Archiving Synagogue Music

American synagogue music has undergone a huge transformation over the past 50 years. Synagogues and temples from all Jewish streams and traditions engage their congregants with Hassidic tunes, Carlebach niggunim, folk and Israeli compositions and many other genres of the Israeli and Jewish music scene. In recent years Lowell Milken has created an Archive that traces much of this American Jewish music, starting from the earliest days of American Jewish settlement and moving on to feature the music of contemporary synagogues and temples.
The evolution of synagogue music in North America expresses the evolution of the American Jewish community. The first Jews in America were Sephardic Jews who arrived in the 1600s from Brazil. These people brought their Sephardic traditions with them into the first American synagogues which they built in the early American Jewish communities of South Carolina, Rhode Island and New York. The liturgies and melodies reflected the Spanish and Portuguese ancestry of these immigrants are captured in recordings of early American synagogue music such as in old Ladino melodies and compositions.
As the Jewish community of American changed, so did its synagogue music. German Jewish music, including the music of the new Reform movement, was dominant in many new Ashkanazi synagogues in the mid-1800s. When the huge waves of Russian Jews began to arrive in the 1880s they brought with them the familiar melodies and niggunim of the Eastern European shtetel. The 20th century also marked the age of great cantorial music that had originated in Hungary, Russia, Poland and Romania. Cantorial music crossed the ocean to America’s shores with the great cantors of the day and these musical traditions are archived in Milken Archives’s vast archives with volumes of spiritual works as well as many original recordings of the great American cantors of the 20th century. The Golden Voices of the Golden Land volume includes recordings of the preeminent 20th century American cantors including Yossele Rosenblatt, Israel Schorr, Moshe Ganchoff, Leib Glanz and Pinchas Jassinowsky.
By the 1960s synagogue music was beginning to change again. Rabbis and cantors were willing to experiment with a more modern musical approach that would engage the congregation and create a meaningful experience for the congregants. Throughout these decades Jewish music has continued to evolve faster than at any other time in history. The Milken Archives collects these new liturgies and compositions and makes them available to professionals and lay people alike.
For people who are interested in formal Jewish synagogue music the Archive presents the Masterworks of Prayer volume which encompasses liturgical masterpieces, from small settings to full services. The Art of Jewish Song volume is a contemporary collection of synagogue songs which includes Yiddish works.
A recent trend in American Jewish music involves updating synagogue music with modern, catchy tunes. The Milken Archives has created a volume called Sings his Praises which documents the way that blues and jazz have become integrated in the liturgy of American synagogues and temples. One of the newest volumes at the Archives, Seder Tefillot, fuses traditional and modern synagogue music with songs that range from traditional slichot and Yom Kippur prayers to reform Kabbalat Shabbat and other Sabbath prayers.
The Archives includes a volume of children’s music which features songs that express the  Jewish concept of passing  spiritual, ethical, and moral values to future generations through community prayer and gathering. L’dor Vador involves a broad expanse of styles which focuses on the  sound of children’s voices  as they represent the hope and promise of the future.

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