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The 4 “M’s” of Jewish Music

Marc Stober’s Cantorial School Capstone Performance

May 13, 7:30pm, Temple Israel, Manchester, NH

Music serves many roles in the synagogue. A helpful way of understanding this is the “4 M’s” model of Cantor Benji-Ellen Schiller. I will present a program of music that I have learned in cantorial school that is meaningful to me, organized by the “M’s”: Meeting, Memory, Meditation, and Majesty. In between pieces, I will explain how cantors use the “M’s” to elevate prayer and lifecycle ceremonies.





Musaf Kedushah concluding with L’dor vador

  1. Meeting

Music brings us together. Since ancient times we’ve used prayer such as Psalms for that.


Text: Liturgy (including Leviticus 19:18)

Music: Marc Stober

הריני מקבל עלי מצות הבורא: וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ.

Here I am, receiving the command of the Creator: You shall love your companion as yourself.

This line from the Bible was introduced into the prayer service by the influential 16th century Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria (“the Ari”). Beyond the simple meaning of being good to others, the Ari believed that the mystical meaning of the text was that prayer said with love for others in mind would be more powerful. Indeed, what does make public prayer more powerful other than the very act of joining together?


Text: Psalm 150

Music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn/Gabriel Meyer

הַ֥לְלוּ יָ֨הּ ׀ הַֽלְלוּ־אֵ֥ל בְּקָדְשׁ֑וֹ הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בִּרְקִ֥יעַ עֻזּֽוֹ׃

Hallelujah. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the sky, His stronghold.

הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בִגְבוּרֹתָ֑יו הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כְּרֹ֣ב גֻּדְלֽוֹ׃

Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him for His exceeding greatness.

הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ בְּתֵ֣קַע שׁוֹפָ֑ר הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּנֵ֣בֶל וְכִנּֽוֹר׃

Praise Him with blasts of the horn; praise Him with harp and lyre.

הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ בְתֹ֣ף וּמָח֑וֹל הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּמִנִּ֥ים וְעוּגָֽב׃

Praise Him with timbrel and dance; praise Him with lute and pipe.

הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי־שָׁ֑מַע הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּֽצִלְצְלֵ֥י תְרוּעָֽה׃

Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with loud-clashing cymbals.

כֹּ֣ל הַ֭נְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּ֥ל יָ֗הּ הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

Let all that breathes praise the LORD. Hallelujah.

Psalm 150 is the last book of the Book of Psalms. It is recited early in the morning service on Shabbat, weekdays, and holidays alike, such that you symbolically finish reading the Book of Psalms every day. As the text describes the musical instruments used to praise God (the literal translation of “hallelujah”) in the ancient Temple, I think it’s fitting to use a musical setting for it.

According to Cantor Jeff Klepper, this is based on a Sufi (Islamic mysticism) melody by Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, and was introduced into the Jewish world as a tune for this psalm by Gabriel Meyer.

  1. Memory

Jewish music isn’t all religious. It’s also part of our cultural memory.

Sheyn vi di Levone

Lyrics by Khayim Tauber

Music by Joseph Rumshinsky, 1938

Der moych iz mir tsu misht.

Ikh gey a-rum tse-khisht.

Kh’veys a-lein nit vos ikh vil.


My mind is all mixed up.

I walk around in a daze.

I have no idea what I even want.

Kh’shem zikh, ikh bin royt.

Di tsung iz bay mir toyt.

Kh’ken nisht zu-gn, vos ikh fil.


I’m so ashamed, I blush.

My tounge is dead in my mouth.

I can’t say what I feel.

Du bist a-rayn tsu mir,

In har-tsen oyf kvar-tir

Kh’trakh vi tsu zo-gn dir,


az du bist…


I sense you all around.

You’ve moved into my heart.

How can I tell you this?


