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On the off-chance anyone reading this will find it in the slightest bit useful...

Notes from Limmud 2006

Gospel Singing: T'HILLAH—Hallelujah: Praise the Lord

Sharon Alexander

Gospel as distinct from Negro Spiritual is a newer form of music and more sophisticated. (See below.)

Problems with getting Jews to go into Gospel: need for courage to open up to Christian influences, revulsion towards the same.

Carlebach comes the closest to Gospel of Jewish musicians. He knew how to get the energy up, but didn't know certain Gospel techniques.

A difference between Gospel and Chassidic music: When you hear Jews at a folk music they're often clapping on the wrong beat. The beat in klezmer is different. Gospel is more upbeat; it makes you want to dance. Why is this? Chassidic music is strong on the 1, intentionally trying to take the ecstatic energy and ground it into the earth, because your energy is supposed to be going into תיקון עולם. In the Gospel you're clapping on 2 and 4 and the more complex the rhythm the more your body gets involved and trying to elevate your body into an altered state. They took 4/4 music and made it 12/8.

Both paradigms are valid, but there's no reason why Jews should be denied what the Christians get.

Why are the traditional tunes in a Jewish service so dirge-like?

[The speaker then went into a long rhapsody on the structure of the service, starting with ברכת השחר ("Everyone knows מה טבו, but the remainder of the paragraph 'And as for me drawn by your love I come into your house,' etc, is worth reading: the whole service in a nutshell"), and working her way through פסוקי דזמרא paying attention to the words and continually building up spiritual energy.]

נשמת כל־חי—all living flesh is raised to ecstasy each time we become aware. Then ברכו—having made all this ascent into the holy of holies it's now time to meet G-d. We're now no longer talking about "G-d"; we're now talking to "You".

By the time you reach the Amida the Siddur offers you the potential to be in an ecstatic state. You should be overwhelmed by the awe-ful presence of G-d and then fall in love. This is the goal. You've gone through the seven gates (referred to in hypnotherapy and NLP—and also Chassidic stories).

Then, having reached this revelation, we go into קריאת התורה...

From this glory state there are no words. In glory state you merge with the One, with the Presence.

[Me, personally, I'm not too convinced by this "glory state", but the speaker certainly seemed to be able to go into it.]

Elements and Techniques of Gospel

  1. Call and Response
    1. Take a prayer or psalm.
      • The leader sings or chants the first line.
      • The group/congregation responds with the second, either in unison or harmony. E.g.
          When I sing a line of psalm—Halleluyah,
          Then you sing your part to me—Halleluyah
        Very powerful as an energy-raiser.
    2. Or it might be an enthusiastic shout!
        Praise the Lord—AMEN!
          E.g. Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, halleluyah—Praise Ye the Lord.
  2. The African pentatonic scale is used:
    • Do, re, mi, so, la, do (E.g. "Now Let Us Sing", or "When The Saints Go Marching In".)
    • And sometimes a flattened seventh, that particularly Afro-American note of melancholy, which also characterises the blues.
    • This makes it different from most Jewish music which is in some form of minor scale, e.g. Hava Nagila, with its flattened second and sixth, or straight minor scales, e.g. "It is perfect You are loved, all is clear and I am Holy."
  3. There is probably a bottom anchor line sung by the men, to hold the piece together, melodically and rhythmically. This is what allows the higher voices to soar.
  4. And there is at least one soloist who is allowed to sing freely while backed by the choir, which sticks to the rhythm and melody.
  5. Other techniques include "moaning" (which is really a hum of deep spiritual satisfaction), modulations of key (change in key, usually moving a fourth up).
  6. Usual chord progressions are I, IV, V, I. There may be frills, delayed time signatures, and even stopped time (when the instruments drop out). This is a very sophisticated song form.
  7. As is traditional in the African-American song culture, the song is taught orally and learned aurally—through the body—without sheet music, though there is a piano backing the choir.
  8. The words are simple—everyday language, in the vernacular—spoken speech, in the present tense, directed to G-d, from the heart. The language must be understandable by a child—and translated from the Hebrew—because that is the lanbguage that the heart understands. The tempos are guided by the themes of praise, thankfulness, worship and lamentation.
  9. There is a steady rhythmic syncopation. Unlike in Jewish music (particularly Chassidic), where the clap or stomp is on the first beat of the measure (e.g. עיבדו את־ה׳ בשמחה), in folk, it is on the 2 and 4, and in Gospel, very often on the off-beat (step, clap, step, clap).
  10. Though written in 4/4 time, Gospel is actually felt in 12/8 time—a driving, forward-propelled, steady rhythm, like a train. The music is going somewhere. It is going to G-d!

