Sunday, May 03, 2009

3M of Chazanuth

by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

My “Three M” Guideline System of using Niggunim for Tefillah

Whenever we hear a beautiful melody being sung in shul, it inspires us and gives us an incredible sense of unity as the entire shul erupts in song and harmony. The question begs whether or not we can use ANY melody ANYWHERE we wish. My guideline is MODE, MOOD, & MIN HAKODESH.

The Sefer HaChassidim of Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (1150-1217) states (paraphrase): “Choose the melody that attracts you and comes from your heart and use it as you sing your prayers.” This was the guideline BEFORE the Maharil (1365-1425) declared his psak accepted by the Shulchan Aruch as Halacha, that one may not “change the minhag of a community even as to its melodies that are traditional there.” The Maharil, Chief Rabbi of the Rhineland, standardized the corpus of sacred melodies that cannot be changed. This also applies to the musical format for each paragraph of tefillah that has no set tune!

I do realize that it is difficult for laymen to know what melody is “Major, Minor, Phreigish,” etc., but this is one of the halachic guidelines that the Maharil insisted must be observed.

For example, we all know that there is set musical “form” for the Amidah, or for Birchot Kriat Shma. Each one is in a specific musical mode. If we use a melody there (or in Kedusha), the melody must conform to the mode that is given for that paragraph. If you cannot determine what the correct mode is, ask your musical neighbor or your local musically-trained chazzan to tell you if the modes match for the melody you wish to sing. Again, my guideline is MODE, MOOD, & MIN HAKODESH (self-explanatory).

I am, of course, always happily available for consultation whenever you choose to ask me. Don’t be bashful! The Maharil will be proud of you!


© 2009 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Cantor Goffin,

Can you be write a more detailed article, or refer me to one, on which are the prayers that only need a certain mode (but the melody can vary) and which ones need an actual standard melody? Are all "standard melodies" considered miSinai Nigunim? Maybe you could also explain what is the melody that is refered to in the "Ahavah Raba" mode and other modes.

In most orthodox shuls there are not trained chazanim, and there are fewer and fewer Baalei Tefilah who one can reliably ask for what is acceptable and what is not.

Thank you.

Jordan Pollack