Ethnography and Analysis in the Study of Jewish Music
Two analytical vignettes on distinct genres of Jewish liturgical music are situated in dialogue with ethnographic encounters. The first vignette reveals structural and expressive aspects of a Hasidic niggun, a type of sung melody that is understood to be a form of prayer. The analysis was first delivered in a public forum involving members of a local Jewish community and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an influential rabbi who recalled the niggun from his family in Vienna before World War II. The analysis was therefore designed in both content and mode of delivery to resonate with ideas from Schachter-Shalomi and the community. This vignette shows how music analysis may reach new audiences by drawing on cultural knowledge and, conversely, how analysis may take on new meaning and relevance in the context of a given culture.; ; The second vignette juxtaposes my prior analysis of modal aspects of Jewish Biblical chant (Malin 2016) with accounts from practitioners. My prior analysis deals with generalized practice; it is based on my training and notated sources. Interviews with other practitioners documented in the present paper, however, reveal a profound form of orality in which the sacred text is imbued with the memory of individual voices. I transcribe and analyze my recording of one highly accomplished chanter and document discussions with him, including his response to my analysis. While this new analysis is congruent with the value placed on individual voices, other tools—such as the anthropological theories of Alfred Gell (1998) and Georgina Born (2013)—would be needed to address the personal connections mediated by Biblical chant.