The Ba’al T’file’s Blog

# 2 June/July, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by Yosl (Joe) Kurland

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Shabbos Morning Music
and music for Erev Shabbos

One of my chazzanic mentors taught me that a service typically contains three types of prayer music: nusakh, song, and chazzanic interpretive singing. Let me start with the most familiar - song. What distinguishes song is it's metrical rhythm, and it's melody is repeated, making it easy to remember. The text is often poetry and printed in such a way in the siddur as to make it easy to see where the lines break. Familiar examples of song in the Shabbos morning service are Eyl Odon, Eyts Khayim Hi, and Adon Olom. Chazzanic interpretive singing is not as common on a Shabbos morning, but many people are familiar with such pieces from the High Holy Days, as Kol Nidre and the Chazzan's Prayer, Hineni. The third kind, perhaps the most difficult to explain, but the most common music for traditional prayer, is nusakh, traditional Jewish prayer chanting. It is, however, possible to apply any of these three types to a given text.

There is one point I consider extremely important when making musical choices -- to make sure the music serves the text -- enhancing the meaning of the words rather than letting the words be mere syllables accompanying the music as I have heard in too many synagogues. If you don't know Hebrew very well, the way to avoid this trap is to familiarize yourself with an accurate English translation of the text, and to pay attention to phrasing as indicated by the punctuation.

There are various nuskhoyes, that's the plural of nusakh, that are used in various parts of the service and in various services depending on time of day and whether it is Shabbos, weekday or holiday. The structure of nusakh is such that it stretches and contracts to fit the words of a prayer, and it is particularly suited to prayers whose sentences are not metrical poetry. . Each nusakh uses a musical mode, or scale, some of which are familiar in Western music, and some which may feel more "Jewish" or exotic. While there are nuskhoyes that are considered "standard," there are actually variants from different regions of the old country or that have evolved in the singing of different ba'al tfiles. I have collected nusakh from a variety of singers and try to use the variants most pleasing to my ear.

Traditional Shabbos morning nusakh begins in a minor key similar to the chant of the Torah blessings. Here are two examples of the morning blessings as I have learned them from different teachers:

Birkas Hashakhar #1

Birkas Hashakhar #2

At Shokheyn Ad it remains in minor key, but the melodic structure changes. This is the nusakh that I learned as a child:

Shokheyn Ad - Shabbos morning nusakh

Joe's Shokheyn Ad
Rabbi Bob uses a different variant of this nusakh and I will insert a recording of it when we are able to get it made.

Rabbi Bob's Shokheyn Ad will be added here when sound file is available.

To chant a prayer using nusakh, we put the chant together with building blocks. There are blocks for beginning a phrase, for the middle and for the close.

The Amida begins with a mode called Adonoy Molokh which is a major scale with a flattened seventh. However, many singers do not go that high in the scale so it becomes indistinguishable from a major scale.

Shortly after, the nusakh changes, using a mode called Ahavah Rabbah or Freygish, similar to the ancient Greek Phrygian mode. It is similar to a major scale with a flatted second, and sounds like this:
Freygish scale

Freygish or Ahavah Rabah Scale

Now, all of the foregoing was meant as an introduction to the topic I wanted to talk about today: the Kedusha, which appears in the reader's repetition of the Amida. The central points of the Kedusha are the words sung by choruses of angels in the visions of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, and we try to recreate those choruses when we chant the Kedusha. The congregation chants each paragraph with the ba'al tfile repeating it. It doesn't really matter if everyone sings the same notes or even in the same time. As long as they're all singing in the same mode it has a kind of chaotic unity.

This is what one line of the kedusha sounds like in the freygish mode.

kodosh, kodosh, kodosh in freygish nusakh

When the ba'al tfile repeats the paragraph, I think of it as gathering up all of the congregations voices and focusing it in a single voice. I like it when the congregation holds out the last note as long as they can while I start singing the repetition and I hold onto the last note while the congregation begins the next line.

