Commissioned by Gaithersburg Community Chorus in Celebration of their 25th Anniversary. Premiered May 18, 19, & 21, 2013 by Gaithersburg Community Chorus, Gaithersburg, Maryland; Hugh Harvey, director.
Hine Ma Tov is a new setting of the traditional Jewish text from the first lines of Psalm 133:
הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד
Hine ma tov u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad
[hine ma tov uma na:im ʃɛvɛt axim gam jaxad] ( IPA)
Look! How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together
This hymn is commonly sung at gatherings, such as Shabbat feasts, to a variety of traditional tunes.
Four different versions of this piece are available:
- F. 163a – SATB and Piano
- F. 163b – SSA and Piano
- F. 163c – SATB (a cappella)
- F. 163t – unison melody for worship , available for free use
The a cappella version is a bit shorter, since the piano introduction and interludes are removed—the vocal parts are nearly identical, with some modifications to accommodate the fact that the piano no longer bridges sections of the piece.
I was asked to compose an original setting of this text. On one hand, I wanted to create something that would still fit into the tradition of being sung by families and congregations, and, on the other hand, I wanted to create an interesting choral work. My solution was to create a new, lyrical tune which would be appropriate for communal singing, and then to create a choral setting from this new “raw material”.
I studied as many traditional tunes associated with Hine Ma Tov as I could find, which, in this day of the internet, meant I had a lot to work with (a few examples). Fortunately, many were recordings of individuals singing the tunes they heard growing up, rather than just commercial recordings.
In the end, I created a tune that reflects many commonalities of the traditional tunes: my new tune is in a 6/8 time signature, includes some dotted rhythms, is largely based upon the natural minor scale, and has a simple ABA form. (PDF of this new tune for Hine Ma Tov.)
I like to create music that reinforces and adds depth to the text. This short text has lots of interesting characteristics. The first is that, grammatically, the clause “hine ma tov” (“behold how good”) is masculine, while “u’ma na’im” (“and how pleasing”) is feminine. The melodic structure of each of these phrases reflects this characteristic. The entrance of the choir (at 0:32 in the recording below) also directly reflects this, with the tenors and basses singing “hine ma tov shevet achim gam yachad” and the sopranos and altos responding “u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad”.
Another interesting aspect of this text is the phrase “shevet achim gam yachad” which loosely means “…it is when brothers live together”. Here, “brothers” is inclusive, so one could say “when people live together”. But I think the most interesting part is what is implied by “together”. The word “yachad” is from the word “yachid” which means absolute unity and has a higher connotation than just peace and harmony. An illustration of this: The question is asked in the Talmud, “How can you describe HaShem (God)” and the reply is “Yachid” (absolute unity). Thus, “yachad” has a connotation that implies unity with the Creator, and not just with other people—a very profound “together” indeed!
This text is a celebration of community, and this must remain firmly in one’s mind when performing this piece. Our natural tendency as Americans steeped in pop culture is to associate minor keys with subjects that are more poignant or melancholy. That association is simply not true when applied to folk music, and is certainly not true for Hine Ma Tov. This is why the score markings cajole the men to sing their first line “with gusto”, and later “with a bounce” and “boisterously”.
That being said, this setting of my new tune incorporates several dramatic elements which are more appropriate for the stage than for communal singing. The piano introduction, for example, is more dramatic than a folk song.
The main drama, however, unfolds starting at ms. 59: the text “Hine!” (“Look!” or “Behold!”) is set unlike any folk tune (at 1:42 in the recording). Here, the choral setting picks up on the spiritual aspects of the text—we are being asked to behold a God-inspired unity among people, and this notion is beyond what mere words can convey. The exclamation of “Hine!” unfolds into a tone cluster—the musical texture dramatically shifts and a new key is firmly established. This and the following interjections of “Hine!” form the skeleton for the larger structure for this piece. After a short interlude, a second “Hine!” takes us back to the original key, but now with a more lively setting of the tune (at 2:43), illustrating how God animates our community. This final reprise of the tune brings us back to the dramatic “Hine!” which, this time, not only unfolds into a tone cluster, but the voices then converge upon a single pitch, ending the piece with a representation of the ideal of “yachad”.
To help choirs prepare, here are several recordings of Hine Ma Tov. Please note that your director will likely choose different tempos, and conduct tempo changes differently than on these recordings. These recordings are not authoritative, but rather are a useful aid for learning notes and for getting a feel for the piece. As always, keep one eye up and follow your director!
Note that in some of these recordings (e.g. Chorus parts only, Piano part only, etc.), long rests are shortened to about 3 seconds.
Please note that these recordings are protected by copyright—please do not post them to other web sites, and if you wish to link to these recordings, please link to this page, not directly to the MP3 file. If you’ve purchased an adequate number of octavos for your group, you may burn an audio CD with the relevant tracks for your members to use in preparing the music.