Saturday, September 15, 2007

RH: A day at the opera (etc.)

One thing about our current High Holiday cantor is predictable: He's bound to get me upset sooner or later.

Make it sooner: What, exactly, was his point in singing the first brachah (blessing) of Kiddush (the sanctification of a Sabbath or holiday over wine or grape juice [or anything but water]) to one of the tunes for the Sabbath song "Yedid Nefesh?" Neither day of Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat this year.

But, of course, the high point--or low point--of the holiday, musically speaking, is alway Musaf (the "additional" service commemorating the Temple sacrifices).

The High Holiday cantor started out, in "Hineni" ("Here I Am," the "Reader's Meditation"), with the line "Kol tzarot" sung to the Sabbath song "Shalom Aleichem." Huh???

He always really goes to town, though, on "Adam Yesodo (A human comes from dust. . .)" and Kedushah.

First, there were the usual Broadway tunes. But the "high point" of Kedushah was the cantor's apparent tribute to the recently-deceased Luciano Pavarotti: "Hu Kelokeinu, Hu avinu, Hu malkeinu, hu moshieinu (He is our G-d, He is our father, He is our king, He is our savior)" . . . to the tune of, would you believe, "La Donna é Mobile (Woman is Fickle, " from the Giuseppe Verdi opera "Rigoletto")?!!!

Then there's his usual irritating habit of singing "Va-anachnu kor'm (We bow . . .)" to the tune of the old Israeli folk song "Erev Ba" ("Evening is Coming"). That's harmless enough, I suppose, and at least it's Israeli, but what does evening coming have to do with prostrating ourselves and giving thanks to the King of the King of Kings? (Historical note: I've heard that the king of ancient Persia was known as the King of Kings, so, of course, G-d had to be the King of the King of Kings.)

The pièce de résistance, though, was the post-shofar-blowing hymn, "Hayom harat olam (Today is the birthday of the world)" sung to--are you sitting down?--"Cielito Lindo" ("Beautiful Little Sky [Heaven?])."

Attempted translation of the prayer:

Today is the birthday of the world; today all creatures of the earth stand in judgment, whether as children or as servants. If as children, have compassion upon us, as a father has compassion on his children . . ."

Attempted translation of the Spanish song:

From the brown mountain, Beautiful Little Sky [Heaven?], come down
One pair of little black eyes, Beautiful Little Sky, of contraband.
Aye, aye, aye , aye, sing and don't cry
Because singing makes happy, Beautiful Little Sky, the hearts.

(A bit too literal, perhaps, but you get the idea.)

To make a long story mercifully short, not only did I and my girlfriend in the seat to my right go on strike and refuse to sing, but, possibly for the first time, the High Holiday cantor managed to offend one of the congregants who's subsidizing his pay!

The High Holiday cantor's operating principle--and the synagogue president agrees with him--is to get people singing along at any price. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the cantor encourages the president to join him at the amud (reading stand from which services are lead) and lead some of the singing himself.

But some of us are not, or are no longer, amused. Suffice it to say that, if he didn't have another year on his contract, he'd be out o' here.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh is this funny! I thank G-d again that I live in a place where those who daven specifically sing tunes that everyone knows and can sing along to.

Mon Sep 17, 11:25:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Lucky you! At least where *you* davven, the "tunes that everyone knows and can sing along to" are appropriate to the spirit of the prayers!

Mon Sep 17, 12:26:00 PM 2007  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

"Honk Honk!" - Harpo

Mon Sep 17, 02:36:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I second that opinion. This cantor will sing *any* tune to *any* song, with no regard for meaning or context. We might as well be honking.

Mon Sep 17, 04:55:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Received via e-mail from Noam:

"Great. Now I can read your blog, but comments are blocked. Regarding tunes, there is a (as usual) great debate in the Ortho community about using non-religious tunes for tefilla. Rabbi Henkin as usual got it right. He said that there isn't a problem with using pop tunes, but they have to be appropriate for the subject matter. He used the example of tefillat tal, where one of the verses refers to many martyrs over the years. Unfortunately, many use an up beat peppy tune for this, and Rav Henkin points out the total inappropriateness. That being said, I prefer traditional tunes, and didn't much appreciate the Hazzan's use a few years ago during kedusha on Yom Kippur of 'in the arms of the angels'(?) by I think Sarah Mclaughlin. Although slow and emotional, it didn't do much for me."

Tue Sep 18, 10:47:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Noam, according to previous HH posts of mine, in past years, the HH chazzan has sung "erev va-voker" ("evening and morning") in the Musaf Kedushah to the tune "Sunrise, Sunset." I can more or less deal with that, since the English words come within hailing range of the Hebrew words. And my husband tells me that this is not the first year that the cantor has used the music from the Black spiritual "Rise and Shine" for a quote (from the Zichronot section, I think) about Noah and the Ark that actually made sense, the lyrics being as follows:

"The L-rd said to Noah, there's gonna be a floody, floody
L-rd said to Noah, there's gonna be a floody, floody
Get your children [pause or clap] out of the muddy muddy!
Children of the L-rd"

Still, I agree with you on this: I'm more comfortable with traditional Jewish liturgical music. I guess I'm just a nut for nusach. :)

Tue Sep 18, 11:13:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We got Hayom Harat Olam to Shalom Aleichem, I seem to remember. It was not a good idea.

Wed Sep 19, 11:46:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sigh. Why all these Sabbath tunes on Rosh Hashanah? Doesn't anyone bother with good old-fashioned nusach anymore?

Thu Sep 20, 04:16:00 PM 2007  

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