Why don’t I recognize the Amidah we sing during the High Holy Days? Why is the Torah chanted differently then as well? Why do we hear some melodies only at this time of the year?
Music and worship are inextricably linked in Judaism. When we sing, we are praying – and when we pray, we are often singing. How are the tunes chosen? There is a system of melodies known as Nusach HaT’fillah thati nstructs us on how to sing specific prayers for different times of the day, the week and the year. A person who is used to observing three services a day and all the holidays, would be able to hear the difference between a weekday, Shabbat or holiday service not just by the liturgy, but also by how it is sung. He or she would also know if it is a morning, afternoon or evening service as well. These melodies also have regional variations – a Mizrahi service will sound very different from an Ashkenazi or Sephardic one. Often, the Minhag HaMakom (custom of the place) will dictate which music we hear at different times of the year.
This link to music of the High Holy Days will introduce some of the prayer settings we will be singing this year. My hope is that by becoming more familiar with these tunes, it will deepen your worship experience and encourage your participation throughout the season. Some of the tracks have narration explaining the call and response between the Cantor and the congregation.