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On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur, sometimes the prayer leader needs to cough or swallow or clear his throat or catch his breath or the like. The congregation then sings a little tune, I guess to avoid an awkward silence. In most synagogues I've been in, it goes (if I'm not mistaken) E͜EDEFEDCB͜BCBA͜A (rough representation). Does anyone know the provenance of this tune, or of the use of this tune for this purpose? (I'm not seeking a source for singing (anything) when the leader pauses. I'm wondering about this tune specifically.)

  • I can't playback the melody but I recall one used at my former synagogue in Brooklyn. It was Hasidic in origin. Beyond that, I unfortunately have no sources for it nor can I confirm its the same as your example. – JJLL Oct 13 '16 at 0:05
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Are you sure about this? It sounds like the (Ashkenazic) tune used between paragraphs in the third blessing, and it's quite common. Even Virtual Cantor does it, and I've heard it in recordings that are much older. That's not a tune for the shatz to catch his or her breath; it's just to break up the reading. It just happens to be a good moment for the shatz to pause. You'll notice that it's roughly in the mode of the nusach -- it's really just part of the nusach. There are other little niggunim used the same way in Avot, Misod, V'hakohanim, and even Geshem. Abraham Baer's Ba-al T'fillah even has a few, and that's from Germany in the 1870's. If you have one handy (there's one here), check out number 1165, the Avot from Rosh Hashanah Musaf, where there are lots of repeated niggunim, and if the shatz can convince the kahal to sing one, he or she can take a break for a few seconds. The niggun you quoted is actually listed in Zamru Lo: The Next Generation, Vol. II, p. 81, as "Traditional" under High Holy Days Musaf Interludes (that one's not available for free online, unfortunately). So it's probably fairly old, maybe of Chasidic or Eastern European origin (since Baer didn't have it), and it just spread throughout Ashkenazic communities. But again, the niggun isn't the "shatz needs to cough" niggun; it's part of the nusach. Your leader probably just had an itchy throat!

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    Whatever its origins, it's ALSO used as a method to catch one's breath. – magicker72 Oct 13 '16 at 4:07
  • Thanks so much. I accepted this answer at first but have rescinded it because it doesn't pin down a date — or even really a minimum or maximum date. Perhaps you can do the latter, at least? – msh210 Oct 13 '16 at 12:00
  • Often, tunes, such as this one, are nothing more than "waking up" the congregation and getting them involved in the service. Being a shat"z, myself on Yom Kippur for many years, the congregation often does need arousal more often than we think :-) – DanF Oct 13 '16 at 17:17

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