Integrating Gospel music into a Jewish service

Four easy ways to use gospel-style music in your service:

  1. Add compatible, already existing gospels songs and spirituals, e.g. Hallelu, Hallelu—Praise Ye The Lord
  2. Use a known gospel melody and subtitute our tehilim and prayers (as Jews have done over the millennia borrowing melodies which have now become our "traditional"). Sing עושה שלום for verses to Amen, Amen, Amen for instance. Use, as Reb Zalman once did, the format for Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore, substituting Psalm 150 for the verses and having the congregation respond with "Halleluyah".
  3. Gospelise existing Jewish liturgical songs. Recall the movie Keeping the Faith where a gospel choir sings אין כאלהינו! Apply the techniques of gospel to suitable songs and watch what happens. The Sufi Hallelu (see Danny Maseng).
  4. Create your own gospel songs from your own personal prayers to G-d, as did David when he composed his psalms, and more recently, the prolofic and beloved Rabbi Shlomo Calebach. Let the poetry, rhythm and heartfelt music come through you. עוד יבוא שלום עלינו is an excellent example of new liturgy in a gospel style. The song has swept the Jewish world.

The rules for joining in the choice

Understand that music has power and purpose. It is a tool for community organising, for social and political action*, for invoking G-d to empower what you are trying to accomplish. Therefore,

  • listen and come in when you can
  • blend with the group
  • fill in the holes
  • be responsive to what you hear and
  • assume leadership when you can
  • listen for rhythms, let your hands and body express them
  • fill spaces with supportive comments
  • the goal is create something greater than the parts
When everyone is on their part and all the parts blend, creating a completely different song from the parts, then the audience disappears and what you have is a congregation.

—Ysaye Barnwell

* When there is a problem you do not start by trying to get people to talk it out, you start by getting them to sing together. This puts them in resonance with each other, and from there they go on to solve the problem.

Gospel Choir Songsheet

Praise Yah

Praise Yah! Praise Yah!
Let everything that has breath
Praise Hashem!
Praise Yah! Praise Yah!
Worthy, worthy, worthy, worthy
Yah is worthy to be praised!

Repeat chorus

Praise Yah in the morning
Praise Yah at the noonday
Praise Yah when the sun is going down.

From the rising of the sun
To the setting of the same
Yah's worthy, worthy, worthy to be praised!



Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu
Praise Ye the Lord
Praise Ye the Lord, Halleluyah
Praise Ye the Lord, Halleluyah
Praise Ye the Lord, Halleluyah
Praise Ye the Lord

Now Let Us Sing

Now let us sing...
    Sing till the power of the Lord come down
Now let us sing...
    Sing till the power of the Lord come down
Lift up your voice
    Lift up your voice
Don't be afraid
    Don't be afraid
Now let us sing...
    Sing till the power of the Lord come down

מי כמכה / טוב להדות לשם / עיבדו את־השם medley

מי כמכה באלים ה׳
מי כמכה באלים נאדר בקודש
נורא תהלת עשה פלא
עשה, עשה פלא

Yai, lai, lai

טוב להדות לשם
טוב להדות לשם
ולזמר לשמך עליון

להגיד בבקר, בבקר חסדך
ואמונתך בלילות

עיבדו את־השם בשמחה
עיבדו את־השם בשמחה
באו לפניו ברננה
לפניו ברננה

Praised Be!

Praised Be!
  Praised Be!

Bar'chu Dear One

Bar'chu Dear One
Shechinah, holy name
When I call on the light of my soul
I come home.

עוד יבוא שלום עלינו

(I don't need to give the lyrics for this, do I?)

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