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The Music You Hear At Passover Seder

Wikipedia Commons
A Ukrainian 19th-century print representing the Seder table

While Easter has inspired Bach's Saint Matthew Passion and many other beloved classical works, the holiday of Passover—being celebrated by millions of the Jewish faith this week—claims no famous pieces in the concert repertoire. WRTI's Debra Lew Harder explores why, and finds out what music you can find at a seder.

Radio script:


Music: "Eliahu Hanavi"


"Eliahu Hanavi" - Lawrence Indik, baritone; Debra Lew Harder, piano

Debra Lew Harder: Two-thousand years ago, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. For centuries afterward, musical instruments were forbidden in synagogues, to mourn the loss of the Temple.


Lawrence Indik: Even to this day, people who are more conservative or Orthodox, would not have instruments playing in the service.

It's not so much about listening to a master work, but about making music around the table with others.


DLH: Temple University professor and cantorial soloist, Lawrence Indik says that without instruments, Jewish composers had little impetus to create big concert works for Passover.

LI: No one would do that. It wasn't in the mindset of that world.


DLH: But rich traditional music did develop around the Passover seder, the holiday’s ritual meal. Seder means order. Each part of that order has a gesture, and words...


LI: Each particular part has music associated with it.

Music: "Ma Nishtanah"

"Ma Nishtanah" — Lawrence Indik, baritone; Debra Lew Harder, piano — are the four questions sung during the Seder. Often referred to as "The Four Questions" in English, they are traditionally sung by the youngest child at the table who is able to sing them.

Passover commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery, and it's an invitation for everyone to ask questions, to think about what it is to be free.


DLH: The music of Passover expresses gratitude for freedom, as well as the remembrance of the bitterness of suffering for all who've been oppressed.


Music: "Dayenu"

"Dayenu" - Lawrence Indik, baritone; Debra Lew Harder, piano


Passed down orally from each generation to the next, it’s not so much about listening to a master work, but about making music around the table with others.


Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.