Thursday, March 11, 2010

Learning Trope


Have you ever tried to read something without the vowels?  If so, you probably noticed that it was somewhat intuitive to know what belonged between the various consonants.  Chanting torah is much like that, only it’s not so intuitive unless you know Hebrew well.

The choir at Temple Micah is going to do a “collective” torah reading on April 3.   The portion is Ki Tisa, which contains the story of the Ten Commandments. 

By sharing the reading, each person will chant only a couple of verses.  Some people are veterans at this.  For others it’s their first time.

The torah from which we will chant was laboriously created by a scribe, who was not allowed even one mistake.  It is made up of panels which are sewn together.  They contain the Hebrew letters that form the words of the first five books of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.  But they lack the vowels which tell you how to pronounce the words and they lack the trope marks which tell you how to sing them.

I’ve devised a system that works for me as I try to learn my part.  I start with a printout of  my verses, which I was able to get from this site.  To the right are the verses with vowels and trope marks, the dots and squiggles surrounding the letters.  I have assigned a color to each unique trope mark, which then can be associated with actual music. 

To the left you see the same verses with no vowels or trope marks, much as they will appear in the torah.

For my husband, who is doing this for the first time since his bar mitzvah almost 50 years ago, I actually put the words with the music to help him learn his part.



Tomorrow another choir member is coming over so I can help her get started.

For some odd reason, I am actually much more fluent in Hebrew when I am singing it, as opposed to reading it, where I sound like the equivalent of a first grader sounding out one word at a time.

I’ll practice about 5 minutes each day and in a week or so my three verses will be easy.  Getting a tape of the verses is always an option, but then you tend to simply memorize your part instead of reading it. 

Somewhere along the way I will want to translate word by word so I know what I am chanting.

Once you know this system, it’s then possible to chant from any part of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy. 

6 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

Interesting! I didn't know Hebrew had trope marks (or that they were called trope marks, for that matter). Arabic is similar, with floating marks around the main line of text that indicate how it should be read. (Arabic includes vowels on the main line, though.)

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very cool and ingenious (as usual)! As a synesthete, I love the blending of color, notations, movement, and sound...I bet it'll be a beautiful experience to hear so many voices in turn read the Torah portion...

F.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Of course, you've figured out a way to make sense of it and you're helping other people get started. It's going to be great!

10:57 AM  
Blogger Rayna said...

I can follow the prayer book, mostly because I know a lot of the prayers by heart and can recognize the gestalt. but don't give me a word out of context and expect me to read it -- unless it is shalom or kosher or something similarly elementary.
Good for you!!

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Hebrew Scholar said...

This is a really delightful and inspiring post. Learning the cantillation marks can make a huge difference in understanding and appreciating the Hebrew text, and often singing the Hebrew text makes it come alive in a way that simply reading it can't. Singing the text is a great way to enhance the memorization of the Hebrew.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Celinda said...

This is awesome!

4:59 AM  

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