Friday, August 18, 2006

"Musical license,"* or the case of the misplaced comma--A different way of listening to words

(*Well, if poets have poetic license, then what do songwriters have?)
I apologize to those of my readers who do not davven (pray) in accordance with Nusach Ashkenaz (the explanation is toward the middle of this page), but, particularly in this case, I can discuss only what I know reasonably well.
So, if you'll turn in your siddur (prayerbook) to Mi Chamocha in the Shacharit/Morning Service, I'm going to ask you not only to read the words but also to listen to them--that is, to the manner in which they're often sung in accordance with Nusach Ashkenaz.
"Shirah chadasha shibchu g'ulim |
l'shimcha al s'fat hayam . . ."
I know two different tunes for that quote, and both of them "break" in the same place.
Do you notice anything interesting about that "break?"
Try reading the same passage in translation:
"With a new song the redeemed praised |
Your name at the shore of the sea."
Yes, that's my own dubious translation, but it gets the point across: There's a "break" before the word(s--one word in Hebrew) "Your name."
Why? Does it make any sense in terms of the meaning of the words to put a "break" at that point?
Example number two:
Open your siddur to K'riat HaTorah, the Torah-Reading Service.
This quote (Eicha/The Book of Lamentation, chapter 5, verse 21) is the last thing that we sing at the end of this service before the Aron Kodesh/Holy "Ark" (in which the Torah scrolls are stored) is closed:
"Hashiveinu AdoShem |
eilecha v'nashuvah"
Three of the tunes that I know for that passage in the Torah Service "break" in that same place.
Again, read the same passage in translation:
"Turn us, HaShem |
to You and let us return" (Birnbaum Siddur's translation, more or less.)
As with a p'sik | in a Torah reading, you have to stop there in the song.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Here are two more examples, this time from Jewish rock music.
One is from the song "Modeh Ani," from Shlock Rock's Shirei Boker/Songs of the Morning CD. (I'd give credit to the composer, but there's no indication thereof on any of Shlock Rock's songs--I guess the group considers everything a collaborative effort.)
The other is also from the song "Modeh Ani," but from the version composed by Izzy Botnick, lead guitarist of the no-longer-extant band Kabbalah. The two bands have absolutely nothing in common, aside from having been known to share a bass player. :) (Scrolling from the bottom up, check out videos #1, 4, and 5. Then enjoy the rest. :) )
The prayer "Modeh Ani" is the first prayer recited upon awakening in the morning, and is not part of the Shacharit/Morning Service, so it can be found, in those siddurim in which it's included, right at the very beginning of the prayerbook.
Again, both of the above versions of "Modeh Ani" "break" in the same place:
Shehechezarta bi nishmati |
b'chemlah rabah emunatecha
"Who has restored my soul within me |
in pity great is His faithfulness"
What do any of the aforementioned "breaks" have to do with the meaning of the words?
Absolutely nothing.
(Have I mentioned, lately, that I have a Bachelor of Arts in French?)
But, on the other hand, all of those "breaks" fit the music perfectly.
Here's my theory: Songwriters don't listen to words in the same way that "language people" do.
"Language people" listen for meaning.
Songwriters listen for sound.
Winner and still champion: Aron Razel's "Shir HaMaalot" (listed and sold here as "We were joyful"). Truth to tell, I wasn't expecting this from a native speaker of Hebrew, so his song proves my point even more than do the liturgical songs that I mentioned above, which probably originated in Eastern or Central Europe, and even more than those two rock songs, both of which were written by Americans (to the best of my knowledge). This meshugeh/mad music mavin (expert) "breaks" not between phrases, but right smack in the middle of words! Repeatedly! He breaks the rules of not only this "language person," but also of this ex-choir singer!
And it works! His Shir HaMaalot is an absolutely wonderful song, even though, with the "breaks" in such crazy places, I'm still trying to learn it six months after having seen Aron Razel in live performance and bought the CD.
So this is my advice to "language people" (English and foreign-language majors and minors and degree-holders) and to choir singers: Put aside your preconceptions, and just enjoy!

