Friday Night with First Fruits: Musical Possibilities

Posted on: Wednesday November 20, 2013

Jan Uhrbach, associate editor of Siddur Lev Shalem, introduces musical possibilities for texts unique to First Fruits.

A Meditative & Lively Kabbalat Shabbat Introduction: Pages 7 & 9-10

“Shir Ha-shirim Asher Lishlomoh” | Song of Songs 1:1-4 (pp. 7)
“L'khu N’ran’na” | Psalm 95 (pp. 9, lines 1-10; pp. 10, lines 9-13)

Listen to the Music

The siddur presents the opening verses of the Song of Songs as a possible way to begin a Friday night service, instead of Y’did Nefesh.

This rendition presents the Song of Songs passage in a meditative mode, using a melody that expresses great yearning. Those community members who are comfortable chanting the Hebrew might certainly join in, and the community might also be invited to hum quietly alongside the prayer leader, or to listen in meditative silence, connecting to one’s deepest, most authentic yearnings.

We’ve paired this with an especially joyful and rhythmic Yemenite melody for L’khu N’ran’na. The sudden shift in mood is designed to create an experience of being called to awaken from our private reveries of longing, to join with the prayer leader and each other on a journey in search of the Beloved.

We’ve conceived of L’khu N’ran’na as a call and response – the prayer leader chants the opening verses once, and the community repeats after him/her. The prayer leader chants the next verse, and the community responds again with L’khu N’ran’na as a refrain. This pattern follows the meaning of the words – the leader says “come and join me on this journey,” and the community responds “yes, we are joining you on this journey” (see the note on the bottom right corner of page 9 – “Come”). The pattern can be repeated for the entire psalm, or the rest of the psalm can be prayed silently (with or without the melody being chanted in the background). Here, we’ve envisioned the middle of the psalm being prayed silently. The melody then returns for the end of the psalm, with the community responding again with the L’khu N’ran’na refrain.

The yearning melody we used for the opening of the Shir Ha-shirim works also with other Shir Ha-shirim passages. You'll find here a recording of the last portion of Shir Ha-shirim in the Siddur (page 23, Shir Ha-shirim 2:11-13), which might also be chanted to create a kind of melodic frame around the first five psalms, setting the stage for the Psalm 29 and L’kha Dodi.

We've also recorded the L'khu N'ran'na by itself, with congregational singing, to demonstrate how it might be experienced with full congregational participation.

Integrating the Song of Songs into the Psalms: Pages 22-24

“B’amud Anan” | Psalm 99 (pp. 22, 4 lines from the top)
“Kol Dodi” | Song of Songs 2:8 (pp. 23)
“Every Rose is an Isle” | Zelda poem (pp. 23, left margin)
“Havu Ladonai B’nei Eilim” | Psalm 29 (pp. 24)

 Listen to the Music

We chose this section, and these very widely-used melodies, to demonstrate the way that a selection of the Song of Songs might be integrated seamlessly into existing melodies for the Psalms. In addition, we wanted to provide an example of how the poems in the left-hand margin might be used, and of the way that English might be read simultaneously with the chanting of Hebrew. This technique can work not only with the supplemental poetry, but with the English translation of the Hebrew liturgy itself.

The melody for the conclusion of Psalm 99 is commonly used in many Conservative synagogues. The melody for Psalm 29 is a Carlebach tune, also in widespread use. The chanting of Kol Dodi – with the Zelda poem read over it – would also blend well with other melodies for Psalm 99 or 29.

In addition, a prayer leader might choose to highlight and sing a different verse of the Song of Songs from the selection on page 23.

Poetry and Melody: Page 25

“Ana B’kho’ah” | pp. 25
“You Are the Celestial Light” | Solomon ibn Gabriol poem (pp. 25, left margin)

 Listen to the Music

This is another example of the way an English poem might serve as an introduction to the liturgy.

Here, the poem by Solomon ibn Gabirol is read over a niggun (melody), which then transitions to the chanting of Ana B’kho’ah. One might introduce the sequence with the comment in the bottom right corner of page 25 (“Undo the Knot”), and allow a moment of silence in which individuals are invited to identify something they wish to be released from on this Shabbat. The selection by Marge Piercy on page 11 (left margin) might then sometimes be read aloud over the melody, instead of the ibn Gabirol poem from page 25.

An Italian Alternative: Page 52

“Mei’eit Nit’nah Samah Bah/Mi Khamokha” | Alternate (Italian) blessing following the Sh’ma (pp. 52, 5 lines down)

 Listen to the Music: 2 Voices | Solo

The Italian text of this blessing for Friday night is especially beautiful and meaningful. It does recall the Exodus from Egypt as a historical model of redemption. But it also brings another model of redemption – Shabbat – and highlights the giving of Torah at Sinai, and specifically the gift to us of Shabbat, as a critical moment in the redemptive narrative.

In doing so, the liturgist plays on the language of V’sham’ru, in which God speaks of Shabbat as beini u-vein b’nei Yisrael ot hi l’olam (It is a sign between Me and the people Israel for all time). Here, we speak of Shabbat in precisely parallel language: bein’kha u-veineinu ot hi l’olam (an eternal sign between us). To highlight this connection, we’ve set a portion of this blessing to the same melody that many congregations use to chant the V’sham’ru, keeping the language that is parallel in the same melody line as those words would be in the V’sham’ru.

Then, in order to highlight that this version of the blessing focuses on Sinai as a redemptive moment, and to chant the Mi Khamokhah section in a celebratory mode, we’ve set the next section of the blessing to the Carlebach melody which is generally used for V’ha’eir Eineinu.

Both melodies are very widely known and familiar. The blessing concludes in a traditional nusah mode. We've included two recordings of this rendition. The first envisions shared leadership of the service and therefore utilizes two voices, the second models how it might be chanted by an individual prayer leader.