NUSAḤ (Heb. נֹסַח, נוּסַח, נֻסַּח, Nosaḥ), musical term (for its use in liturgy, see *Liturgy). The common meaning of the Hebrew noun nusaḥ is adapted to musical contexts both in a more general and in a very specific way. Expressions like "biblical chant nusaḥ Sefarad" (the Sephardi version of melodical Bible-reading; see *Liturgy), or "this cantor has a good nusaḥ" (he executes the traditional tunes in good taste) are easily understood as an application of the term in its normal meaning. The word nusaḥ, however, is also used as a technical term of synagogue music. In combinations such as Nusaḥ ha-Tefillah, Nusaḥ Yamim Nora'im, Nusaḥ Shabbat it denotes the specific musical mode to which a certain part of the liturgy is sung. The musical characteristics of these modes are defined by the following elements: (1) each is based upon a particular series of notes which may simply be a tetrachord, more often a combination of several overlapping tetrachords, or another scale of less or more than eight notes; (2) each contains a stock of characteristic motives which undergo constant variation; (3) each combines these motives in a completely free order, forming an "irrational" pattern; (4) the association of each nusaḥ, as defined by the above-mentioned three elements, is with a particular section of a specific holiday liturgy as, for instance, the Musaf prayer of the Penitential Feasts, the Morning Prayer on weekdays, and so on.
The musical definition of a nusaḥ and its close connection with a certain time and occasion exhibit a strong resemblance to the characteristics which are ascribed to the Oriental *maqām, the Indian raga, and to certain ancient parts of Roman plainsong and Byzantine hymnody (where it is defined by research as "migrating motives" or "a mosaic of motives"). It is worth noting that the nusaḥ-principle is known to European as well as to Eastern Jewish communities and may be regarded, therefore, as a very old musical trait in synagogue song.
Other Musical Meanings of Nusah
The plural form nusaḥim denotes the particular tunes to which some prominent chapters of the Pentateuch are read, such as Genesis 1, the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15), or the Decalogue. The nusaḥim of these chapters are florid variants of the common mode of reading. Furthermore, the Aramaic plural form nusḥa'ot ("formulas") is sometimes used by Ashkenazi cantors for denoting a vocal "prelude" without words which introduces important prayers.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.