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Blogger Elie said...

I like your examples of tunes that break up words of davening in the wrong place. Another good example is from A'nim Zemirot: The phrase "chavash kova yeshua b'rosho" which means something like "he wears a helmet of victory on his head". Yeshua (victory/salvation) here is thus an adjective modifying kova (hat/helmet). But every tune I've ever heard for A'nim Zemirot breaks the phrase up as "chavash kova, yeshua b'rosho" which would mean something like "he wears a hat... victory on his head!" Gee, maybe this is where the black hat community finds its source? :-)

Anyway, your post explains exactly why I (sometimes) enjoy chazzanut outside of shul, but never during davening! When I daven, I want to feel like I am talking to God. Any tune used by the chazzan should enhance the words, not render them meaningless sounds. One of the worst offenders, and my all-time pet peeve, is any tune that involves repeating words.

Fri Aug 18, 09:56:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Hmm, yes, I've had the same insight when dealing with my hubby (a neo-classical composer).

I love music, loev reading, have all my life, and remember the words to most songs I sing - I prefer folk music, often because I connect to the words so strongly.

He loves music, has all his life, but can't for the life of him remember the words to anything but nursery tunes!! (well, he does ok with the Erev Shabbat songs, but he's always got the siddur open, so who knows).

It's become something of a standing joke with us, knowing how easy it is for him to infuriate me by just making up new words as he sings... ;-)

Fri Aug 18, 12:55:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, you may be amused to know that I learned Anim Z'mirot not in my parents' Conservative synagogue, but in the dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue to which we used to belong (and where we met). I've rarely heard it sung since we left that shul. And yes, I remember the "break" at the place that you mentioned. Truth to tell, I never paid much attention to the meaning of the words of that song because it was hard enough for me to *pronounce* them--*understanding* them was (and probably still is, for the most part) beyond my capabilities.

Re chazzanut, I don't mind the occasional "repeat" in a *congregational* tune, but the chazzan who repeats the same word a dozen times in some fancy chazzanut "show-off" mode ought to be removed from the bimah. If they wanna sing opera, let 'em go sing at to the Met. I have a few complaints about cantors, myself.

Tzipporah, that's a hoot! :)

My own husband can probably sing the words to every Elvis Presley song he ever heard, and "musical puns" are his specialty--he'll just keep humming something until I remember the words well enough to figure out the connection between the song that he's humming and whatever we're talking about at the moment. (His Jewish favorite is humming "Tov L'hodot LaShem" as he heads out to Tov Glatt Kosher Caterer.) But boy, does he get grief from me about the way he leads Mincha on Shabbat afternoon. "What do you mean, 'v'techezena eineinu b'shuvcha, . . . l'Tzion b'rachamin?' (Rough translation: Let our eyes see your return,. . . to Zion in mercy.) '*Obviously.* the word "b'shuvcha" (Your return) belongs with the word "l'Tzion (to Zion)!" Don't you ever listen to what you're saying?'" Grumble, grumble, ketch and mumble. It's the same story every time. Sigh.

Fri Aug 18, 05:15:00 PM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

When I started saying Kaddish this year, I started with an Ashkenaz minyan, and I said the last line like this:

Hu yaaseh shalom |
Aleinu Veal kol yisrael |
Veimru Amen.

When I came back to Milwaukee, we were saying nusach sfard, and I noticed that nobody was saying it like me. So I switched to this:

Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu |
Veal kol yisrael veimru amain

The difference is whether he will "make peace, on us and all israel"

vs "make peace on us, and all israel"

So does that make a difference?

Fri Aug 18, 07:06:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some...TIMES...the breaks...come at.......




Fri Aug 18, 07:07:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark/PT, indeed, it does seem that Kaddish comes with a fork in the road, at that point. It hadn't occurred to me that the Carlebach tune follows Nusach Sfard.

