Monday, April 07, 2008

In Review: "Be A Ba'al Tefillah"

In the mail… “Be A Ba’al Tefillah: The Shabbat Davening in MP3 Audio” featuring Cantor Sherwood Goffin.

I recently wrote about the Cantorial Council of America’s event I’d attended. Due to a gig and a family commitment, I was only able to attend Cantor Motzen’s session. I would have liked to hear Cantor Goffin’s presentation “Highlights of the Shabbat Shacharit Prayer” as well.

Thanks to the folks at Davka for sending this program, which includes the material he presented that morning.

This CD-ROM features well-known Lincoln Square Synagogue Chazzan Sherwood Goffin singing the complete Shabbos Tefillah including Kabbolas Shabbos, Ma’ariv, Shacharis, Musaf, as well as Birkas Hachodesh and Musaf for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh.

The program is based on the curriculum of the Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University, where Cantor Goffin is a Faculty member. It includes audio mp3’s in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic pronunciation as well as PDF’s of the text of the tefilos and explanatory notes that include information about the sources of the melodies used. It also includes some helpful tips for learning the material.

In addition to ‘nusach’, the program offers several melodic options for those parts of the liturgy that are commonly sung communally like Lecha Dodi, Keil Adon, and Kedusha. Cantor Goffin is known as a “nusach purist”, so even when setting these tefilos to “more recent” melodies, the tunes chosen typically reflect a sense of tradition whether that tradition is Chazzanus or Chassidic. Where appropriate, Goffin also selects melodies that use the traditional Chazzanus modes associated with a given tefillah.

To illustrate the types of melodies chosen, here are those used for Lecha Dodi:

• Settings for the first part of Lecha Dodi include the Bobover Wedding March, Yedid Nefesh, and the Breslover Lecha Dodi.

• Melodies offered for Lo Sevoshi include the famous Gerrer Chassidic version as well as Moshe Laufer’s Keitzad Merakdin and R’ Shlomo Carlebach’s Veyitnu Lecha.

Using this program...

The file installation went smoothly. For some strange reason, the 1st track of each tefillah showed up in iTunes, the program I used to listen to the mp3’s, as the last, but this is easily rectifiable by dragging the file to the appropriate place.

Obviously, the first choice would be to study one on one with a teacher. However, if that isn't possible, this is a very useful tool for those interested in learning to lead davening. The focus here is very much on education, so the backing music, which consists of keyboard accompaniment by Cantor Eric Freeman, is there in a very supportive role only to aid in “hearing” the melodies. (The piano endings on some of these like Keitzad Merakdin and Veyitnu Lecha are rough.) The vocals are mixed very up front so that the listener can hear Cantor Goffin clearly and are clearly enunciated, pleasant, and easy to learn from.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning how to daven for the amud on Shabbos, it’s worth checking out “Be A Ba’al Tefillah.” This might also be of interest to ethnomusicologists looking for a Nusach-based presentation of the traditional American Shabbos service.

The J-Post reviewed this project here.

The program is available from Davka here.