Music for the Days of Awe 2019 / 5780

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

There are seven weeks between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. We observed Tisha b’Av on Saturday night. Now we’re on the long slow onramp to the Days of Awe!

Music is one of the doors to the heart. For me it’s one of the most reliable ways to connect with my soul and with my Source. Maybe that’s true for you, too. Or maybe you just want to refresh your memory on some high holiday melodies. Either way, here is some of the music that we’ll sing, pray, and immerse in over the high holiday season at CBI this year.


This first track is our theme song for the Days of Awe at CBI this year: “Come, Come, Whoever You Are.” The words are an English translation of a poem by Rumi.

Come, Come, Whoever You Are

We’ll sing this also in Hebrew, in a translation courtesy of Rabbi David Markus. (His congregation on City Island, with whom some of us are traveling to Cuba in November, will be singing these words this year too.) Here’s a simple recording of me singing it in Hebrew:

The Thirteen Attributes / Adonai, Adonai El Rachum V’Chanun

The source of this melody is unknown; the text from Torah. When we sing it here, we also often sing an English translation that fits to the same melody.

This next one has become a popular melody at CBI right before the shofar blowing at the end of Rosh Hashanah morning. It’s by Ellen Allard, who visited our Hebrew school a few years ago:

I Like to Hear the Shofar Blast

This next one is sung throughout Yom Kippur. It’s a piyyut (liturgical poem) that speaks about our relationship with God in reciprocal ways:

Ki Anu Amecha – For We Are Your People

The melody is “traditional” (source unknown). When we sing it here, we sometimes sing an English translation that fits to the same melody.

Adon HaSelichot – Master of Pardons

This is another one we’ll hear throughout Yom Kippur, sung to an Israeli melody. I first learned this melody at the Brookline Havurah Minyan more than 20 years ago.

Achat Sha’alti – One Thing I Ask

Melody by I. Katz. When we sing this here, we also often sing an English translation that fits to the same melody. (“One thing I ask, I ask of You, I earnestly pray for / That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life, knowing the beauty, the beauty of You / And to dwell in Your holy place!”)

Here’s the Bar’chu or Call to Prayer, sung in one of the nuscha’ot — the melodic modes — unique to this time of year:

Bar’chu – High Holiday Evening Nusach

This next one is Mi Chamocha, the blessing for redemption that reminds us every day of the Exodus from Egypt, also sung in a special nusach for this season:

Mi Chamocha – High Holiday Evening Nusach

(If you listen to the above two tracks together, you’ll hear how they are variations on the same melody — they are sung to the same nusach, adapted for different words.)

This next one is the prayer called Avinu Malkeinu — “Our Father, Our King.” For some of us the patriarchal language of fathers and kings can be challenging, but the melody may feel meaningful even so. (For me, part of what’s beautiful about this prayer is how it plays with the intersection of transcendence and intimacy: kings are distant, but parents are ideally close and reachable.) I have two Avinu Malkeinu recordings for you:

Avinu Malkeinu – Max Janowski setting

Max Janowski’s melody for “Avinu Malkeinu” was popularized by Barbra Streisand, and we will hear it a few times over the course of the holidays.

Avinu Malkeinu – “traditional” (waltz or 6/8) setting

Many people are deeply attached to this setting, sometimes referred to as a waltz though I would say it’s in 6/8 time rather than 3/4. We’ll sing this refrain a few times over the course of the holidays also.

On Yom Kippur, we’ll sing Rick Recht’s setting of “Or Zarua” (“Light is sown for the righteous…”)

Or Zarua

Next up is Kol Nidre — “All the Vows.”

Kol Nidre – “All the Vows” – sung by Rabbi / Cantor Angela Buchdahl

The text of this prayer asserts in advance that we know we will miss the mark in making promises we cannot keep, and begs for forgiveness for that human frailty. The melody is haunting and is sung only once a year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, before sundown (ergo before Yom Kippur officially “begins.”)

This next one, “Yigdal,” is often sung on Shabbat as well as the Days of Awe — but this melody is typically associated with this season. (Which is interesting, because it’s written in the melodic mode called freygish or phrygian, which is also often used in weekday and Shabbat prayer.) Anyway, here’s another simple recording (just me + a guitar):


During the Days of Awe, the Torah is chanted with a different trope (melody-system) called ta’am elyon, which means something like “melody from On High,” or “elevated melody.” Here’s the V’ahavta (which we normally sing in “regular” Torah trope) in ta’am elyon, the special Torah cantillation unique to the High Holidays:

V’ahavta in Ta’am Elyon

You’ll also hear some settings of things that are familiar to regular Shabbat-goers at CBI.

Here’s one that we’ll open with on Rosh Hashanah morning — a new melody for Modeh / Modah Ani, the morning prayer for gratitude, written by Rabbi Bella Bogart. (Note that her recording features the Hebrew use of feminine language for God; we’ll sing the traditional words, which use masculine language for God, and which also work well to her tune.)

Modah Ani

This next setting is a contemporary melody for a poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, used in many communities (including ours) as a variation on the “Ahavat Olam” (“Unending / Eternal Love”) blessing that is part of evening worship:

We Are Loved By Unending Love

This next one is a setting by Joey Weisenberg of a prayer called “Nishmat Kol Chai” (“The Breath of All That Lives”), which is a part of morning Shabbat and festival prayer:

Nishmat Kol Chai

This next one is part of the evening service all year long; we’ve been singing it at Kabbalat Shabbat services at CBI this summer. This is Sheryl Kasowitz’ setting of “Ufros Aleinu,” “Spread over us wings of peace:”

Ufros Aleinu


If you’d like to listen to more high holiday music, either to familiarize yourself with the melodies and words or just to “get in the mood,” I highly recommend Tekiah from B’nei Jeshurun in New York City — at that link you can stream many of the songs of the high holiday liturgy, performed by their hazzan, musicians, and choir, and you can pick up a copy of the CD if you are so inclined. (We use many of the same melodies that they do.)

May listening to (and singing!) these melodies prepare our hearts to open as we approach this most awesome and powerful time of year.

Wishing you blessings as we approach the new year —

Rabbi Rachel


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