Lecture on Jewish Cantillation Columbia University

Individual Voices and the Study of Jewish Cantillation

Talk by Dr. Yonatan Malin
Sponsored by the Jewish Music Forum
Friday, October 31, 2:00-4:00 P.M.
The Center for Ethnomusicology and Department of Music
Columbia University
Dodge Hall, Room 622
2960 Broadway
New York, NY
Admission is free; Please RSVP to info@jewishmusicforum.org

Reception to follow.

This paper is part of an ongoing project on the analysis of Jewish cantillation in the Eastern Ashkenazic tradition. Jewish cantillation involves the intoned reading of Biblical texts with melodies determined by accent marks (te’amim) in printed Hebrew bibles. In other parts of the study, Malin has explored aspects of the system broadly: how the melodies correlate with and project text phrasing, and how they vary depending on the reading and occasion.

For more information please visit http://www.jewishmusicforum.org/. Here the focus is on specific passages as chanted by two individual readers—with original recordings from his fieldwork. It shows how the pacing of the cantillation in these recordings relates to the narrative flow of the creation story in Genesis I:1–5 and how the melodies, including improvised elements, correlate with poetic structures in Isaiah 40:27–31. The recordings are of Deborah Bronstein, a reform rabbi in Boulder, Colorado, and Jonathan Levine, a lay reader based in Syracuse, New York. Notably, neither recording is of a professional cantor—the traditional figure of authority for Jewish music.

Malin’s approach raises issues of orality vs. notation, authority, and tradition. It addresses these issues in dialogue with statements from the readers themselves (Bronstein and Levine); statements and practices from the tradition; scholarship in Jewish music by Hanoch Avenary, Judah Cohen, Edwin Seroussi, Jeffrey Summit, Boaz Tarsi, and others; and scholarship on analytical approaches to world music—including the work of Kofi Agawu and Michael Tenzer.

Yonatan Malin is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Colorado Boulder. His areas of research include the German Lied, music-text relations, theories of rhythm and meter, and liturgical music in Jewish traditions. His book Songs in Motion: Rhythm and Meter in the German Lied was published in 2010 by Oxford University Press. Professor Malin is currently editor of Music Theory Online, a journal of the Society for Music Theory.

The Jewish Music Forum is a project of the American Society for Jewish Music, with the support of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History. Founded in 2004, the Jewish Music Forum is now in its tenth season.

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