Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Is Chazzanut boring? Enter Moshe Oysher

Often times I hear this question. You might get the impression from my last post that all Chazzanut songs are slow and serious, and this is a popular misconception. There are many really exciting and fast Chazzanus pieces, and chief among them are the songs of Moishe Oysher.

Aside from singing, a chazzan also needs to have some showmanship, as he needs to inspire and unite the congregation at the same time. A chazzan that is distant is not a good chazzan. A good chazzan will engage and touch the hearts of the congregation, and that's probably one of the things that are most difficult to teach to an aspiring chazzan. 

Moishe Oysher was showmanship at its extreme. His extravagant personality and desire to become a movie actor were bothersome to some of his congregants but this was just an extension of his musical style and taste. He knew how to be dramatic, how to be serious but also how to be exciting and energetic. He is widely regarded as the most entertaining chazzan to ever live. 

His fast songs, Ki Lo Noe, Chad Gadio and Omar are classics and prime examples of how chazzanut is not boring. The difficulty level of these songs is very high, and only a very confident and technical chazzan can perform them with the same intensity of moshe oysher. Below his famous Chad Gadio and also a great compilation sung by Alberto Mizrahi, who is today the best at singing Oysher's songs.

This one starts slow but it's a fast song:

Oysher was also a master of drama and his Hineni, sung in Yom Kippur is moving and another classic. In this movie (this is not real life stuff, its only part of one of his acting roles in a movie) you can see and hear it. It is striking how he looks so young and has such a big voice, and also how easy he could sing even the most extended notes.

He was able to sing playfully, sometimes even carelessly (i.e. In his sheibone, which is sang in short in almost every Chabad shul) and he was able to give each of his songs a character and feel of its own. For him, being a chazzan was very much alike being an actor - interpreting every moment in the right way and impersonating his songs. He aspired to be as popular as Yossele Rosenblatt, who was known in non-Jewish music circles as well, however Moishe Oysher never took off in the music and video industry at the time. However his Chazzanut style was truly unique and a much more upbeat than what the world had seen until then, and until today his songs are studied and performed in many Chazzanut concerts.