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  • 1 Bar Ilan University Faculty of Humanities, Department of Music, Ramat Gan, Israel
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The basic style of East-European Jewish (East-Ashkenazic) prayer chant (davenen), even when it might seem to be simple on paper, in transcription, has a complex and unique system of micro-structure. This micro-structure, which is evident in subtleties of rhythm and melody, voice quality, form, techniques of variation and ornamentation, is inventive and daring, and creates a compelling aesthetic and spiritual effect in the auditory experience. The present article discusses the question of how this creative compositional practice might have evolved. The article claims that the uniqueness of davenen results from the fact that children begin learning this “art” at a very early age, before they are able to speak and conceptualize the phenomena of the surrounding world. With davenen, a spontaneously felt language before language is learnt: a language in which words and melodies, rhythms and musical gestures and effects, emotions and fantasies and associations are merged into one whole. As a result, in the realization of prayer chant, even in the case of professional prayer leaders, originality and tradition, copying and fantasy occur together in a continual fusion of memory and forgetfulness. This article discusses Eastern European Jewish prayer chant and its learning process on the basis of its author’s decades of fieldwork and of literature and memoirs from before WWII.