Tag Archives: music

17th Century Shabbat Service – Hello!!?  I live in the 21st Century!

By Cantor Peter Halpern & Nadine Broude

A Jewish Italian Renaissance composer who worked in the Court? Unlikely, right? Weren’t most composers of the 17th Century associated with and funded by the Church? Who was this guy? What relevance does he have to my Judaism, Temple Shalom, and how we pray today? And why should I attend such an unusual Shabbat service?

Join us on Friday evening, March 27 for a unique music opportunity, as Cantor Louise Treitman and the nine-voice ensemble “Il Concerto di Salamone Rossi Hebreo” transport our congregation to 17th century Italy, with inspiring liturgical settings of the sublime music of Salamone Rossi. This Italian rite synagogue service has been presented to great acclaim in the greater Boston area and as part of the Boston Jewish Music Festival.

We’re not familiar with many Jewish composers from the late Italian Renaissance. If you google Salomone Rossi, you’ll find he is a Renaissance Man, literally and figuratively. At the age of 17, already a singer and accomplished violinist, Salomone Rossi was appointed to Duke Vincenzo I’s court in Mantua, Italy. Rossi was so well respected that he was exempt from wearing the yellow badge, required of all Jews in Mantua. He soon became resident composer and leader of the Duke’s instrumental ensemble, where he created the trio sonata (two upper parts for instruments such as violins or trumpets and a bass part played by viol or cello). He also flourished in the composition of madrigals, setting texts from the great poets of the time to music. His “continuo madrigals” are thought by some to have defined the onset of the Baroque era in music. (For non-music people, read this as he was a trendsetter!)

Rabbi Leon Modena, who also served as cantor of the Italian Synagogue in Venice, felt it was time to move away from the non-instrumental “improvised drones and primitive harmonies” which had been used in synagogues since the Destruction of the Second Temple. Rossi and Modena worked together, addressing potential hostility from Christians who might feel the Jews were “stealing” their music, and from fellow Jews who resisted modernizing the music of the synagogue. Rossi’s collection of Jewish liturgical texts set to his music in the baroque style, השירים אשר לשלמה (Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo, The Songs of Solomon) was published in 1623. His music was enthusiastically received and gradually led to an enormous Renaissance of Jewish music which continues to this day. When cantors talk about the great Jewish liturgical composers, it is no wonder that Rossi is included with those such as Louis Lewandowski, Salmon Sulzer and Samuel Naumbourg.

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Music Is All Around

By Joanna Grill
Joanna is an active participant in our High School Youth programs, MA’ARIV, SHAFTY and NFTY-NE. This summer, Joanna was a participant in the URJ’s Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey. This post originally appeared on the UMC Blog.

On the Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) packing list, I was ecstatic when I saw that “musical instruments” was listed. When I play my guitar here at the Phi Sigma Sigma house, people will walk downstairs and gravitate towards the music in the living room, whether it is a pop song or a Jewish song. I find that the best feeling is to start playing guitar for a group of people, and to end the song with everyone singing along and smiling with me. I led sing-alongs with a large group downstairs, with just girls in the Girls’ Lounge on the third floor, with my three roommates, and with just the music master himself –our own Shawn Fogel. I stepped out of my comfort zone last week and tried song leading for the first Friday night Shabbat service of the session – and I loved it.

Joanna with Kayla, UMC 2014 Student Coordinator, at A Better World Market, one of Elijah’s Promise’s sites.
Joanna (right) at A Better World Market, one of Elijah’s Promise’s sites.
Music is all around. We sang along on the van ride to my job site and took turns “DJ-ing”. My job site, Elijah’s Promise, is a soup kitchen on the other side of New Brunswick. We work 3 days a week at Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen, one day at its pay-as-you-can-café, and one day at its market. We arrive at 10am and prepare food and clean the kitchen until 11am. Then, we serve lunch. As volunteers, we have the opportunity to look a person in the eye and directly hand them a meal that is potentially their only meal of the day. I used to avoid eye contact and judge homeless people on the street. Now, when I’m walking around New Brunswick, I see many of the people I have served. When I look into a client’s eyes and talk to them, I get a glimpse of his or her life. Often they tell jokes or make me laugh while I’m handing them food. Other times, they tell me how their days are going and ask me about myself. People often ask for more servings than what is allowed, and it’s a challenge to say no, once you begin to sympathize and hear their stories. The experience at Elijah’s is both eye-opening and humbling; I never used to think twice about where my next meal was coming from.

