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date: 20 November 2019

Samaritan musiclocked

  • Avigdor Herzog


The tradition of sacred vocal (synagogue) music of the Samaritans, a religious community (which in 1999 numbered about 640), living in Nablus (Shechem) and Holon near Tel-Aviv. They claim descent from the ancient Israelites, and their music and the manner of its performance have many apparently archaic features. The Samaritans differ from the Jews in a number of ways, recognizing only the Pentateuch as canonical (and no other books of the Bible) and regarding Mt Gerizim (near Nablus) rather than Jerusalem as the supreme holy place (see John iv.20).

Samaritan music is an oral tradition sung at synagogue services and at other religious and social gatherings. It consists of performances of literary texts (the Pentateuch and prayers in Hebrew, and hymns in Samaritan Aramaic) and is sung only by men. Although old manuscripts contain Samaritan biblical accents for guiding the reading of the texts, these are no longer used today. Samaritan music can be divided into three categories: songs sung by the whole community; those sung by both a soloist and the community; and solo songs. The group songs are more syllabic in style and rhythmically repetitious, and have fewer glissandos and tremolos than solo music. They are sometimes sung in unison, but mostly antiphonally, the worshippers being divided into two groups, one on the right-hand side of the synagogue facing Mt Gerizim, the other on the left; the former group is termed the ‘right’ or ‘upper’ group, the latter the ‘left’ or ‘lower’ group. Alternate groups of verses drawn from the Pentateuch (called ‘Qataf’), or important hymns (in Samaritan Aramaic) are taken by the two groups, beginning with the ‘right’ group together with the priests; each group begins as the other reaches approximately the midpoint of its verses, so that there is an almost continuous bitextual performance. All the group songs are characterized by improvised parallel polyphony, in which all the intervals are at times found, and in which there are also usually drones and notes of indefinite pitch (...

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Musical Quarterly
Studia musicologica Academiae scientiarum hungaricae
Journal of the International Folk Music Council