Trumpets for Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, does not appear in its name in the Bible. The only instructions relative to this particular holiday appear in the book of Leviticus: ” In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation”, and in the book of Numbers: “It is a day of blowing the horn unto you.” That is, the only guiding principle is the blow of the horns itself. In Numbers, Moses receives one last instruction before embarking on exodus:

” Make thee two trumpets of silver; of beaten work shalt thou make them.”

Along with instructions to assemble the crowd and engage it in action:

“…and they shall be unto thee for the calling of the congregation, and for causing the camps to set forward.”

Detailed instructions: gathering, setting off etc.:

“And if they blow but with one, then the princes, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee. And when ye blow an alarm, the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey. And when ye blow an alarm the second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall set forward; they shall blow an alarm for their journeys.”

Now the instructions denote the identity of the trumpeter: The members of one family alone are allowed to blow the trumpets:

“And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for a statute for ever throughout your generations.”

And now comes the turn of the instructions after the people have settled in their land: first the war and then the worship:

“And when ye go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresseth you, then ye shall sound an alarm with the trumpets… Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God.”

Rosh Hashanah marks the entry of the trumpet into Jewish culture. Trumpets were a familiar instrument in Egyptian, Greek and other early cultures. Their entry into the patterns of worship in the Jewish faith is a glorious entry: silverware and restrictions on the use of high-ranking officials upon unique occasions. A study of other cultures reveals that in them, too, the trumpet is an important instrument and its player belongs to an elite group. In ancient cultures the common people were forbidden to play the trumpet, in the Book of Laws there were punishments for those who violated the prohibition. That is, the role of the trumpet player is an official role that passes from father to son and as it is written in the Bible, the role of the trumpet player is to gather the congregation in times of trouble and in times of joy.

But even though the vessel received an official religious seal it was overall a rather limited vessel. The natural trumpet – despite the impressive effect of the light and high sound – could produce very few notes, especially when comparing the sound production options compared to the supply of plucked instruments for example. The glory of the trumpet resided in its power and the quality of the musicians. When Bach and Handel incorporated it into their orchestra they knew that very skilled trumpeters were at their disposal. Today a natural trumpet is used mainly in ceremonies. We are all familiar with common bugles for raising the flag and lowering it, the entry of the President (in Israel), in military traditions and in other countries.

The most dramatic change in the history of the trumpet is the invention of the valves which allow the air flow through different pipes of varying lengths and thus the playing of the entire scales. The playing became easier for trumpets and in fact for most brass players – the hornists and tubists, for example. For over two hundred years the instrument has not been limited and classical, modern literature as well as pop and jazz music make considerable use of the trumpet. It plays in the collective memory of classical music lovers from the works of Purcell, Clark, Haydn to the operas of Meyerbeer, Verdi, the symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler, and the works of Leroy Anderson. A small pinch that will help you to enjoy the forthcoming holidays.

Handel: Trumpet Concerto played on a natural trumpet.

Happy New Year from the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra


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