I remember the first moments that I sat in the sanctuary at Temple Beth El of Great Neck and heard my cantor, Barbara Ostfeld, sing the majestic Avinu Malkeinu of Max Janowski for the first time. With the organ and the choir joining her, I felt the emotion well up inside of me as I realized the impact that this incredible music had on me. I had those same feelings the first time I sang Kol Nidre as a Student Cantor, and of course Max Helfman’s Shema Koleinu at my first full time pulpit.
I still feel the emotion of the music of the High Holy Days each and every time I put on my white robe and stand before the Kahal to intone the majestic and powerful music of the Days of Awe. It is why I am so proud to have been part of a project to bring new powerful and emotional music to the Reform movement helping to bring to life the beautiful poetry in our new machzor.
After nearly two years of work, the American Conference of Cantors, in partnership with CCAR Press, is proud to present to our movement this book of new compositions for High Holy Day worship. This book brings musical life to many of the magical new texts found in Mishkan HaNefesh while also bringing musical voice to other traditional texts found in the machzor. All of us have our favorite melodies for Avinu Malkeynu, or Shema Koleinu….I know that I do. However, the music contained in Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh provides beautiful alternatives and an opportunity to introduce new musical memories to our communities. Like the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, the music contained in this volume underscores the central value of Teshuvah, accompanying our journey during the Days of Awe, as together we seek repentance, new direction, and a sense of return to God and the Jewish people.
While I would never try to replace the melodies that are part of my life and my inner soul, I am so excited to join these new and exciting melodies to them thus enriching the musical life of the Jewish people for decades to come.
I look forward to sharing these new melodies with my community this coming High Holy Days and hope you will as well.
Cantor Steven Weiss is the project director for Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh and the Vice-President of the American Conference of Cantors. He also serves Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, MA.