This post is divided into two parts – one is for the cello aspects, and the second for a brief overview of why I play this piece. I am going to come back to edit it, but if I wait for it to be perfect, Kol Nidre will be over.
I am working on the fourth line of the piece, during a time when I have been very distracted with other projects. I’ve definitely gotten into too many projects and I will need to pull back from some from time to time.
Anyway, I practiced this for about 3 hours over two days. Tonight I transposed that fourth line down an octave so that I can play it primarily in first position. This way, I can train my brain for the right melody and rhythm so that I’ll have a point of reference when I play it back at pitch. Writing down the transcription was helpful as well, as it helped me see the pitch relationships better than when I was just reading it.
As to the piece itself. According to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, which I will rely on as being essentially correct, Bruch intended his piece to be a musical composition that included elements of Jewish folk music rather than a setting for a prayer all by itself. GottaGoPractice told me that she had learned from Lynn Harrell that this is actually the most performed piece on the cello. In fact, you can jump to a YouTube video of Harrell’s own Papal Holocaust memorial performance in 2009.
As it so happens, it was also Lynn Harrell’s performance that was one of the gems of my early CD collection. (back when CD’s were a new technology!) I played it (which also had a performance of the Dvorak concerto) almost constantly throughout college. I would put it on a few days before the actual Kol Nidre service, because musical instruments themselves are not played in Synagogues – except in the reform movement, of which I was not yet a part. Thus, his performance would warm me up for the Kol Nidre service itself. The version I heard during worship was always sung by the Hazzan (cantor) unaccompanied.
The Kol Nidre has clung to its place largely because of its melody. The prayer itself has always been embroiled in controversy because of a superficial reading of its translation. The prayer itself is an annulment of vows, made between the worshipper and the Almighty. It does not pertain to agreements between people, and thus can’t annul your credit card debts! What it can do is annul certain classes of promises made between the current date and the next year. [*]
* promises made under duress, particularly forced conversions
* promises that cannot be kept, or can only be kept by maintaining unrealistic suffering
* piecrust promises – “If you give me this job, I’ll promise to go to temple every week!”
It does not nullify traditional business contracts made in good faith
I have had times when I had made promises to a particular friend that I could not possibly keep without doing grave damage to my existing obligations. In other words, I had impossibly over-promised. I had to ask this person to be released from a promise that I could never keep. It was a bad situation, and I had erred terribly. But when I was released from holding on pointlessly to such a promise only for the legal points of it, we both felt better, and I finally understood what I was asking for from G-d.
We need to keep our vows, yet be compassionate with helping others re-shape a promise if keeping it for its own sake no longer makes sense.
[*] Even this is a central point of controversy. Some have edited the text, which used to be in the past tense, to be in the future. Some congregations may maintain the older reading. The transition to future tense avoids the hint that Jews were trying to annul existing contracts (made during the past year) Considering that Jews are frequently assaulted for even the simplest mis-understandings, I can understand this caution although it saddens me, too.