Musaf Service for Rosh Hashanah

November 17, 2015

The Milken Archive’s Volume 3—SEDER T’FILLOT—provides a broad overview of Jewish liturgical music in the United States as it pertains to the three main branches of Judaism. Previous releases include a traditional S’lihot service according to Orthodox ritual, Sabbath evening and morning Torah services from the post-Classical Reform era (1940s–1960s), and a post-1970s Yom Kippur afternoon, memorial and concluding service according to Gates of Repentance prayerbook, also in the Reform format. In the final installment released this month, the Milken Archive completes Volume 3 with a Rosh Hashanah musaf (additional) service according to Conservative practice.

Though the Musaf service is a separate entity and can be said any time between the shaḥarit (morning) and minḥa (afternoon) services, it is generally attached to the morning service as part of a single, extended service. There are slight variations in the order of the musaf service on holy days and Festivals. In the case of the Rosh Hashanah, there are three blessings in the amidah section—Malkhuyot (God’s sovereignty), Zikhronot (memories), and Shofarot (shofar blasts)—which each contain ten biblical texts.

The malkhuyot section texts pertain to God’s kingship of the universe and of its effect on and relationship to the people of Israel. The zikhronot texts, as the title implies, deal with the importance of memory, of history, and of the sustaining myths of the Jewish people. The ten verses of the Shofarot segment discuss God’s revelation to Israel and its accompaniment by sounds of the shofar, or other events that include references to the shofar.

The version of the musaf service recorded by the Milken Archive combines traditional motifs and melodies with interpretations, variations, and extensions that have been devised by some of the 20th century’s most influential cantors. Those traditional motifs include both “missinai” tunes and cantillation tropes. Missinai (lit., from Sinai) tunes refers to a group of melodic motifs whose formulation and canonization date to medieval southwestern German and Rhineland communities. Together with biblical cantillation, they form the underlying historical bedrock of Ashkenazi musical practice.

The music is drawn from American repertoire that might typically be—or have been—heard in actual synagogue worship contexts, by composers who composed these particular settings specifically for American cantors, choirs, and congregations. The meticulous track listing accompanying this double-album set identifies in great detail the various streams flowing into each constituent track.

For instance, the atzi Kaddish that appears as track two on the first album is Joshua Lind’s version, based on missinai motifs and traditional cantillation. The first part of track 18, Umip'nei hata'einu is a cantorial recitative styled after Jacob Rappaport, arranged by Seymour Silbermintz and Moshe Ganchoff. In the Areshet s’fateinu from the second album, the cantor and choir engage in a playful call-and-response with an anonymous, folk-like melody as sung by Yosele Rosenblatt. In this way, the recording reflects how Jewish liturgical music has developed in its American environment, particularly through the work of the “golden age” cantors such as Ganchoff and Rosenblatt. Other notable figures represented here are Israel Goldfarb, Abraham Ellstein,  Moses J. Silverman, Max Helfman, Isaac Kaminsky, Paul Discount, Shaye Englehart [Jerry Abbott], and Sholom Kalib. 

In service of the musical delivery are some of our own age’s golden voices. Led by Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, the recording features stunning choral arrangements created and conducted by Neil W. Levin and rendered by the New York Cantorial Choir. Magda Fishman and Shayna Smith are among the featured soloists.

Virtually every period in the recorded history of Judaism offered fresh contributions to the music of prayer. This rendering of the Rosh Hashanah musaf service is an important strand in that ever-evolving tapestry. 

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