Kedushah in the Choir

Nancy Abramson
Kedoshim By :  Nancy Abramson Former Director of H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music. JTS Posted On May 13, 2016 / 5776 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

An a cappella rendition of Rossi’s Keter

This week’s parashah opens with a statement on holiness: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). In the original Hebrew, the word “you” in this verse is in the plural form, implying that anyone can attain holiness and that the capacity for holiness is not only for those who are spiritually gifted. The plural “you” might also suggest that holiness is best achieved in the context of a community, rather than as a solo effort.

Similarly, someone who sings in a choir derives benefit from the group. Many of us have had the experience of adding our untrained voices to a community chorus, and finding that the whole is indeed greater than the parts. The act of making music in a group magnifies one’s individual artistry.

Salamone Rossi (ca. 1570–1630) was the first Jewish composer to write choral music. Among his compositions is Keter—the title of which is taken from the opening word, keter (crown), of the Kedushah in the Sephardic rite. The entire line reads, “Your crown of holiness is acclaimed by throngs of angels on high and by your people assembled below.”

This performance of Rossi’s Keter by Rhythm and Jews, the University of Chicago’s Jewish a cappella group, brings Rossi’s music into the 21st century and illustrates how holiness can be captured in choral singing.