Music of a Culture: Jewish Music
Music is fundamental to Jewish culture and life. It is mentioned in Jewish sacred writings and is used in both religious and secular settings. Jewish music has a distinct 'Middle Eastern' sound, with the use of modes, quarter tones, ornamentation, and increasing/rapid tempi. Religious music is mostly unaccompanied vocal singing/chanting.
Here is an example of a traditional Jewish song Hava Nagila.
Here is an example of a mode that is popular in Jewish music. This mode is known as the Freygish mode (or the Phrygian dominant scale).
The term 'Jew' and 'Jewish' refers people who have Judaism as their faith or who are born a Jew (the line descends through the mothers' side). Judaism is intrinsically linked with Israel, and the language associated with Judaism is Hebrew. More Jews live outside Israel than in Israel, meaning that Jewish culture is spread throughout the world.
Click here for more information on Jewish music, held at the Jewish Virtual Library.
AVINU MALKEINU: HYMN OF COMPASSION (LIOR/WESTLAKE)
Compassion: a song cycle in seven movements, based on a collection of ancient Hebrew and Arabic texts by Nigel Westlake and Lior (2013)
Compassion is a work for orchestra and voice, written in collaboration by Australian composer Nigel Westlake and singer/songwriter Lior. It was premiered at the Sydney Opera House in September 2013. Westlake and Lior's collaboration began in a way through the tragic death of Westlake's son, Eli Westlake. After Eli's death, Nigel set up a charity in his memory, and at a fundraising concert held on the first anniversary of this, Lior was invited to perform. It was here that Nigel and Lior met.
The work Compassion has seven songs in the cycle, with "Avinu Malkeinu: hymn of compassion" as the final song. "Avinu Malkeinu" is an ancient Jewish prayer (see information in sidebar). Listen to this movement below.
More links about Compassion:
Click here for the CD Liner notes from the ABC recording.
Click here for a review of the work published in The Australian.
Click here for an interview with Lior and Nigel Westlake about Compassion.
Click here for the original SSO programme from the world premiere.
MUSICOLOGY - Jewish and Western Music:
- Research a Jewish musical instrument. Provide details on what the instrument is made of, how it sounds, where/when it is used, and find a YouTube example of someone playing it.
- Analyse "Avinu Malkeinu: hymn of compassion" (Lior/Westlake) using the elements of music. Compare and contrast the Jewish/Middle Eastern qualities with the Western qualities of Lior/Westlake's piece.
AURAL - Notate a Hymn:
- Melodic dictation - notate the first four lines of the hymn in Lior/Westlake's piece. Note down where ornamentation occurs.
- Aurally analyse the structure of the hymn.
CREATIVITY/COMPOSITION - Create something of meaning:
- Using the Freygish scale, compose an 8-bar melody for an instrument such as the violin.
- Find text that has a spiritual character - this could be a poem close to your heart, or from a sacred text (tread ethically here). Compose a vocal melody using this text. Aim to create something that is meaningful, that communicates the emotion of the text.
PERFORMANCE - Celebration Songs:
- Discover a traditional Jewish song (e.g. Hava Nagilah). Sing it. Improvise around the song using your own musical language (e.g. voice with simple I, IV, V chords on keyboard/guitar). Present a performance of this to the class. Use Jewish elements such as increasing tempo for excitement.
- Explore a simple song that you already know (e.g. a traditional nursery rhyme or folk song). Play around with the song using some 'Jewish' musical elements e.g. Augmented 2nds/4ths, increasing tempo. Create something that's fun.
"Avinu Malkeinu" is a Jewish prayer which is recited at the most important day on the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). The text is:
Avinu Malkeinu chanenu v'aneinu
ki ein banu ma'asim
Aseh imanu tzedakah vachesed
Our Father, our king,
Be compassionate to us and answer us, for we have no deeds. Grant us charity and benevolence, and redeem us.
Click here for a detailed background on the origins of the prayer.
Lior is a well-known Israeli-Australian singer/songwriter. Born in Israel, Lior moved to Australia with his family when he was 10 years old. Lior has released seven albums to date, some as solo albums, some as collaborations, with hits such as This Old Love and Daniel.
His official website is at http://lior.com.au
Here is an example of one of his songs Daniel.
About Nigel Westlake:
Westlake is an Australian art music and film composer. Westlake began his musical career as a clarinettist. Some of his awarded and well-known works include the filmscore for Babe and Antartica. He has received numerous APRA awards for his works.
Click here for more of Westlake's career highlights.
Here is an example of Westlake's composition/orchestration from the opening of the movie Babe, which uses snippets from Saint-Saens organ symphony.