The Kedusho offers an opportunity for all three kinds of prayer music: nusakh, chazzanic interpretation and song. During the most recent Shabbosim when it came to my repetition of the paragraph beginning with Malkhus'kho, I sang a composition I learned from a recording by Cantor Mordecai Hershman in the 1930's or 40's. Although his composition continues to "tsidkekho", I switched before the end of the paragraph to a familiar song melody at "v'eyneynu sireno," the melody many people know for Sholom Aleykhem on Friday nights, so that everyone could sing along. After that we return to alternating chanting in nusakh till the end of the Kedusha. When everyone joins in with their full voices, the effect is truly uplifting.

Looking Ahead - Erev Shabbos Music

In July I sang at Erev Shabbos services in Athol, Friday night, rather than Saturday morning and introduced new music I wrote for Hashkiveynu.

The text suggests a lullabye to me so the music I composed for it takes the style of a Yiddish lullabye. The music has a metric structure, but in order to fit the words, I would either need to repeat some words or phrases, or add some of my own. I decided to add some Yiddish phrases. Yiddish is a very intimate language for communicating with God, and has been inserted into numerous Hebrew prayers and zmiros, especially by Chassidic composers and Chazonim. The intention here is to create a peaceful, dreamy, protected feeling for erev Shabbos as we prepare for the Amidah. I wrote this Hashkiveynu in honor of the wedding of dear friends, Rita and Jeff, and introduced it at an erev Shabbos service at Temple Israel in Greenfield for a Sheva Brokhos (Seven Blessings) celebration for them last November.

There is a chorus that I'd like everyone to sing along on. Here is a recording of my new Hashkiveynu.

Hashkiveynu for Shabbos

I'm putting the transliteration and translation of my Hashkiveynu below so that you can follow along and see what the Yiddish additions are.

HASHKIVEYNU FOR SHABBOS music ©2009 by Yosl Kurland

Hashkiveynu lsholom, (3x)
vha-amideynu lkhayim.

Hashkiveynu Adonoy Eloheynu lsholom,
vha-amideynu malkeynu lkhayim.
ufros oleynu sukas shlomekho,
tate zise zingzhe aylyulyu
vsakneynu beytso tovo milfonekho
vhoshieynu l ma-an shmekho.

Hashkiveynu lsholom...

Vhogeyn ba-adeynu vhoseyr meyoleynu
oyeyv dever vkherev vro-ov vyogon.
Vhoseyr soton milfoneynu,
oy vey umeyakhareynu

Hashkiveynu lsholom...

Uvtseyl knofekho tastireynu
ki eyl shomreynu umatsileynu oto.
Ki eyl melekh khanun vrakhum
oy tayerer tate ziser oto.

Ushmor tseyseynu uvoeynu
lkhayim ulsholom meyato vad olom,
ufros oleynu sukas shlomekho
immirtseshem zol take sholem zayn.

Hashkiveynu lsholom...

Chorus: Cause us to lie down in peace,
and cause us to rise up to life.

Cause us Adonoy to lie down in peace
and cause us to rise up, our king, to life,
and spread over us your shelter of peace.
Sweet father, sing a lullabye.
guide us with your good counsel,
and save us for the sake of your name.


And shield us and remove from us
enemy, pestilence, sword, famine and grief.
And remove the evil inclination from in front of us
and, oy vey, from behind us.


And shelter us in the shadow of your wings
for you are our protecting and saving God,
for a gracious and compassionate God and king,
oy dear sweet father, you are.

And guard our going out and our coming in,
for life and for peace now and forever.
And spread over us your shelter of peace,
God willing, there should really be peace.


Please note: Bold Italic indicates Yiddish additions to the traditional text by Yosl Kurland

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Yosl (Joe) Kurland leads services at Temple Israel in Athol as well as at Temple Israel in Greenfield every Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. He also often leads part of the service at Shabbatons at both Temples.. He is the lead singer with the Wholesale Klezmer Band, and prints ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) for his wife, Calligrapher Peggy Davis. You may learn more about their work at their website, which is

Other issues of the Ba'al T'file's Blog:

# 1 April-May, 2010: Why I became a ba'al t'file

#3 a Badkhan's Blog and Music for the High Holy Days