Mr. . . . Shatner, how nice of, um, you to . . . drop by. :)

Speaking both of "breaks" in interesting places and of Nusach Sfard, this is one of the few other songs that I know in Nusach Sfard. I try not to "hear" it in my head while I'm davvening because, since I davven in Nusach Ashkenaz, and Nusach Sfard seems to be notorious for adding extra words, it mixes me up no end. Hmm, can't imagine where I learned this. :)

Ki Kel poel |
y'shuot Atah
u-vanu varchata mikol am l'lashon
V'keiravtanu, malkeinu, l'shimcha hagol |
selah be-emet, b'ahavah,
l'hodot l'cha, u-l'yached'cha |
b'ahavah, u-l'ahava |
et sh'mecha

Say WHAT?!

But it sure is fun to sing along with.


Sun Aug 20, 02:06:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Okay, now I'll behave myself and bring the rest of you in on the inside joke. For those of you who *didn't* write that tune :), here's the translation, straight out of my handy dandy ArtScroll Nusach Sfard pocket prayerbook (siddur), which I purchased for the purpose of being able to check out variations in wording between Nusach Ashkenaz and Nusach Sfard prayers. It's proven quite handy for tracking down some of the words to Mark's songs.

Hmm, on second thought, I may have to fiddle with the word order to get it closer to the Hebrew, so that you get the "flavor."

For G-d who effects |
salvations are You
You have chosen us from from every people and tongue
And You have brought us closer, our King, to Your great name |
selah, in truth, with love, to thank you, to proclaim your Oneness |
with love, and to love |
Your name

Hear here.

Sun Aug 20, 02:41:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark, you get the last laugh--it didn't even register with me that I'd automatically converted your Hebrew pronunciation from Ashkenazi into Sefardi until I listened to that song again just now!

Sun Aug 20, 03:04:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are my 2 cents if you will. As an Ashkenaz davener I've sung the tunes all my life -though i am pretty well versed in tunes from all over the place - and so often, as in Lecha Dodi on a friday night, one will pick a tune, any tune, and just slap the words into it - whether they fit or not - but almost always it works! or kedusha during the chazans repetition - or how about Shir Hamaalos before benching - pick a tune any tune - the real case in point would be Aishes Chayil - there is the standard tune (as played on my album "South Side Of The Synagogue") and then there is the Carlebach tune - and as in the case of most Carlebach tunes they just take the tune and put words, any words to it, whether it works or not. And that Eishes Chayil of Carlebachs never works - phrasing or trasnlation - nothing fits - and so many sing it every friday night. The fact is most of the people applying the tunes dont even know the translation of what they are saying. I think it's more about getting the congregation involved than the meaning.

As a musician, and rapper in particular, I've had to place words in various phrasing and spacing to make them fit the music. The sentence structure might be incorrect but as a song it works, because its a given that you can do that so the words fit the music. As for the meaning of the words - I think davening was meant to be in Hebrew and therefore to translate it into English might be doing a diservice to the Hebrew words as they may not follow the same rules and English grammar. I would say ask someone very fluent in Hebrew, and without translating into English find out if it works.

Personally, I'm not sure that G-d really cares - He just likes hearing Jews pray and sing together - He gets the idea!

Btw - i HATE cantorial stuff - especially those long drawn out word repetition so the chazan can make his salary - its a dead genre and shoul ismply fade away - the only people that generally like it is older people. It drives me crazy and i have to walk out for a shul when a chazan goes on his vocal rampage!!!!

Mon Aug 21, 03:30:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Etan, that's pretty much the approach I'm trying to take now--just enjoy the music, even if the words do end up in the wrong places. I have to think of lyrics as a different way of using language--it's more playful, less literal. As you said, Jews praying and singing together is the important thing.

As for chazzanut, oy. At 57, I'm one of the youngest members of my local synagogue, so, of course, we *always* hire a High Holiday cantor whose singing style I don't like. (Majority rules, especially when they have the big bucks. Sigh.) I get my choice of big-time chazzanut with the fourteen repititions of the same word, and/or Broadway tunes in the middle of the Musaf Kedusha. Don't ask. And then, of course, our "regular" cantor, who suffers from delusions, of operatic talent, tries to do the same. Give me nusach, *please!*

Mon Aug 21, 07:45:00 AM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm with Eitan on that last point. I actually did walk out of shul one year on Yom Kippur when the chazzen droned on an on for 30 minutes on a prayer called "raza deshabos" which wasn't even in my machzor. I have never been back to that shul for the high holy days since.

