OLD MUSIC OR NEW MUSIC
In the last couple of decades, there has been a great deal of experimentation with liturgical music in the American Synagogue. Conservative and Reform Congregations have been experimenting with prayers such as, L’cha Dodi, Shalom Aleichem, Sim Shalom, Shalom Rav, etc. We have all experienced the new melodies for these prayers and others. When I poll a group of people, for example, at a Shiva minyan and ask them, “do you prefer the new music or the old music?” I get an interesting answer. About half of the room says “I want to hear the new experimental, usually upbeat, melodies, and about half of the room says, “why can’t we have the traditional melodies?” The Cantor of today is faced with a difficult decision.
In the first twenty years of my synagogue attendance in Canada in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was rare to hear experimentation with classical melodies. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, because of summer camp, Shlomo Carlebach, the Israel Chassidic Festival, etc., there were many new melodies. Some synagogues did more old melodies and some preferred introducing new melodies.
It is interesting to me to experience this question on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Few people, I have found, want new experimental melodies on the High Holydays. When I ask why, the most usual answer is, “I want to hear the melodies I heard as a child when I went to shul with my family.” Very few Cantors change the melody for Avinu Malkeinu or B’rosh Hashanah Yikateivun, for example.
For me, personally, I have tried my best to blend the new and the old melodies of our age old prayers. I, personally, enjoy using the melodies with which I grew up, but I do understand that for a newer and younger generation these are not their melodies. I will vary some of the melodies on a Shabbat or Yom Tov to attract the people who are present that Shabbat, depending on their age, background and experience. We need, badly, to find a path where we can fuse the newness with a foundation of the old. This is not always easy, but I truly believe, that our congregation has made a heartfelt effort to touch as many people as possible. I believe that the glory of the Jewish people will never be diminished, and that the synagogue liturgical melodies will continue to inspire and ignite our passion for Jewish music in prayer.