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Special Prayers for Pesach

During Pesach we sanctify two important events in the Jewish calendar. Pesach marks the end of the rain season in Israel and is liturgically marked with the recitation of Tefilat Tal, the prayer for dew. Additionally, we begin counting the days till Shavuot, the day the Torah was given to the Jewish people. This is done with a unique prayer and the announcement of the day number. These prayers, like most significant liturgical prayers, have beautiful compositions for Cantor and choir. I would like to give you a brief insight into the prayers and the compositions that you will hear in two special services.

Tefilat Tal (Prayer for Dew)

Tefilat Tal is a highlight for a Cantor as it presents the opportunity to perform one of the most popular pieces ever composed in the liturgy. The melody that we sing to Tefillat Tal was composed by ‘The King of Cantors’ Yossele Rossenblat. Yossele not only possessed a rich tenor voice, which was admired by the likes of Enrico Caruso, but was an illustrious composer as well. His melody for Shir Hamalot, which is still commonly used in benching (grace after meals), was a contender to be the Israeli national anthem. His composition for Tal was originally recorded as a duet but has been adapted here for cantor and choir. Many of Yossele’s compositions move effortlessly between major and minor modalities whilst still retaining an easy listening experience and this composition is no exception. We are able to hear some ‘catchy’ musical moments which the listener, after one listening, will be able to walk away humming. This is perhaps why this composition is still so popular and sung all over the world from the Synagogue to the concert hall.

S’firat Ha’omer (Counting of the Omer)

As stated previously, from the second night of Pesach we begin counting the 49 days leading up to Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. It is customary that in the lead up to Shavuot we work on ourselves to prepare for the re-giving and acceptance of the Torah. From listening to Samuel Alman’s composition for the blessing of S’firat Ha’omer one can ascertain that he understood the gravity and meaning behind the text. The music that Alman attaches the opening repeated phrase to his masterpiece begins with the words “Hineni Muchan U’mezuman” “Here I am ready and prepared” instils in the listener a sense of awe and anticipation to this most important time.

Alman is considered to be one of the greatest ‘English’ composers of synagogue music even though he was born in Russia. Alman was deeply influenced by the Eastern European cantorial tradition, specifically by the work of Solomon Sulzer. He made use of elaborate modern harmony in his arrangements, evoking the impressionistic style of French composer Claude Debussy. Some of which can be heard in these composition.

Lastly, I am delighted to mention that on the first day of Pesach we will be reintroducing Naumbourg’s Etz Chayim for the closing of the Ark. This piece is a favorite with many of our congregants and was traditionally sung in The Great specifically for Pesach. It’s a beautiful piece and I would encourage you to sing along with the choir if you are familiar with it.


 

Mon, 18 June 2018 5 Tammuz 5778