Today, all four volunteers from UMC got to serve in front. We met some hilarious clients and had a blast. Out of all the days I have spent here in New Brunswick, today was by far the best. After our lunch break, we made pickles and chopped up several different kinds of vegetables for a huge soup. Hey, remember when I said I loved music? It was a bit quiet today chopping, so I asked Chef Pam if we could bring in our speakers and plug my phone in. All of us from Mitzvah Corps had an incredibly fun sing along while making a tremendous amount of food. I spilled pickle juice down my shirt, but I was having too much fun at the soup kitchen to care. Chef Pam, who is filled with unbelievable spirit and energy, walked in and out of the room as we were chopping. Pam smiled and sang along with us. During one song, Pam jumped in the room, pulled me away from my cutting board and had me teach her the dance to the Cupid Shuffle. Meanwhile, we were chopping onions and were all in tears and having the time of our lives singing with each other. Chef Pam, a complete stranger to us at the beginning of the day, was brought closer to us through serving clients, preparing food, and especially through dancing to music.

Music has been my connection to all of the communities I have interacted with here at UMC, from the house, to my job site. Tonight, UMC participants are leading a service at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, a temple in New Brunswick. I will be standing with my guitar along with all my friends in front of the congregants, all complete strangers. But by the end of the night, I know that the beautiful songs that we will share will bring us together as a community.

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A Springsteen Spirituality

As a capstone to the vacation I took this past week, I got to see Bruce Springsteen in concert.  This was not my first Springsteen concert, and I’m hoping it won’t be my last.  It was an incredible rock concert.  I understand why people go back year after year after year.  And you know what is unquestionable in my mind: Springsteen fosters spirituality.

I came to this realization looking around at the crowd. Thousands of people, their arms outstretched, their eyes looking upward and toward the stage, singing out lyrics like “Come on up for the rising…” Since when do we have a crowd of people join together in song except in concerts and worship experiences? I was moved, and it was clear others were too.

The spiritual moment is not simply serendipitous; Springsteen ushers it along. Watching him perform on the stage, what he does to conjure up this feeling of collective effervescence is purposeful. Throughout the concert he made references to to it being a revival, inviting us to join in song together, even closing his eyes as he invited the crowd to sing out on its own, letting the waves of communal singing wash over him, just as he’d been taking his music and sending it toward us. I’m not a Springsteen expert, but from what little I know about his bio, from his lyrics, as well as shown by the small crucifix earring he wears, I would guess that the experience at one of his concerts is spiritual for him as well.

All of this leads me to wonder, at what point did the majesty of music shift from congregational halls to concert venues? When did art leave the purview of the religious and move into the realm of the secular? In truth, that’s not a fair question, because art really hasn’t left religious life. It isn’t so black and white. Those in the religious community have continued to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and borrow from traditions that emerged in the secular realm. And, listening carefully to rock ‘n roll, we will hear gospel tunes and spirituals.  A mutual relationship has remained, even if in our minds we draw further delineation between the religious and secular art worlds.

Taking a page from the visual arts, I’ve often thought that modern painting really picked up where Baroque artists left off. In my mind some of the best paintings of religious images, by artists like Caravaggio, connect with art as wild as a Miro or Pollock. Any time an artist picks up his brush, or strums a chord, he is tapping back into that tradition that uses personal expression for potential spiritual expression, no matter the religious or secular language in which the artist cloaks his work.  That’s the mutuality that I am talking about.

Springsteen knows he’s doing this, as well as any artist. It’s intentional, and it’s even in the marketing. Yesterday, I drove past a T-car with banners for the concert I was at. The taglines on the banners used religious language, “Take the T to the Promised Land.”  Tell me what that’s really about? Springsteen is fostering a spiritual experience for his concertgoers, and he does a masterful job at it.

I see this as a good thing, it pleases me to experience Springsteen in the spiritual realm.  It’s a nice challenge to those of us who strive to access something spiritual in our religious communities. The concert was a great reminder that it’s great when that spiritual encounter happens in one place in particular, like during a worship experience, but that we also need to be open to the spiritual everywhere.

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