Mon Aug 21, 02:17:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark/PT, thirty minutes?! I don’t know how literally you meant that, but it sounds like some kind of a record. To be precise, it sounds like a *broken* record. :) Oy. I’ll take plain nusach (traditional tunes that the average non-professional baal tefillah [prayer leader] can sing) any time!

Etan, it occurs to me that you’ve pretty much “nailed” what I meant by “musical license”: “The sentence structure might be incorrect but as a song it works, because it's a given that you can do that so the words fit the music.” Thanks for the definition.

Tue Aug 22, 07:39:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Um, lishma, that was an interesting so-called comment, but please do me a favor: The next time you want to publish a guest post on my blog, kindly ask my permission first.

Equally important is the fact that the article is copyrighted. This puts me in an awkward position: Did you have the right to copy this, and do I have the right to keep this on my blog without the permission of Ruby Harris? Next time, kindly *think* before you copy and paste.

Tue Aug 22, 11:56:00 PM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Actually 30 minutes may be an UNDERestimate. Like I said, I moved to the shteeble after that.

BTW lishma, although he is unschooled in blog etiquette, is intimately familiar with Ruby Harris.

Lishma, you need to make comments about the post at hand, not cut and paste a rant in the comments.

Wed Aug 23, 06:45:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark/PT, thanks for "unhijacking" my post.

If memory serves me correctly, you and Mrs. Balabusta and the Punster and I have one thing in common, and that's "his and hers" synagogues. Oy. And yes, one of the advantages of davvening (praying) with a chavurah (layperson-led prayer group), as I do most of the time now, is that there's never any chazzanut (cantorial music of the operatic style). (Of course, there's never any guarantee that the baal(at) tefillah (prayer leader) will sing on key, either, but I'd rather take my chances on that than on having to endure an aria in the middle of Musaf.)

Thu Aug 24, 06:49:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I must have received Rubys article in my inbox many many times. The first time I skimmed it and noticed that it basically had a Ruby-centric vibe, as he was a part of and involved with Diaspora. There are a couple points that need to be made. Rock and Roll in the secular world, in the incarnation that the article is refering to didn't really kick in until the mid-late 60's - electric guitar and a bit more "umph" if you will. And as with anything in the secular world it takes a bit of time for the Jews to assimilate it. (as a bit of trivia - if you watch the Woodstock documentary you can see a young Avraham Rosenblum a couple times in the clips of people walking along the road that got people to Woodstock - the story goes that after some kind of "bad trip" Avraham had to be taken to the hospital. It was there a Rabbi, who I know here in LA, came to visit Avraham who shortly thereafter made the choice to become more observant - that would be the seed of Diaspora - someone secular, taking their knowledge of the secular world and applying it to the new and improved Judaism they've acquired (Matisyahu might also be another example of this)

I would also point out that for as long as I know, no Jewish parents have pushed their kids to be musicians - doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, rabbis, businessmen - yes - but not musicians (unless someone had truly prodigy talent - yitchak pearlman??) and therefore, even when there were Jews making music at the time with acoustic guitars they never really honed in on the energy of an electric guitar (as most of the music was hippie-esque and hippie influenced at the time) plus I'm sure the technology for amps etc. werent readily available either. And so once the secular world had Led Zeppelin et. al you coulda put money down that some Jewish band, influenced by such bands, would emerge. And the way such a band could emerge is with members who were a part of the secular world to have that built in knowldge - not the local yeshiva boy who spends most of his time learning.

