News and Views on Jews and Music

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News and Views on Jews and Music

A glossary of Jewish music terms

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Jewish music, like all fields, has its jargon, and perhaps the start of a new year is a good time to go over some key terms. Also, I will miss the Song Leader Boot Camp this year, held on Jan. 19-20 at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield, but perhaps attendees will find this helpful:

Ba'al toke'ah: Hebrew for "master of the sound." A shofar blower.

Badchan: At a Jewish wedding, the jester/emcee who "gets the party started."

Bentch: Yiddish, "bless." Especially, to say Birkat HaMazon/Grace After Meals.
Bentch licht: light Shabbat candles.

Bulgar: A klezmer melody influenced by Bulgarian music.

Camp song: A simple, short song, taught and sung at summer camp, with a guitar.

Cantillation: The sing-song melody used when reading the Torah or other scriptures.

Cantor: Leader of the prayer service. Some cantors are ordained.

Chazan/Hazzan: Hebrew for "cantor."

Daven: Yiddish for "pray."

Duchan: To bless the entire congregation. Only Kohanim are permitted to do so.

Freylach: Yiddish for "festive." Also, a fast klezmer piece.

Geshrai: Yiddish for "shout."

HaTikvah: Hebrew for "The Hope," this is the title of Israel's national anthem.

Kavanah: Intention, intensity. When you mean it, you "have kavanah."

Kley Zemer: Hebrew for "vessel of song." A musical instrument.

Klezmer: From "kley zemer," the music of the Ashkenazic, Yiddish culture. The main instruments are the violin and clarinet.

Kumzitz: Yiddish for "come, sit!" Informal gathering, often including a sing-along.

Kvitsch: Yiddish for "sharp yelp." Can be made by a person or, say, a clarinet.

Ladino: The Hebrew-Spanish blend-language of the Sephardic Jews. It is to Sephardim what Yiddish is to Ashkenazic Jews. 

Leibedik(eh): Yiddish for "heart-like." Full of emotion.

Liturgical: Related to, or based in, prayers.

Machzor: Prayer book for Jewish holidays.
Madrich(a):  (Fe)male camp counselor.

Melamed: non-ordained Jewish-studies teacher, including bar/bat mitzvah tutor.

Melevah Malkah: Hebrew for "escorting the queen," a meal held after Shabbat, to bid farewell to the Shabbat Queen.

Mizrachi: Hebrew for "Eastern." Of Middle-Eastern origin.

Niggun: Wordless, melodic, ecstatic chant sung repeatedly for meditative effect.

Nusach: Version of a prayer service, usually Ashkenazic or Sephardic.

Od ha-pa'am!:  Hebrew for "Further, an instance." In English: "One more time!" The Yiddish version is "Noch a'mol!"

Oneg Shabbat: Hebrew for "Shabbat delight." A party on Shabbat afternoon.

Ot azoy!: Yiddish for "Just like that!" In English, "You got it! Keep going!"

Piyut: Hebrew for "hymn." The composer of one is a "piyetan."

Psalm 150: The final Pslam, notable for listing instruments used in the Holy Temple

Rabbotai!: Yiddish for "Ladies and Gentlemen!" In English, "Hey, listen up!"

Ru'ach: Hebrew for "wind" and also "spirit." Enthusiasm.

Schpiel: A play, long story, or sales pitch. Purimschpiel: satirical Purim play.

Shaliach Tzibur: Hebrew for "messenger of the congregation." Cantor, often a non-ordained one or volunteer. Abbrebiated in Hebrew as "schatz."

Sheket!: Hebrew for "quiet." Used to demand attention before an announcement.

Sher: Yiddish for "shears." A klezmer dance involving scissor-kicks.

Shir: Hebrew for "song." Used to denote a modern song, as opposed to a zemer.

Shiron: Songbook or set of songsheets.

Siddur: From the Hebrew for "order" (same as "Seder"). Jewish prayerbook.

Tehilim: Psalms. King David wrote most of them, for prayers in the Holy Temple.

Trop: Note-sets used for Torah reading that give it its sing-song sound.

Zemer: Hebrew for song. Used to denote a traditional or ancient song.

Zmirot: Songs, especially those sung at the table after Shabbat meals.

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