— a rapidly growing collection of Jewish liturgical tunes. The goal is to compile a database of every melody for every Jewish liturgical text. Can it be done? No. But it won't stop me from trying!
News for NusachDB are now at the Offtonic Blog.
The idea is to list, by service, the entire set of liturgy, along with links to recordings and sheet music for each melody and style of nusach. For the recordings, I will point the user to existing online recordings from the sites linked from Nusach Resources, though I will not link to the recordings directly since I do not own them.
As NusachDB becomes more complete, it will be easy for a service leader or a researcher to quickly find a variety of musical options for any given portion of the liturgy. However, it should be noted that there is often a wide variety of opinions regarding halacha. Some may use a niggun for a text when others would argue that a different niggun is halachically ordered at that point; others may be opposed to melodies that do not fit in a particular mode or do not have a particular origin. I am not a chazan; I am a simple musician with a particular interest. Please do not interpret the presence of a tune as a halachic stamp of approval!
If you have a tune to contribute, please send it to me at email@example.com and I will add it as appropriate. I will transcribe your recording into sheet music, and I'll upload it or link to it if you'd like (and I can record my own if you'd prefer that). Perhaps someday this can be a wiki.
An important note about the traditions: These traditions are still alive! As is often the case, codifying a tradition in writing preserves it, but when it is preserved, it is resistant to change. Witness modern English, which closely resembles that of Shakespeare but only distantly resembles that of Chaucer, who wrote before the printing press. Therefore, I do not endeavor to notate melodies faithfully to the recordings, which are often rich in vocal embellishment. Versions of the same melody might vary only in a single note here or there, which I will not bother to point out unless it's significant enough. I will not give exact transcriptions of nusach either. One can listen to the recordings to see exactly where the words fall, but as nusach is by nature improvisatory, it does not make sense to write it as if it were static. Additionally, I really don't care about the key of the recording.
Permalinks: They exist! Every section and tune now has an ID, which means that you can browse NusachDB with your address bar, as well as link to individual tunes. See the About page for details.
An important note about the recordings: For the most part, I do not own the recordings or the melodies. The recordings are presented by their respective websites specifically in order for a person to learn the melodies; I am learning these melodies, transcribing them, and posting them here. The recordings, however, are not mine. Therefore, I cannot link to them directly, as that would be equivalent to stealing them; I can only point the user to where they may be obtained from their actual owners. That said, if you are the owner or composer of a particular melody and want me to credit you properly or even, Hashem forbid, take it down, please let me know.
The numbers in parentheses refer to the number of melodies posted in that particular section, which is the sum of the numbers of melodies for each subsection. Multiple recordings of the same melody for a particular text are only counted once.
THIS SITE IS UNDER LOTS OF CONSTRUCTION. It gets updated nearly every day, though perhaps not this particular text...
Why is there a paragraph of text with stuff in parentheses for some of the tunes?
This is how I've chosen to represent nusach. Nusach often involves selecting from a set of musical phrases and improvising on them, and I've decided to show this by presenting all of the phrases and giving them short names, and using simple text to indicate which phrase is used for the text; keep in mind that there can be considerable variety in execution for each phrase, from drawing out rhythms to adding or subtracting notes. For an example of how the nusach applies to the passage, listen to the linked recordings.
But sometimes the passage in the paragraph has different lyrics in the sheet music? What?
This happens sometimes when some other words are chanted to a phrase used for "Baruch Atah Adonai". The words in the music are the common ones for this musical phrase, but on occasion other words are chanted to it as well.
Why is there no time signature for some of these?
It doesn't really matter, does it? For melodies, I've tried to include a time signature where it makes sense, but it doesn't make sense for nusach, since it doesn't follow any set time. There are exceptions where there is metrical nusach (High Holiday maariv, for example), but usually, the time signature is completely irrelevant and often misleading.
And the notes without stems?
These are known as recitation tones, which have an explicitly indeterminate length and number of syllables. The person chanting the nusach can chant as many syllables as necessary on that pitch (or embellish it) before moving on.
Wait, am I supposed to sing chords?
No, no! I sometimes print multiple variants of a melody on the same line when a variation is small enough that it doesn't merit its own melody. Notes in parentheses also represent optional variants, especially in nusach where a note may get chanted in a longer phrase in the text but not a shorter one. The best way to learn this is to listen to the recordings listed.
What's that weird backwards flat sign? That t-looking thing? The triple fencepost? The weird db?
Half-accidentals is what they are! The backwards flat sign indicates that a note is to be sung or played half-flat, and the symbol that looks like a sharp cut in half means half-sharp. Since the distance between Db and D is a half step or a semitone, we call the interval between Dd and D a quarter step or a quarter tone. The sign that looks like a db indicates a 3/4-tone lowering, and the sign that looks like a sharp and a half is the inverse. These notes are not part of the Western vocabulary, which Ashkenazi tradition mostly draws from, but they are present in Middle-Eastern scales, so you might see them in Eastern Sephardic tunes.
Sometimes there are recordings listed for a tune but no sheet music. Why is that?
Not all tunes are appropriate for transcription. In particular, produced songs featuring instruments and choral works don't always have a singable melodic line; those recordings are usually not intended to be instructive. In those cases, the "product", as it were, is the recording itself rather than the melody. The other example of recordings inappropriate for transcription is the recitative, which is a highly personalized musical form that is quite particular to the chazan who sings it. In both of these cases, recitatives and tunes lacking a singable melodic line, the sheet music would be either insufficient or useless.
Hey, why don't you have such and such a tune?
Either because I don't know it or because I haven't gotten to it. If you can find it in one of the sites in my list, let me know which one and I may get to it soon. If you can't, then you're welcome to record it yourself and send me a link, or even send me the file!
Can I help run the site?
...Maybe. Right now I'm doing it all by myself. I'm not yet sure how I might be able to share the work, but if you have ideas, I'd be happy to hear them.
Your site is ugly.
This is not a question, but it is frequently asked! I'm not a web designer. I'm a back-end developer. So yeah. It's ugly. If you want to make a better design, talk to me and we can work it out. Otherwise, it's gonna stay ugly. Sorry.