You are…

Shenyn vi di le-von-ne,

Likh-tik vi di shte-rn,

Fun hi-ml a ma to-ne

Bis-tu-mir tsu-ge-shikt

Beautiful as the moon,

Brilliant as the start,

A gift from Heaven

Sent just for me.

Mayn glik hob ikh ge vin-nen,

Ven ikh hob dikh ge-fi-nen.

Shaynst_ vi toy-znt zi-nen,

Host_ may harts ba-glikht.


You brought me luck

When I found you.

More beautiful than a thousand suns,

You have brought happiness to my heart.

Day-ne tsey-de-lekh,

Vay-se per-re-lekh,

Mit day-ne shey-ne oy-gn,

Day-ne kley-de-lekh

Day-ne he-re-lekh,

Host mikh tsu-ge-tsoy-gn.


Your teeth,

like white pearls,

Together with you pretty eyes,

Your clothes,

your hair—

They’ve drawn me to you!

Shenyn vi di le-von-ne,

Likh-tik vi di shte-rn,

Fun hi-ml a ma to-ne

Bis-tu-mir tsu-ge-shikt.


Beautiful as the moon,

Brilliant as the stars,

A gift from Heaven

Sent just for me.


 This Yiddish pop song, “pretty as the moon,” expresses the feelings of a man about his crush, overcoming his nervousness to admit those feelings.

Omrim Yeshna Aretz

Text: Shaul Tchernichovsky

Music: Joel Engel

אוֹמְרִים: יֶשְׁנָהּ אֶרֶץ,

אֶרֶץ רְוַת שֶׁמֶשׁ...

אַיֵּה אוֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ,

אֵיפֹה אוֹתוֹ שֶׁמֶשׁ?

אוֹמְרִים: יֶשְׁנָהּ אֶרֶץ,

עַמּוּדֶיהָ שִׁבְעָה,

שִׁבְעָה כּוֹכְבֵי-לֶכֶת

צָצִים עַל כָּל גִּבְעָה.

אֶרֶץ – בָּהּ יְקֻיַּם

כָּל אֲשֶׁר אִישׁ קִוָּה,

נִכְנַס כָּל הַנִּכְנָס –

פָּגַע בּוֹ עֲקִיבָא.

"שָׁלוֹם לְךָ, עֲקִיבָא!

שָׁלוֹם לְךָ, רַבִּי!

אֵיפֹה הֵם הַקְּדוֹשִׁים,

אֵיפֹה הַמַּכַּבִּי?"

עוֹנֶה לוֹ עֲקִיבָא,

אוֹמֵר לוֹ הָרַבִּי:

"כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל קְדוֹשִׁים,

אַתָּה הַמַּכַּבִּי!"

"כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל קְדוֹשִׁים,

אַתָּה הַמַּכַּבִּי!

אַתָּה הַמַּכַּבִּי!"

They say there is a land,

A land drenched with sun.

Where is that land?

Where is that sun?


They say there is a land.

Her pillars are seven,

Seven planets

Pop up on every hill.

A land—it will come to be fulfilled

For all who have hope,

Everyone who enters

Meets there Akiva.


“Shalom to you, Akiva!

Shalom to you, Rabbi!

Where are the holy ones?

Where are the Maccabees?”


Avika answers him,

The rabbi says:

“All Israel are holy.

You are the Maccabee!”


“All Israel are holy.

You are the Maccabee!

You are the Maccabee!”

This early (1923) Zionist song speaks to the idea that Israel is not just some magical place inhabited by the legendary figures of old; it will be what it will be because of what the present-day Jewish people make it. It was written by the well known composer Joel Engel, who was born in Ukraine and part of the “St. Petersburg school” of Jewish music that flourished in the early 20th century. The text is a poem by well known Hebrew poet Saul Tchernichovsky.

  1. Meditation

Music can also be with us at potentially challenging times in our lives as individuals and as a group, and help us as a meditation.

Adonai Roi

Text: Psalm 23

Music: Gerald Cohen

Copyright © 1992 by Gerald Cohen Psalms. Used under JLicense #S-900059.

מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד) יְהוָ֥ה רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר׃)

(A psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I lack nothing.

בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי עַל־מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת יְנַהֲלֵֽנִי׃

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to water in places of repose;

נַפְשִׁ֥י יְשׁוֹבֵ֑ב יַֽנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֝֗דֶק לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמֽוֹ׃

He renews my life; He guides me in right paths as befits His name.

גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֪יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת לֹא־אִ֘ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי׃

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י דִּשַּׁ֖נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant.

אַ֤ךְ ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years.

This well known Psalm, often sung at funerals and memorial services, is made even more beautiful in this well known setting by contemporary composer Cantor Gerald Cohen.

A Walk to Caesaria (Eili Eili)

Text: Hannah Szenesh

Music: David Zehavy (1945)

Rights Administered by Transcontinental Music Publications (ASCAP). Used By Permission. Used under JLicense #S-900059.

אֵלִי, אֵלִי

שֶׁלֹּא יִגָּמֵר לְעוֹלָם

הַחוֹל וְהַיָּם,

רִשְׁרוּשׁ שֶׁל הַמַּיִם,

בְּרַק הַשָּׁמַיִם,

תְּפִלַּת הָאָדָם.

My God, My God,

I pray that these things never end,

The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters,

The crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart (literally “the earthling”)

Hannah Szenesh immigrated to Israel before it became an independent state and volunteered with the British army in World War II, where she was killed. Her poem was made more well known when set to music by David Zehavy, an influential Israeli composer and kibbutz member.

I remember first hearing this song introduced by the rabbi and cantor at Temple Sinai in Newington, Connecticut when I was young. It was one of the first times I thought about how introducing new Jewish music into services could add meaning to the regular rituals.

This is, unfortunately, the only female writer represented in this program. I hope to share more works by female songwriters in my future work.

Niggun Tishrei

Music: Yoel Sykes

Copyright © Nava Tehila. Used under JLicense #S-900059.

Nava Tehila is a renewal prayer community in Jerusalem whose original music has spread throughout the Jewish world over the past ten years. I’ve been fortunate to meet one of their leading musicians, Yoel Sykes, when he has visited the United States, and sing in the inner circle of “levi’im” when they visited Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, Massachusetts while I was a cantorial student. Tishrei is the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) occur. Perhaps the alternating between major and minor echoes the traditional modes of high holiday prayer? While some people say Jewish music is characterized by minor keys, it is probably more accurate to say that Jewish-sounding (whatever that means) music is characterized by the interplay of major and minor. Niggunim (the plural of “niggun”) are wordless melodies often used to evoke spirituality in Jewish life.

  1. Majesty

Continuing into the high holidays, music can make us feel part of something greater. That’s “majesty.”

Kol Nidrei

Text: Yom Kippur liturgy

Setting: Traditional, arranged by Israel Alter

כָּל נִדְרֵי, וֶאֱסָרֵי, וּשְבוּעֵי, וַחֲרָמֵי, וְקוֹנָמֵי, וְקִנוּסֵי, וְכִנוּיֵי, דִנְדַרְנָא, וּדְאִשְתַּבַּעְנָא, וּדְאַחֲרִמְנָא עַל נַפְשָׁתָנָא. •מִיוֹם כִּפּוּרִים שֶׁעָבַר עַד יוֹם כִּפּוּרִים זֶה, וּ־־• ♦מִיוֹם כִּפּוּרִם זֶה עַד יוֹם כִּפּוּרִים הַבָּא עָלֵינוּ לְטוֹבָה.♦ בְּכֻלְהוֹן אִחֲרַטְנָא בְהוֹן. כֻּלְהוֹן יְהוֹן שָׁרָן, שְׁבִיקין, שְׁבִיתִין, בְּטֵלִן וּמְבֻטָלִין, לָא שְׁרִירִין, וְלָא קַיָמִין. נִדְרָנָא לָא נִדְרֵי, וֶאֱסָרָנָא לָא אֱסָרֵי, וּשְׁבוּעָתָנָא לָא שְׁבוּעוֹת.

