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Ancient art moves to a new beat at Beth Shalom
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Ancient art moves to a new beat at Beth Shalom

Cantor uses aerobics to reinforce students’ Torah trope instruction

Students at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan demonstrate movements that are helping them to learn Torah trope.
Students at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan demonstrate movements that are helping them to learn Torah trope.

Students preparing for their b’nei mitzva at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan are getting a head start in learning Torah trope — and getting a physical workout at the same time.

The trope system — a series of symbols above and below the text representing distinct musical phrases — is the ancient cantillation that guides readers in chanting biblical text.

Cantor Ruth Katz Green has her fifth- and sixth-grade students do what she calls “cantillation aerobics,” combining specific physical movements to reinforce the musical notation.

The 12-week course is based on a system Green saw demonstrated last year while attending a state cantors conference. Cantor Sharon Brown-Levy of Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston led the workshop based on a copyrighted program she had developed called Trope Aerobics.

“I saw Sharon demonstrate it, and I just loved it,” said Green, who introduced it on a limited basis last spring and had her first full class this fall.

Green said she teaches “a little more” than the material included in Brown-Levy’s system. “At the end of the 12-week course, kids are prepared to read from the Torah scroll at our family worship services,” said Green, “which is our equivalent to junior congregation.”

Under the heading of Team Torah, a CD recording is combined with physical movement to reinforce the trope accents.

“I sing each of the cantillation groups by their names, and then they see what the symbols look like,” said the cantor. She is helped by teaching assistants Melinda Graff and Sara Teplitsky.

Using cantillation charts with musical notes — a real plus, she said, for those students who read music — youngsters can see how the notes go up and down. A third chart lays out the aerobic movements.

When a symbol is above a letter, the students stand and reach above their heads. If the sound goes down, they dip.

“When we review, we use hand symbols and our heads and bodies to show what the symbols look like and how it’s sung,” said Green. “The more exaggerated the motions are, the more they like it and the more they remember. When we get to some of them they just giggle because they’re so much fun.

“I’m older and if I look silly then it’s all right for them to.”

Green also works individually with students as part of Team Torah, and Graff has developed a Team Torah Jeopardy game that incorporates the aerobics.

“If they know the answer their team gets points,” said Green. “They pay more attention if they know their team is going to get points out of it.”

Many of the Team Torah students become so proficient in Torah cantillation they read on the High Holy Days.

“They learn Torah through the cantillation,” said Green. “It’s really wonderful.”

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