Make Each New Song More Joyful than the Last
Recently, as I was leaving the sanctuary on Shabbat morning, a man who was a guest of the bar mitzvah family approached me. Warmly shaking my hand and thanking me for a “lovely service,” he asked several questions about the music I sang, during both the morning service and the Kabbalat Shabbat service the night before.
“The melodies are different than the ones I am used to,” he said. “They sound more modern, feel happier.” He is an engaged and educated member of a Conservative congregation in another state and was genuinely interested in how different minhagim (customs) arise and evolve.
Although it was not an entirely new conversation, he asked me a new question: “Are your musical selections mandated by your movement? Is there a head organization or committee that tells you what music to sing?” I explained that there is no such organization, but that trends in modern Jewish music develop over time in many ways. New music is a significant element of Reform Judaism. Then, I smiled and said, “After all, we read, ‘Shiru l’Adonai, shir chadash,’ (Sing to Adonai a new song.)”
The phrase Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash appears multiple times in the Tanach (a Hebrew acronym for the three parts of Jewish scripture: Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings)). During our Kabbalat Shabbat service, we are instructed not only to sing – but more specifically, to sing a new song. In his commentary on Psalm 96, Rashi asserts that this new song is a song for the future, referencing the final line of the Psalm: “…He has come to judge the earth.” It is clear that the “new song” is an exuberant, joyful song of praise meant to be greater than the song that came before it. Recently, this message has taken on a powerful new meaning for the American Conference of Cantors (ACC), the professional association of Reform cantors.
Last fall, the ACC acquired Transcontinental Music Publications (TMP), the world’s premier publisher of Jewish music. This acquisition presented us with an extraordinary opportunity to do more than sing new songs; we could publish them as well.
And indeed we have.
In addition to getting business in order and looking ahead to the future of Jewish music, we hit the ground running with the publication of Music for Shabbat Worship: The 2015 Biennial Songbook
And that was just the beginning.
In response to a call for new songs for the eighth volume in the Shabbat Anthology series, we received more than 400 submissions. A committee reviewed them and chose 26 for publication. Narrowing down the field was no easy feat, but we were thrilled to have the difficult task of choosing from among so many beautiful compositions – and inspired to see that the creation of new Jewish music is alive and well.
The forthcoming volume in the popular series, Shabbat Anthology VIII, will be filled with new compositions that are exuberant, joyful, and soulful songs of praise. Both vocal/piano arrangements and lead sheets, as well as a CD, and will be available from TMP at the end of June.
This is an exciting time in the world of Jewish music, and with so many talented cantors, musicians, composers, and conductors dedicated to the instruction from Psalms – Shiru l’Adonai, shir chadash – to sing a new song to Adonai, the American Conference of Cantors and Transcontinental Music Publications are proud to be at the forefront of helping them – and you! – do just that.