Irrationally annoyed: a rant

Generally, I’m fairly easy-going with regards to davening. I’ve been to quite a few different types of services (Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, traditional egalitarian, Conservative) and enjoyed them to varying degrees and in different ways, and nothing, nothing, bugs me more than setting a prayer to the tune of a pop song. It takes me right out of the experience and makes me irrationally pissed off. Part of this is due to a certain ritual conservativeness that I’ve come to ascribe to: it’s distracting to me when I associate a certain tune not with Shabbat or prayer but with light rock radio and cheesy movie soundtracks. Another part of it is the fact that the chosen melody really doesn’t go well with the text: the scansion is all off, and that’s distracting, too.

The minyan I daven most frequently with on Friday nights usually has kabbalat shabbat led by a woman, and ma’ariv led by a man. (This kind of bugs me, too, but that’s rational, and the subject of another post.) A friend of mine, who is studying for smicha (and an amazing singer and all-around awesome person) is a frequent leader of kabbalat shabbat, as she knows the liturgy well and has a strong voice. Unfortunately, she often sets L’cha Dodi to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. This is a great song (everyone and their mother and their second cousin’s dog loves it), but it doesn’t work for me on any level as part of the service. When I’m singing L’cha Dodi, I want to be singing L’cha Dodi, not feeling like I’m singing “she broke your throat and she cut your hair…”

The short version of all of this? It bugs me. Irrationally. In fact, one of the main reasons I’ve been invested in learning the kabbalat shabbat liturgy is so that I can lead services at some point, and use tunes I actually like, that actually work with the service, both in terms of feeling and scansion.

Does anyone else find the use of secular/pop tunes in davening annoying? Am I alone here? I don’t know. Thoughts?

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9 thoughts on “Irrationally annoyed: a rant

  1. I’m actually irrationally annoyed right now if you’re apologizing for this.
    I’m currently trying quite hard to justify my distaste for irreverent singing of things that don’t need to be sung etc…but pop songs are a whole different class of bad.

    I can’t stand this “Let’s just have fun” thing people like to do with their Shabbat services.. it’s not bad to have fun as well, but I wish people would remember whom they are there for, primarily.

    • Ha, I’d apologize for annoying you, but then I’d be apologizing for apologizing, so… Yeah.

      I actually love singing absolutely everything (I grew up in a really participatory Reform/Renewal community), but if it’s mumbling or pop songs, I’ll go with the mumble mumble shuckle mumble every time.

      it’s not bad to have fun as well, but I wish people would remember whom they are there for, primarily.
      And yeah, this.

  2. Pingback: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased. « Crystal Decadenz

  3. first off i should say that i have the most horrible taste in music (if your kind enough to call the punk and hardcore i listen to music), but i get it. some tunes just are branded. and other pieces of the liturgy are so special to us its like making fun of best friend, we get strangely annoyed. i remember once i heard a rabbi say “hey look, you CAN sing adon olam to literally any tune!” of course it was a crowd of Jews, someone in the crowd couldn’t hold back saying, “….not that you should.” ;)

    • Well, I don’t know what specific bands you’re talking about, but punk is definitely music. (Can’t say one way or another with regards to hardcore :P)

      and yeah, I have to say I’m with that person in the crowd, lol

  4. Many of our “traditional” prayer melodies came from the pop songs of their day. I think melodies that are secular in origin should be held to the same standards as any other melodies in prayer. If they fit (in mood, meter, etc.), then great, and if not, they should go. A responsible sha”tz should ask that question before using any melody.

    There is a big difference between the Automatic for the People kabbalat shabbat and wacky Purim melodies.

    • That’s a good point re: the “traditional” melodies (and something I should have addressed in my post, since it’s a phenomenon I was aware of)!

      The AFTP kabbalat shabbat sounds really interesting. I think in the end I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to liturgical music actually used during davening, but I love the idea of taking secular aesthetics and transposing them onto explicitly religious experiences. If nothing else, it’s fascinating as a phenomenon.

  5. As for Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluyah”, it works best for psalms that already have the word “Halleluyah”; I don’t understand this proliferation of setting it to other things!

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