Monday, September 15, 2003

What's He Talkin' 'Bout???

Here's an essay from 2000 titled "The Power of Jewish Music"
by Cantor Paul S. Glasser, the former National Executive Director of NCSY.
"Jewish music affects the soul of the individual. Often it is the music of the Jewish people which motivates an individual to take a look at himself and grow from one stage to the next. Often it is Jewish music which, at a simcha, creates such excitement for the benefit of the baalei simcha that we become totally enveloped in its vibrancy and vitality. The power of Jewish music is substantial; in NCSY it has been a critical component of our message and has been used as such in our programs for over four decades."
"Can you imagine a Shabbaton or Yarchei Kallah which did not have Shabbos ebbing away with the traditional songs which move us at the end of Shabbos? Could you imagine a kumzits where the music did not play an essential role in the message of the Shabbaton theme? Music is used to motivate NCSYers to speak about themselves and their experiences. Jewish music has been paramount in the NCSY experience and the NCSY Shabbaton model."
"So why is Jewish music Jewish? Well, technically we use a particular solfeggio scale in which we have come to define Jewish music, both through its scale and its intonation."

Sounds good, right? The reason the Jewish music at an NCSY Shabbaton affects us in such a powerfull way is because of those magical "Jewish scales." (There are actually three common Jewish modes, not one.)Well, a look at the NCSY music poll results for the year the essay was published shows that not one of the songs nominated as best Jewish song of the year uses the "Jewish scales."

In point of fact, a quick look at websites for Midwest NCSY, New Jersey NCSY, and Southern Region NCSY shows that none of the songs typically sung at NCSY Shabbatonim uses the "Jewish" modes.

There are songs in these Jewish modes that may get played at an NCSY Shabbaton from time to time, but they are not an integral part of the Shabbaton experience. Tunes like T'hei, Moshe Emes,V'nisgov, and Mizmor L'Dovid are sometimes played, but aren't used in the same way as songs like "Someday" or Ya'aleh V'Yavo.

A look at the song selections on the liner notes of the recent "Shabbas Comes Alive" CD which attempts to present the songs one would hear at a typical NCSY Shabbaton shows that the CD doesn't contain any songs that use the Jewish modes.

Clearly, whatever the "magical" element of the Jewish music used at NCSY Shabbatonim is, it's not because of