|Learn to sing Adon Olam|
All transliterations, commentary, and audio recordings are copyright © 1997, 1998, 2002, 2009, or 2016 by
Jordan Lee Wagner. All rights reserved.
Here are some of the most popular melodies for Adon Olam, which is included near the beginning and/or the end of the davening on most occasions, though not always sung aloud.
Adon Olam: Awe and Intimacy
Adon Olam was originally written to be a bedtime prayer, used in conjunction with the Sh'ma and Hash-ki-vei-nu. But its ending is ambiguous enough to also be appropriate on arising. In the fifteenth century, Adon Olam was incorporated into prayerbooks at the beginning of the daily Preliminary Morning Service. In the twentieth century, Adon Olam has become a popular addition to end of the Friday night and Saturday morning services.
Placing Adon Olam right beside Aleinu enhances the drama and beauty of both. Adon Olam deals with the present, while Aleinu is futuristic. Adon Olam is a personal prayer while Aleinu is a collective prayer. Adon Olam reflects an individual's situation while Aleinu reflects national interest. Both end on a universal optimistic note, one for the human condition, and the other for the individual worshipper's human condition.
Adon Olam has two distinct sections. They are radically different in mood. The first half of Adon Olam explores the mystery of what it means to be outside of space and outside of time; to be Other than our material reality.
lord of...eternity... reigned... alone
before... everything... void... alone.
when... by will... all... was wrought
his Name made known... sovereign
And in the End... when Chaos comes, and...
all... ceases... to be...
He still... will reign... awesome... alone...
He was... He is... He will remain.
He is Oneness...
no other to compare... nor join with him
no beginning... no ending...
might... and mastery.
The second half celebrates the ability of the divine to be perceived simultaneously everywhere within material reality as needed. Nothing material can be everywhere at once, so this ability is a second mystery.
Both omnipresence (existence throughout reality) and transcendence (existence outside reality) are mysteries. Of course, these two mysteries can be combined to form a dichotomy that is in itself a mystery. Adon Olam does this by pressing its two halves together without any gradual transition. There is no change in the poetic form when the mood changes. Adon Olam presses these mysteries close together, and thereby celebrates the biggest mystery of all: that that which is outside of space turns out to be right here!
In the second half of Adon Olam, God is portrayed as a personal "Rock" and "Protector". "I" and "my" (words with "ai" and "i" endings) occur frequently. This is dramatically different from the rest of the Siddur. And the sound of "nu" (meaning "us" or "our") is absent.
Although there are many different congregational tunes used for Adon Olam, none of them actually sets the words of the poetry. Many simply apply the poem to a pre-existing melody. None of them make any distinction between the powerful dark mystical first half and the cheerful confident loving second half. (Great composers have written choral settings of Adon Olam that set the words to music carefully, but these are not generally sung by congregations.)
--- adapted from "The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner, publ. by Rowman & Littlefield. 1997.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 31 January 2010 23:45|