Since every university course must begin with a YouTube video, I decided to post two of them. Here you have two fine examples of how synagogue life has been portrayed in recent American/Global popular culture.
First, the amazing Bar Mizvah scene from A Serious Man (2009) by Joen and Ethan Cohen.
Then the much less irreverent Drake (in spite of the gross language).
In both cases, you are invited to listen to the sounds, the music, and look out for the architectural features of the synagogal space, the ritual objects involved, and, especially, for body language.
Even more importantly, it is worthwhile noting that even though these are just “reconstructions” of Jewish liturgical (and para-liturgical) settings, they are not much more distant from the “real thing” than many of the archival sources we have in our hands when we study music in the context of synagogue life. Given the traditional Jewish prohibition against writing and using electrically-operated equipment on the Sabbath and other major liturgical occasions, much of the documentation in our possession is derivative (recorded in a studio, or in a recreated setting, albeit from traditional culture bearers). Unless, of course, instead of relying on YouTube videos, or on materials traditionally kept in libraries and archives (sound recordings, musical transcriptions, and books), we go and see things first hand.
In the course of this seminar, we will not only talk about, but actually get a taste of fieldwork. I promise.