were the Levites selected to sing in the Temple? Because the name
Levi means cleaving. The soul of him who heard their singing at once
cleaved to God." (Zohar 2:19a)
part of the cultic service in Temple times is given little mention in the
Bible. Even the description of the inauguration of Solomon's Temple in the
first chapters of I Kings lacks an explicit reference to music.
The Books of Chronicles, however, provide a very detailed description of
Temple; the detailed rosters and genealogies of Levitic singers and instrumentalists
(planned by King David and established by Solomon) give the Levitical singers
a prominent status which almost overshadows that of the priests themselves.
According to Chronicles, David chose 4,000 Levites to constitute an orchestra
and chorus for performing sacred music to complement the sacrificial cultic
nature of Temple music at the dedication ceremony of Solomon's Temple
is described in most impressive terms.
There are many scholars
who claim that these reports were but a projection back from the chronicler's
own time. By stressing the prominent role the musical element played in
the Temple service, the Chronicler attempted to afford the Levitical singers
with Davidic authorization so as to strengthen their position and prestige
after the return from Babylon. According to this approach, the "weepers
by the waters of Babylon" (Psalm 137) were not simply mourning exiles,
but the Levitical singers who were forced to entertain the Assyrian and
biblical references are few, Rabbinic literature has much to say about the
use of music in Temple worship during the late Second Temple period.
Much of the narrative in the Mishnah is based on eyewitness accounts, with
descriptions of the daily morning sacrifice and the Levites' singing of texts
from the Psalms, the numbers of instruments in the Temple orchestra, and of
particular singers, such as the virtuoso Hogras ben Levi who kept his secret
techniques of voice development to himself.
We learn that the Levitical singers went through a training
period from the age of 25 to 30 and usually participated in the Temple service
between the ages of 30 to 50; young Levites often joined the choir to "add
sweetness to the sound" but were not permitted to stand on the same platform
with the adult Levites. The rabbis
of the Talmud discuss whether the vocal or instrumental aspect of the service
most significant, and vote in favor of the former.
It is unclear from the sources whether the Levitical singers sang together
with the instruments mentioned (nevel, harp; kinnor, stringed instrument;
and cymbal) or a cappella, although we do learn that there were many
more singers than instrumentalists.