Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Davening: Drawn-Out or With Kavvanah

Ari Kinsberg commented on this blog, responding to a post I had made at Hirhurim, so I'm promoting my response to a post.

>most people i know simply don't care for a chazzan who
>shlepps with oy yoy yoys and very often is just not that good.


Well, neither do I, but it's a fine line, and often depends on how well you know the chazan. For instance, Cantor Goffin (one of the big guys at the Belz Cantorial School) at LSS (where I grew up) shleps things out somewhat, but you can feel how he means every word. I've timed his Shabbos mussaf amidah, and it's 17 minutes: 9 through kedushah, 8 for the rest. At my fanciest, it's not more than 12-13 minutes, 7 through Kedushah, 5-6 for the rest, but then I'm not professionally trained.

On the other hand, Cantor Malovany (the other big guy at Belz) does Selichos like a throwback to Yossele Rosenblatt. With a choir. It's an experience. You can see he means it, but I really don't need that geshlept Slichos. He did a marvelous job at my great-aunt's funeral, though, not stretched at all.

However, if you get a rent-a-cantor who does a long drawn-out fancy service, it's often hard to tell how much is kavvanah, and how much is gaavah (we used to get that at the LSS downstairs service on High Holidays - my parents didn't have money to spring for Main Sanctuary seats).

But that leads to the attitude I see among many in my own shul, of "I don't like chazzonus", because the showy aspect has, for too many, overshadowed the kavvanah aspect. So even the one or two cadenzas I do in RH/YK davening (most often mincha in my new shul, used to be shacharit in the old place where there was a dearth of local talent) can draw complaints.

I like them, they frame the service (one on Ram V'Nisa, a sort-of drawn-out turn, and one on mekadesh Yisrael veyom hazicaron (3 turns up, an arpeggio down, ending on another turn; 9 measures in 2/4)). Similarly I like to do a somewhat geshlept end of Yekum Purkan (start off with a nice opener) and Shema Yisrael in kedushah, both copied from Cantor Goffin, and somewhat abridged because I don't have his ability. Just timed the V'chol Mi, came to 1:07, and Shma-Hu Elokeinu to 1:00.

People used to like the long, repetitive, redundant, fancy stuff, and found it inspiring. Times change. However, I do agree with Cantor Goffin and R' Rich Wolpoe that nusach is imporant. The Shlomo Carlebach tunes for the piyutim are nice, congregational singing is fun, but it only works if one also has a solid grip on nusach. A lot of tunes, e.g. Aleinu, Unesaneh Tokef, Maariv nusach - are considered "misinai" tunes, going back at least to the 14th century, uniting all of Ashkenaz Jewry with each other and with its heritage. Falling out of the High Holidays nusach into, e.g., Yom Tov, which is easy enough to do if you haven't practiced enough, especially in Yaaleh Veyavo, can be jarring, ending a bracha G-D-c instead of on a minor triad (G-Eb-c) - that half-tone is the difference between YT and HH.

Fortunately, the biggest complainers about that don't come to shul all that often.

4 comments:

Ari Kinsberg said...

My own antipathy to hazzanut probably stems from the summer I spent in Israel with my grandparents when I was 13 years old. My grandfather would drag me each Shabbat on a long trek from his apartment in Sanhedria Meruchevet to the Great Synagogue. Somehow it always seemed like going and returning were uphill. Well that first Shabbat the Hazzan was accompanied by a choir. After that I would walk with him, but I usually snuck out of the main shul and finished davening with a Sephardic minyan on the first floor.

The truth is that I’ve had very little exposure to hazanut. I davened at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center before I got married, where the Hazzan was Pinchas Cohen. I have to say that he really was an excellent Hazzan (again, not that I know anything). He had a pleasant voice, a nice nusach and most importantly, he knew his limits and never tried to exceed them. On the other hand, I was at my mother-in-law once in Boro Park and went to hear Ben Zion Miller and the choir. The choir was horrible and I really did not appreciate his singing either. Other than that I have mostly heard only hazzan wannabees who have the hutzpah to wear the funny hat, strain their voices, make dramatic hand movements and just make me wish I overslept. And kavanah? I’ll bet that when it comes to piyyutim more than 90% of them don’t understand more than 90% of what they are saying. (Not that I do, but I wouldn’t try and pass myself off as a “shali’ah tzibbur.”)

“People used to like the long, repetitive, redundant, fancy stuff, and found it inspiring. Times change.”

Definitely. Jeffrey Gurock has an essay in which he discusses how 100 years ago in America the hazzan is what drew people to a particular shul. The Hazzan by far overshadowed the rabbi and shuls would compete with one another to see who could get the best (and most expensive) hazzan.

But times have changed. People go to shul for various reasons, but hardly to hear a Hazzan:

1) many people simply get no satisfaction from tefilah as a spectator activity. They want to be included in the “fun.”
2) More people today can follow the davening and understand it, so it something more personal. Who needs the Hazzan as an intermediary.
3) With the turn to the right, going to shul is no longer the primary way for us to express our spirituality.
4) More people are going to shul more often. They don’t need their occasional visit to the shul to be an out-of-this-world experience. The shul I lained in before I “retired” had a choir the first year I was there. The choir was subsequently done away with, but if I remember correctly it was the once-a-year member who wanted to retain it.

Also, many people do choose where they will daven based on “efficiency.” How many people go to a hashkamah minyan on Shabbat (myself included, when I can get out early enough) so the davening will be quicker. (For many people Shabbat is there only free time of the week.)

(I hope I made sense, but I have to hit the books.)

thanbo said...

funny thing is, those hashkamah minyanim were started for people who had to work on Shabbos/Yom Tov, so they could go to shul before work. And I'm not talking about the youth-group leaders.

As for being included in the "fun", that seems to be a chasidic thing, the congregational singing, if anything encouraged by Carlebachism. (from a talk by R' Arieh Leibowitz via Drew Kaplan's blogging about the Summer Beit Midrash program.)

Ari Kinsberg said...

i know that shuls in the garment district had early minyanim for this reasons, but i doubt there is a connection between these minyanim and the early ones in flatbush today. there is a early precedent for davening vatikin.

seaslipper said...

I like a quick minyan no matter what the day. I haven't the patience, living in this fax machine/cell phone world.