#7: Evolution of Jewish Sacred Music (Jayson Rodovsky & Cantor Barry Abelson)

Cantor Abelson and accompanist Jayson Rodovsky have sung and played generations of Jewish music during their illustrious careers. Join them as they share stories, listen to sample clips of beautiful liturgical music, and discuss the musical trends that continue to shape synagogue music to this day. A special thank you to Transcontinental Music’s online music directory, from which we drew our music samples. Please subscribe to Temple Talks and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Cantor Abelson
We’re going to look at some of the changing faces of Jewish music since I’ve been here, and from Jayson’s perspective, some of the new music coming out of the URJ and Transcontinental Music.

When I first got here, 35 years ago, the closing anthem was God in His Holy Temple, accompanied by organ and a choir of professional singers—very different than what we have today. At Passover, we sang Mendelssohn’s Elijah every year. We’d sing, “if with all your hearts you truly seek Me.” It was very odd for me at first as I came from a conservative, traditional background, but those were the traditions at Temple Israel, so I followed that. At the time, Rabbi Steven Pinsky was the senior rabbi. He loved having formal classical music performed on Shabbat. Congregational participation was not so much on the charts. No one really sang along. It was up to the Cantor to lead.

Over the years we’ve had lots of talented musicians at Temple: Rabbi Joe Black, Rabbi Sim Glaser, and Rabbi Tobias Moss, among others. We’ve had quite a musical team and seen a lot of musical change over the years since I’ve been here.

Jayson Rodovsky
My experience also mirrors Cantor Abelson’s. And so today we will hear various examples of how the music has changed. These are only little snippet excerpts from the original recordings. If you’re interested, you can go on the Transcontinental Music Publishing website and hear longer examples. 

I think you’ll hear a shift from the earlier examples to the later ones. We’ll be hearing from 1983 until almost today, from a presentational style to a more congregant-participation style, which is a wonderful thing in my mind, that more people can participate directly rather than being passive in the pew—not that we ever threw everything else out. It is nice to have melodies that are more cantorial in style but good to have both options available in our day.

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