Monday, April 29, 2013

Carlebach Tyranny [a rant]



The following is not a rant against Carlebach Minyanim. I dance (well, shuffle) at them. I have led them. I instituted them occasionally when I was a shul rabbi.

This is also not a rant against minyanim that run overtime, as Carlebach Minyanim do. In the name of spirituality and fervor, I am more than happy to offer up the ten or fifteen minutes of my time that these take.

This is a rant against Carlebach tunes.

When I hear recordings of R' Shlomo Carlebach singing, I hear energy and life, fervor and inspiration. All too often, though, when I hear shuls sing Kabbolas Shabbos to Carlebach tunes I hear dirges [as well as chazanim who aren't sure when to go to the high part, and minyanim that split between high and low].

I hear people singing this tune because it's the tune they are supposed to sing, not because they feel anything.
I hear some people naively trying to match the tune with the words and phrases of Tehillim, and others giving up and just going with the flow.
I hear people mumbling their way through because they have been drafted into this service unwillingly.
And I hear loads of voices not singing as well, because hearing the same tune, week after week, is anything but inspiring. [If Kol Nidrei was a weekly experience, people wouldn't find that traditional tune moving, either.]

This is not true of all shuls, of course, or of all chazanim. But it is true of enough of them that I am writing this. [It is NOT true of any chazanim I have heard in the past several weeks – I've been sitting on this post for quite a while, and it was triggered by an experience that was not in the shul I normally attend.]

So here is my recommendation, for chazanim who want to motivate their communities: Sing! Sing just the ends of the paragraphs or sing the entire paragraphs, sing solo or lead a conga line! But please, please – sing a different tune, not a Carlebach tune. Sing the lively tune you heard at a wedding. Sing something relevant to that time of year. Sing a tune you've made up yourself [but clue people in first, perhaps] – but please, please, when the urge comes upon you to impose Carlebach tyranny upon the tzibbur, ask yourself: Is this the most inspiring way I can lead my community?

Thank you.

30 comments:

  1. my rec for communities-if you are not going to even try to sing, don't go-you sap any possible spirituality from the room.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  2. My shul started up a Carlebach Kabbalos Shabbos years ago. Same tunes every week, every single week. No variation. Same "spontaneous" dancing around the bimah at the same part of the service every single freakin' week. The majority of the people who come sing along happily and then shut their siddurim and talk with their friends when Maariv, the actual davening, begins because all they came for is the singing parts. It's why I haven't gone to shul on Friday night in years.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I am not impressed with Carlebach places. If I want davening I would go to a Litvak yeshiva for real emotion. The emotion I see in Chasidic place is mostly a show. The emotion in Carlebach place is mostly not attraction to the music but to people of the opposite sex.

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  5. Any decent tune can be a vehicle for the right emotion, but those involved have to want to express that. There are few magic tunes that will really inspire blase congregants, and such tunes can lose their effect through frequent repetition. More often than not, the traditional nusach chants work best for me.

    I've noticed that many of older nigunim are more complex, melodically rich and moving than nearly all new ones.

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  6. Joel-
    But what if it's the only minyan in town?

    Anonymous 7:45 AM-
    Thanks.

    Bob-
    On your last line - could you provide examples of the older niggunim?

    Anonymous 12:50 PM -
    Interesting, thank you.

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  7. Then only do it rarely and ask those who aren't into it to try fake it till they make it for one night only.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  8. "Bob-
    On your last line - could you provide examples of the older niggunim?"

    I have recordings of Breslover niggunim released by Breslov Research Institute and others, and of niggunim from Modzitz, Bobov, Belz, and other such sources. To my ear, nearly all fall into the category I mentioned. The tune to B'ni (verse quote from Koheles) by Ben Zion Halberstam HY'D, the second Bobover Rebbe, is a good example. Also, an often-sung Breslover tune for Lecha Dodi. Breslov Research Institute has published the sheet music for their Shabbos tunes---see http://www.breslov.org/bookstore/sheet-music/cat_12.html .

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  9. "It is NOT true of any chazanim I have heard in the past several weeks – I've been sitting on this post for quite a while, and it was triggered by an experience that was not in the shul I normally attend."

    Phew! That would have ruined my night.

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  10. What I don't understand is why anyone wants to sing the songs of an abuser. Suppress my comment if you want; call it posthumous lashon hara if you want. Claim that by singing his music, honoring his yahrtzeit, and celebrating his "gift," one does not condone his behavior. Feh.
    Read the accounts that were published, and dare to deny the former young girls -- now women -- and now-older women who were molested by him their voice, their justice. It is a shonda on the whole Jewish world -- not just those who chant Carlebach tunes, but on those who ignore the issue, too -- that they care about the length of women's skirts but not their pain. And that is what keeps this Jewish woman away from shuls far and wide. Shame on you all.

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  11. Bob-
    Thanks.

    Ezra-
    Definitely not you.