All vows, and prohibitions, and oaths, and consecrations, and konams and konasi and synonymous terms, that we may vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves, •from the previous Day of Atonement until this Day of Atonement and ...• ♦from this Day of Atonement until the [next] Day of Atonement that will come for our benefit.♦ Regarding all of them, we repudiate them. All of them are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

Kol Nidrei - “all vows” - is the first major prayer of Yom Kippur services, sung at the beginning of the holiday in the evening. While we could try to parse the meaning of anulling vows in the context of the repentance that takes place on Yom Kippur, I don’t think that’s the point. I think the important part of Kol Nidrei is the music. It’s one of the oldest Jewish melodies and, I would argue, one of the few times when the melody, and not the words, is actually the prayer. My way of singing it is based on a setting written down by Cantor Israel Alter.

Avinu Malkeinu

Text: High holiday liturgy

Music: Max Janowski

Rights Administered by Transcontinental Music Publications (ASCAP). Used By Permission. Used under JLicense #S-900059.

“Our Father, Our King.” These aren’t the only metaphors by which we can think of God, but they are still powerful ones. Cantor Max Janowski (1912-1991) of Chicago turned this repetitive text into a masterpiece of modern chazzanut (cantorial music), recorded by none other than Barbara Streisand. This arrangement follows the text for Rosh HaShanah evening in an older edition of the Reform prayerbook; it’s worth noting that different prayerbooks and even different services in the same prayerbook have different versions of this text.

  1. Meeting, Memory, Mediation, Majesty

Musaf Kedushah

Text: Shabbat (Sabbath) Liturgy

In traditional services, an additional “service” is included on the Sabbath and holidays (it’s what makes a traditional Shabbat morning service so long). This reflects the additional sacrifice made on those days in ancient Temple times. I believe that this is, conceptually, the high point of the service; it’s the most special part of the service--everything else in a Shabbat morning service can be done in some form at other times of the week. And the high point of Musaf is the Kedusha, reflected liturgically by a variety of new and old musical motifs coming together: composed music, congregational singing, cantorial solos, and multiple traditional prayer chant modes. L’dor vador, which follows as a separate piece in this presentation, is actually the concluding paragraph of Musaf Kedushah (loosely translated, the “additional holiness” blessing).


Music: Abraham Kantor


Music: Salomon Sulzer


Music: Traditional

Barukh… mim’komo

Music: Salomon Sulzer


Music: Traditional nusach (prayer chant mode)


Music: based on Salomon Sulzer

Hu Eloheinu

Music: Traditional

V’hu yash’einu

Music: Traditional

Ani Adonai

Music: based on Salomon Sulzer


Music: Traditional nusach (prayer chant mode)


Music: Traditional Ahavah Rabbah (“freygish”) nusach (prayer chant mode)

L’dor vador

Text: Liturgy

Music: Craig Taubman. Arranged as a duet by Marc and Hannah Stober, inspired by Cantor Elias Rosemberg.

Copyright © Sweet Louise Music (BMI) / Craig Taubman (BMI). Used under JLicense #S-900059.

“From generation to generation.” Jewish values--like caring for the other as yourself, which we opened this program with--are passed down from generation to generation. Those very words are part of our prayers.


Hebrew College: Cantor Lynn Torgove, Advisor; Frank Kelley, Voice Teacher

Temple Israel: David Winthrop for A/V help; Nadav Matthews for live streaming help; Christine Dame (office administrator) for publicity and coordination. Also thank you to Dr. Josh Nathan, President; and Rabbis Jeremy Scepanzski and Gary Atkins for their support.

Too many other people to name at Hebrew College, Temple Israel, and elsewhere in my life for helping me reach this occasion!