MLK Jr. in Haftarah Trope

It’s no longer Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but I just found out about this YouTube video of some of Dr. King’s speeches chanted to the trope (melodies) of the Haftarah. It’s amazing!

Elise Barber chanting from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “trope” refers to the traditional melodies used to chant from the Hebrew Bible in synagogue. There’s one set of melodies for the Torah (Pentateuch), and another set for Haftarah, the weekly readings from books of the Prophets.

This video is of Massachusetts Cantor Elise Barber chanting excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches to Haftarah trope, the melodies used for the Prophets. It’s an appropriate choice because Dr. King was the embodiment of a contemporary prophet, a Micah or Isaiah for our times.

Listen to how particular phrases are paired with rises and falls of the melody to emphasize their meaning.

Within American Judaism—particular the Reform denomination within Judaism—there is a long tradition of social justice advocacy and support for the civil rights movement. I found this video moving because it musically expresses this connection, blending centuries-old Jewish liturgical chanting with Dr. King’s visionary words.

Want to see more? Here’s a link to the words of this chant, plus some background, the cantillation marks, and an audio recording by Cantor Jack Kessler, who set the phrases to trope in partnership with Rabbi Marcia Prager.

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