It would be a natural progression. But for Ruby to leave out the band Kesher (early 80's) and its impact on Jewish music is simply wrong, along with so many others. While Kesher came out later than Diaspora, it is my opinion, that their impact (Kesher) was profound. Could Kesher have existed without Diaspora - who cares - its all a natural progression. Should I say that any Jewish rappers exist becasue of me. There were no others before me so I must be the pinnacle of Jewish rap - puh-lease!!! Additionally, it seems that Ruby's article simply focuses on the bands with the same vibe and same sound - bands from his circles essentially or for that genre of music - it really doesnt explore or stray much from that - even the opening statement says it all "Matisyahu, Blue Fringe, Klezmatics, Moshav Band, and Soul Farm all have in common?" They are all Jam bands with a Jammy style of music. First came Soul Farm whose lead singer is the son of a Diaspora member. The Moshav band whose lead singer is brother of soul farms lead singer and son of that same diaspora member (and most of whose band members were either Shlomo Carlebach influenced or lived on the Moshav in Israel. Blue Fringe was influenced by Soul Farm. The Klezmatics have no place in this discussion as its neither rock nor roll. It is European German music based on old polkas from the ghetto - its ghetto music, that once again, Jews assimilated. And Matisyahu, well, once again a Baal Teshuvah who took his love of secular jam bands - The Grateful Dead and Fish - notably - as well as reggae and merged them. Rubys article doesnt stray outside that genre.

It shoudl be made clear that i LOVE Soul Farm, Moshav and of course Diaspora. I am very close with the members of the band and respect what they do. I also have much love and respect for Avraham Rosenblum and all those cats. However, Rubys article, as misplaced as it is in this blog, has irritated my very being since it first hit my inbox - now it is posted in a forum where I can vent a bit about it. Ahhh, I feel better now.

I always wonder why my posts are so much longer than everyone elses - is it that i cant get to the point or is it that I just have way to much to say. Whatever the case I simply have a larger view of music, "Jewish" music in particular and just a passionate love for "Jewish music because it can be used for such great things and I've such things firsthand. So to narrow it down to the music that just your friends make that all come from the same background or the same "hood" is just narrow minded at best. To say Diaspora did it all, is wrong - they did nothing other than take what was in the secular world - like Klezmer, and give it some Jewish words and rock grooves - which is not innovative - its simply whats been done in Jewish music for so long - and who cares! First came Diaspora - eewwwww!!!! wow! so what - you dont think had Diaspora not come on board some other band wouldnt have popped up.

As a Jewish rapper - who was my influence - not Diaspora - my love for Judaism and Jewish music would definitely have Diapora in the list but - oh, well, he's refering to Jewish Rock and Roll - then Matiyahu has nothing to do with it cuz hes reggae. When did Piamenta come on the scene? Its just Ruby tooting his own horn and i hate when people do that because its usually to the exclusion of other valuable assets to a particualr point. It is simply uneducated.

I'm crashin' I think I'll pop in my old Stanley Miller, Ruach or Eli Kranzler LP - nah I think I'll pull out Led Zeppelin 4 and listen to where it all started!

PS - I cant stand Klezmer - just a personal preference.

Sun Aug 27, 02:21:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Etan, I must admit I have problems with some musicians' websites doing a bit too much "tooting their own horns" for my personal taste. Granted, musicians are public performers trying to make a living, so a reasonable amount of hyperbole, positive reviews, and/or fan mail is to be expected in the interest of publicity. But, in my opinion, a modicum of tznuit (modesty) is not unreasonable—personally, I think it’s better if the “advertising” part of the website is not necessary one of the most prominent parts.

I gotta admit, though, that when you started talking about Kesher, I almost fell off my chair. Man oh Manishevitz, this bass player certainly does get around. :)

Sun Aug 27, 10:38:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sigh--this is obviously not my night for links. Let me try this again:

Is there a bass player in the house?

Sun Aug 27, 10:45:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

As I was saying before a few Internet malfunctions so rudely interrupted me, here's the bass player and band in question.

Mon Aug 28, 12:03:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Mon Aug 28, 07:44:00 AM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Just to insert a bit of irony into this discussion, the first song I performed when I joined Kesher, and this was at a huge concert at Brooklyn College, was Diaspora's Hafachta.

Tue Aug 29, 11:27:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark/PT, that certainly is ironic.

Tue Aug 29, 09:26:00 PM 2006  

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