Performing Texts: Music 179 at UC Berkeley

A core aspect of Jewish life and creativity in the global Diaspora, liturgy involves the interaction of texts, sounds, objects, architectural spaces and body language within the performative space of the synagogue. These elements and their related sources are often studied as separate cultural entities, according to distinct methodologies. A multi-disciplinary perspective on liturgy and ritual must instead integrate the study of language and literary texts with musicology and ethnomusicology, the study of visual and material cultures, anthropology and the investigation of everyday life.

The performative nexus between text and music that emerges in the context of synagogue life opens the investigation to a variety of social and anthropological aspects of Jewish liturgy. Synagogue rituals are both structured communal performances dictated by religious authority, and arenas for the public display of variegated social issues, such as power relations, aesthetic sensibilities, and attitudes towards the “other,” often well outside the synagogue and the Jewish communal sphere.

In this seminar we will work hands-on with written texts, orally transmitted music, printed and manuscript music scores, ritual objects, visual sources, synagogue architectural plans, and observe the choreography of the ritual, examining primary and secondary sources and conducting field trips to complement our research on the performance/enactment of these dimensions within the dynamic context of synagogue life.

The seminar is intended for students with particular interests in music, Jewish studies, literature, ethnography and anthropology, and leverages the resources brought to UC Berkeley with the establishment of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

And now, you can read the syllabus.

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