Jewish high school students in Toronto, Canada, will sing two pieces of medieval music from the Passover Seder at their “Sounds of Spring” Musical Concert. This is probably the first time in almost four hundred years that the music has been performed.
In 1644, Johannes Rittangel, a Christian scholar, published a Haggadah with a Latin translation for the benefit of other Christian Hebraists. Unusually, when transcribing the traditional songs at the end of the Passover night Seder meal, he also included musical notation – a unique record of how Passover songs were sung in Medieval times. In what is probably the first public performance of this festival music for almost four centuries, the choir of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto’s Kimel Family Education Centre will feature the music at their annual concert at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, March 27.
The music came to light in January when On the Main Line, a blog devoted to Jewish history and literature, featured the haggadah, and was noticed by TanenbaumCHAT director of education Paul Shaviv. He brought it to the attention of music teachers Janice Rose and Jacklyn Klimitz.
Both teachers thought it would be a unique – and seasonal – addition to the concert programme that already featured a wide variety of music, including jazz, classic, Klezmer and even a song from the musical Wicked.
Considering this was music from over 300 years ago, there was lots of work to do to bring it into the modern music world.
“In Rittangel’s haggadah, there were no bar lines, no clef, we had to learn the music by ear,” explains Jacklyn Klimitz. “We had to figure out a way to transcribe it to sheet music so our students could learn it.”
Once Janice was able to determine the notes of the piece, Jacklyn used computer software to put the notes on staff to create sheet music. Then she was able to teach it to the TCK Singers, the student choir consisting of eight boys and 16 girls.
“The students all know the words of these two songs from their own Passover seders with their families,” says Janice. “The medieval music is a rare window into how seder evenings must have sounded four centuries ago, and the students are very excited to participate in this unique opportunity.”