Ein Keiloheinu No. 1

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 23 Oct 2016

Two part round in 8/8 (patterns of 3-3-2-2)

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  1. There is none like our God: none like our Lord. There is none like our King: none like our Saviour.
  2. Who is like our God: who is like our Lord? Who is like our King: who is like our Saviour?
  3. We will give thanks to our God: we will give thanks to our Lord. We will give thanks to our King: we will give thanks to our Saviour.
  4. Blessed be our God: blessed be our Lord. Blessed be our King: blessed be our Saviour.
  5. You are our God: You are our Lord. You are our King: You are our Saviour.
  6. There is none like our God: none like our Lord. There is none like our King: none like our Saviour.

The text of the Ein Keloheinu prayer appears in the Siddur (prayerbook) of Rav Amram in around 875 CE. In some versions of this prayer, there is a final line that refers to the incense used in Temple services. As in a number of Anglo-Jewish communities, I have dropped that line and re-used the opening line of the prayer, so it comes back full circle to ein keloheinu.

I added the Amein, baruch atah in a bottom voice part because the first three verses begin respectively with aleph, mem and nun, which spells amein, and verses 4 and 5 begin with baruch and atah.  (Taken together, this means ‘So be it – blessed are You!’)

The prayer makes reference to four different names of God (Elohim-God, Adonai-Lord, Melech-King, Moshia-Saviour) in the order they first appear in the Torah (Gen 1:1, Gen 15:2, Ex 15:18, Deut 33:29). This also reflects the four worlds taught in the Jewish mystical system of kabbalah. Four in Hebrew is the letter Dalet, which means ‘door’, and can symbolise a doorway to God. The music of this setting echoes the patterns of four: each musical line is four bars long; the first half of each verse climbs through the four steps of an arpeggio (the four notes of a chord), starting each phrase on the next step (1-3-5-8). The letter yud can also be a shorthand reference to God; it stands for the number ten. Within kabbalah, ten represents the number of sephirot (spheres) on the Tree of Life, and represents ten core aspects of God. To echo this, the rhythmic patterning of each bar of music incorporates 10 quavers (fast rhythmic sub-divisions).

In writing this, I wanted to experiment with sounds evocative of Sephardi Jewish tradition. The rhythms are based on patterns of 3-3-2-2, and the melodic shapes use a 1-2-3-4-5-flat_7-8 scale. I had originally hoped that I could write something that congregations would feel able to sing. However, I think these intricate rhythms (even without singing the round, or adding the bottom part) are a little tricky unless you are used to these kinds of rhythms!

For more information on Ein keloheinu, see Wikipedia.

Possible ways to use this prayer-song

The prayer can be sung as a single, unaccompanied line (if people are musically confident enough!), but it raises the spirits if people can add either the bottom voice (repeating Amein, baruch atah …), and/or sing the main line as a two part round.

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