Culture, Religion

Can you marry Yossele Rosenblatt and Debbie Friedman?

The New Jersey Jewish News reports on trends in Hazzanut — and particularly, the tension between the desire to preserve old cantorial traditions (strongest at the Jewish Theological Seminary) and to engage American worshipers with American tunes (e.g. Shlomo Carlebach, Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper et. al.).

This is pretty much old news, but one interesting tidbit describes the efforts of Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion “Jack” Mendelson of Temple Israel Center in White
Plains, NY (and the subject of the 2004 documentary film A Cantor’s Tale) to merge the old and the new:

At the Conservative movement’s Cantors Assembly convention — held this month at the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson, NY — he led a session designed to show how to fuse the new and the old.

He led about 50 cantors through the beginning of the familiar “Shalom Rav” melody composed in the ’70s by Jeff Klepper and Dan Freelander. The cantors looked at the music and, under Mendelson’s direction, began to sing.

But right in the middle, Mendelson had inserted a riff he had written that came straight from the golden age of hazanut. It segued perfectly back to the Klepper/Freelander melody.

“This is something you can do in your congregations,” he told his colleagues. “Live with it, use it, enjoy it. But at the same time, envelop it in nusah — let it live within the tradition of our people.”

As a community, we at Jewschool are more likely to daven to Automatic For the People than to old-style nusach. Or are we? Surely there’s something worth rediscovering and renewing in the traditional melodies, isn’t there?

7 thoughts on “Can you marry Yossele Rosenblatt and Debbie Friedman?

  1. As a community, we at Jewschool are more likely to daven to Automatic For the People than to old-style nusach.
    Let’s not conflate nusach with chazzanut.

  2. “As a community, we at Jewschool are more likely to daven to Automatic For the People than to old-style nusach.”
    Let’s not conflate Jewschoolers with hipsters.

  3. I for one am a big fan of classical nusach, and of hard-core chazzanut. Think there’s a way someone can comp me tickets to Park East slichot – I promise I’ll write a review

  4. Chazzanut isn’t “traditional” – it started when shuls became rich and big and not just anybody could be a chazan anymore.

  5. Let’s not conflate Jewschoolers with hipsters.
    Let’s not indeed. Hipsters might be into old-school chazzanut in an ironic kitsch sort of way, whereas I just say that the emperor has no clothes. (And if you read up on the Automatic for the People Kabbalat Shabbat, you’ll see that it’s the opposite of hipster irony.)
    Longer response to the article coming later.

  6. I’m confused. Is there no middle ground between the more complex intricacies of chazzanut and simpler melodies? Why must we have one or the other?
    A diet of bread and water is as unhealthy as one of heavy sauces, but I daresay that no one would choose one or the other – moderation and blending would be the healthiest way to go.
    And with all due respect, chazzanut is not limited to the rich any more than than a finely drawn and delivered devar Torah is limited to the upper classes. They both depend on knowledge, education, preparation and the ability to deliver the same. Just as we cannot all be a Rabbi David Saperstein with the ability to deliver a moving, stirring sermon (but this does not stop us from teaching with passion), not being able to vocally explicate a text doesn’t mean we cannot all sing God’s song.

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