Sh’ma Adonai Koli Ekra (Ps 27:7)

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 25 Sept 2016

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Sh’ma Adonai koli ekra; v’choneini va’aneini.

Hear, O Lord, when I call with my voice, and be gracious to me, and answer me.

Zalman Shachter-Shalomi: “Listen, YaH, to the sound of my cry and, being kind, answer me.”

Since the mid-1700s, Psalm 27 has been associated with Elul, the month of introspection and t’shuvah– making repair and returning to God. The psalm refers to God 13 times – perhaps echoing the invocation of the 13 attributes of God’s forgiving nature. The penultimate verse begins with the word lulei (‘were I not’), which spells Elul in reverse. Psalm 27 is a beautiful and mysterious prayer, the first half offering the reassurance of God’s presence and support, and the second expressing anxiety at God being distant and unavailable. Juxtaposing these opposites is a fitting reflection of the spiritual movements of High Holy Days.

I try to write something new each year for my Jewish Renewal community the London Ruach Chavurah to use at Yom Kippur. This year (2016) it struck me that it would be good to have a meditative chant for crying out to God to hear our prayers.

The language is in the first person singular – ‘I’. And yet as Jews we are encouraged to pray in community, and at High Holy Days especially, we are meant to find support and honesty with each other as we direct our thanks, our apologies and our requests to God. That might suggest that we should have used a text with the plural ‘we’, as we have in, for example, the prayer Sh’ma koleinu (‘Hear our voices’). But when this setting of Ps 27:7 is sung as a round, the resulting harmonies create a strong sense of the community sending out its collective voice – a balance of individual voices and a collective sound. The individual voices make and support the community, and the community supports the individuals.

The tune for the first half of the verse reaches stepwise ever higher – sh’MA AdoNAI, koLI eKRA – as the voices reach upwards to be heard. The tune for the second half gradually descends and settles, with the relief of being answered by God’s graciousness. Notice also the deliberate, momentary harmonic clash of the two voices when they overlap at ekra (‘call out’) and aneini (‘answer me’).

Possible ways to use this prayer-song
  • Experiment with how you want to work the voice parts and harmonies, using the following points as guidelines.
  • The prayer can be sung as a single congregational line or solo (with or without instrumental accompaniment), and can also be sung as a two-part round.
  • The chord sequences given here are suggestions only, rather than prescriptive, so that there is harmonic variety when the round is repeated several times.
  • The last few bars, marked ‘CODA’ are a suggested alternative while the second voice part completes the tune.
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