Yotzeir Or

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 22 June 2011

I wrote this originally for the wedding of my friends Thomas and Julie – it has also been used to dance with the Torah, as a circle dance at retreats and other gatherings. But it was my friend Nina who, with a stroke of genius, discovered a perfect fit (metrically and in spirit) for words from the first morning blessing before the Shema.

This piece works well as a nigun to start a morning service, or to ring the changes when beginning the pesukei d’zimra (‘verses of song’ in the morning service). The tune starts low, but each successive phrase starts higher – for me this mirrors the purpose of the first part of the morning service. We must ‘ascend’ towards the Amidah (the ‘standing prayer’) which is at the heart of the service where we metaphorically stand before the Holy of Holies – this music can help us build the energy to get there. The first half is very quick and easy to learn, and is sometimes sung by itself – but if you take the trouble to learn the second half, you get to enjoy that wonderful little ‘catch’ moment in the rhythm towards the end where it touches the highest point (b 13) – a glimpse of what we are reaching for in the service. It feels hard to resist dancing our praise for the Creator. Actually, why bother resisting?

I have been told that this piece seems to blend a Jewish musical sensibility with a flavour of English folk melody. I think that is probably right, and I’m very happy that it reflects my two identities.

 Performance notes:
  1. This piece can take the place of the full version of the first blessing before the morning Shema. Some congregations sing this chant, and then complete the blessing with the chatimah (seal) of: Baruch atah adonai, yotzeir ham’orot (Blessed are You God, maker of lights.)
  2. Like all chants, this works best when repeated quite a number of times, ringing the changes between the Hebrew and English. You could start by singing it as a nigun to ‘Yai dai dai’.
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