drama and poetry, of historical readings and teachings. It is a book of metaphor and mystery. The Machzor expresses raw human emotions and feelings which speak to us through music.To set a mood of reflection and inspiration, the music of the High Holydays paints in sound the central themes and moods of each prayer—like a musical drama or opera.
The word for prayer in Hebrew is “l’hitpalel—to judge yourself.” This lofty challenge is accepted with unique music of the season and the special readings inviting your participation, your thoughtful ear and heart. The holy day music of the Torah reading, the unique and optimistic nusach hat’filah—the familiar modal/musical settings of the prayers sung acapella or with choral and congregational accompaniment, the use of an historic instrument --the shofar—all help us achieve a holy convocation.
Music has become an appreciated staple of our new Congregation Israel. Our Holy Days Chorale: Mariam Huizar, Kimi Stephenson, Larry Amos, John Casey and Jay Chapman, under the direction of Professor Cynthia Barbier Sanchez and I want to communicate the majesty, theater and passion of the holy texts in a most expressive, meaningful and beautiful way. A goal to be sure, is to make the High Holyday services meaningful and provocative, intellectual and uplifting musically and spiritually. Toward this goal, we have again selected musical settings of the major prayers by Jewish composers of renown, coupled with some favorite congregational singing and responses.
You are invited to help us transport you from the physical realm to the spiritual with the vehicle of the music in two ways.
First, when we sing congregational melodies that are familiar to you, please join with us openly and robustly, in key, off key—just sing! No one is judging. We want you to become an active participant. The congregational tunes are sung in an accessible pace that should enable all who wish to join in. I will be turning toward you often to signal its time and invite you to sing with us. Don’t be shy.
There are prayers whose music commands reflective listening, like in the larger choral works which sound like sacred mini-concerts; other moments congregational melodies beckon your responses and dialogue with the choir and Hazzan.
A second way to fully participate in the worship experience is to refer frequently to the Hebrew text or English translations and read aloud. You might then see and hear how a composer captures the tension, poetry, theater and drama of the text. The more you understand the mood of the prayer the more relevant the music becomes. Some moments it may sound like disturbing; at other moments- a supplication and lament. Our Mishnaic texts actually describe for us the goals of music, the choir, accompaniments and overall sacred purpose.
When we sing “El Melech Yoshev”, why is the music so regal, majestic and energetic while “Zacharti Lach” and “Haben Yakir Li”resonate compassion and tenderness? Why is “Hin’ni” personal, soulful and pleading? Why are “Unetaneh Tokef” and Uvashofar Gadol” so dramatic and theatrical? “Sh’ma Kolenu” begins as a powerful invocation and then diminishes to a supplication, almost like a vocal shofar blast!
Even our Shofar, an ancient and historical musical instrument calls us, disturbs us and pierces our ears and souls. Yet our shofar, too, brings joy and delight. Just witness the many shofarot we will use to conclude Neilah. If you have one, bring it with you at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
With a bit of preparation and participation, the music of this holy season will really come alive and speak on a deeper level. As a community we will together attempt, yet again, to create a mood unique to this season of the year.
It has been written that the music of the High Holydays “sings all year long.” May our worship this Yamim Norayim elevate and sanctify our lives.
I wish all of our extended congregational family a Shanah Tovah, a good year of health, blessing and peace. May we judge ourselves fairly and together be sealed in the Book of Life.
Shanah Tovah um’tukah ug’mar Chatimah tovah! A good and sweet New Year.
Hazzan David Silverstein