    Anonymous 12:10 AM-
    the point you make about his abuse is appropriate. But I am not at all clear how you make the leap from that to say that those who sing his tunes care about the length of women's skirts and not their pain - what makes you conclude that?

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  12. Correction of my earlier comment---B'ni words are taken from Mishlei, not Koheles

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  13. This Carlebach discussion raises a perennial issue including these questions:

    1. Do tunes and songs have a merit of their own, distinct from that of their composer?

    2. Do sacred tunes and songs differ from others in this regard?

    3. Is there ever a point at which a sacred musical piece, even one that is excellent in every way, should be totally excluded from a Jewish use because of character flaws in its composer?

    4. If the character flaw is a serious one, what level of proof is needed to establish its presence in a given composer?

    5. What about tunes absorbed into our liturgy that came from unknown or non-Jewish or even Jewish sources whose character we're unaware of?

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    Replies
    1. Re: 5

      A friend of mine who did a BA in music did her dissertation on synagogue music in Britain. She says most of it (Orthodox, Masorti and Reform) is actually based on German church music, although few people are aware of that. I am not sure what the implications of this would be.

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  14. Bob,
    Listen to this and share your thoughts (mine will be in an upcoming audioroundup)
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/792673/Rabbi_Aryeh_Lebowitz/Ten_Minute_Halacha_-_Listening_to_Secular_Music
    Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha - Listening to Secular Music

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  15. Joel,

    I listened to the first portion, about the music, not lyrics. The Harry Chapin example was interesting. I wonder if the effect of music is so subjective that only HaShem and I know how a given tune affects me at a given moment, spiritually or otherwise (I exclude anything obviously gross). I could rattle off a whole list of classical, Broadway, blues, rock, and folk compositions that move me positively, and another list, from the same categories, of tunes that bore or offend me.

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  16. The web page below describes a good selection of traditional Bobover musical arrangements, etc., available for purchase. Individual tracks featuring a Bobover male choir recorded about 50 years ago can be played from links on the web page.
    http://dealer.musicminusone.com/vocalist/songs-of-the-bobover-hasidim-melody-lyrics-chords.html

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  17. The links above play only parts of each track. This has the full tracks (click inside "jukebox"):
    http://faujsa.fau.edu/jsa/music_album.php?jsa_num=401106&queryWhere=&queryValue=401106&select=title&fetch=500&pagenum=21&return=findalbums

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  18. Better advice for the chazan - PRAY

    Hard, with all your might - all your soul.

    Then the tune doesn't really matter.

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  19. Bob-
    Do you think that the chazan's personal concentration will win over a person who has just come in on Friday night from the rush of work/shower/prepare children/clean the house? In my opinion, there is a place for music in invigorating people.

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    1. Yes, of course music has a place. But when in the mind of the chazan the music is more important than the prayer - when the tune becomes more important than what is being said - when it becomes a performance......when hw it is being sung is more important than what is being sung.

      By the way, I am a chazan, and I'm really enjoying this thread.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, and I think we are on the same page re: music, based on what you are saying here.

      Delete
  20. meanwhile, i'm not sure how this is different from any of the traditional kabbalat shabbat nusachim. Don't they all fall into that trap? What's special about Shlomo niggunim here?

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    Replies
    1. Hello Yoseph Leib,

      The other ones don't run for the entire paragraph (and claim that by doing so they are inspiring people).

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  21. "Don't do what makes you inspired....do what makes ME inspired. Only "I" no how to be inspired because 'I'was the closest to Rav Shlomo". Oh please....
    let it go....

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  22. It is not Carlebach tunes that are a tyrrany - but rather those who insist on repeating the same ones over and over again. Just because there were recordings made called “A Carlebach Kabbalas Shabbos,” or the like, does not mean that these tunes were meant to be repeated over and over, week after week. It is well known that Reb Shlomo didn’t do so. Variety is the spice of life, and very important when singing tunes in shul. And there is no set “formula” for a Leil Shabbos “turn-on.” That’s not what it’s about. The chazan or baal tefilla should stand before his Creator and sing, put himself into it, and hopefully some or most of the people listening will be inspired.
    With that, I have to agree with the comments of bob dick, and also yosef leib above.
    As to the disparaging remarks about Reb Shlomo as supposedly an abuser, there are more questions than answers. I believe the Halacha bids us not to believe these allegations.
    What I can add is this: most, if not all, of the allegations came out after his death; most of them were made by under-age females, who are not Halachically kosher to testify; and their circulation on the Internet comes from two sources: a “magazine” named after a female demon, and a woman who by her own admission was herself abused in her own home by Satanic worshippers. The credibility here is sorely lacking.
    Moreover, my contacts with those who knew him personally has led me to believe that he was NOT an abuser, even if he did things that normative Halacha would not sanction. The testimony of the Amshinover Rebbe Shlita, amongst others, bears this out.
    -- yitz from Jerusalem

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  23. True, there are places that are pretty much the same thing every week like you described. However, if you come to the neighborhood of Nachlaot in Jerusalem, and you will be able to hear a good variety of tunes and see amazing ruach.

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