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Ma'alot – the Songs of Ascents
Psalms 120 through 134 and Psalm 139

The meaning of Ma'alot

Ma'alot – the CD album

press responses on the CD

psalm verses & audio sampes

Ma'alot – a town in Israel
steps in the old city of Jerusalem CD-Cover Maalot

CD-Nr. 98.292

Haenssler Classic Logo

Shirei ha Ma'alot

"Ma'alot" is the plural of the Hebrew word "Ma'alah", which means "step", "degree" or "ascent". Psalms 120 through 134 represent the cycle of ascension or pilgrimage songs, in Hebrew "Shirei ha Ma'alot". Once they were sung on the occasion of the great feasts of pilgrimage – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – on the way up to Jerusalem and eventually on the steps of the temple. In synagogues and churches around the world these psalms are still being recited in the respective languages. They develop their own special appeal when sung in the original Hebrew accompanied by instruments, because psalms actually were songs of prayer, expressing the emotions of the praying person by tune and rhythm.
Who are the authors of the cycle of pilgrimage songs? King David, who wrote the psalms 122, 124, 131 and 133, and his son Solomon, writer of psalm 127, are mentioned by name. Regrettably, we do not know who created the remaining ten songs.
Each song starts with the words "Shir ha Ma'alot" (song of ascents). The small subtitle at the beginning of any psalm generally indicates the occasion for the psalm or its musical character, for example whether it be an elegy or a praise song. Sometimes it also refers to a special kind of melody, e.g. "set to Shoshanim" meaning "to the tune of lilies", or we find informations concerning the use of certains instruments. The fact that all 15 psalms 120 through 134 start with the same headline reveals that these psalms represent a cycle of songs belonging together by a unique correlation.
Jews and Christians are convinced that the "Shirei ha Ma'alot" were sung in ancient Israel during the traditional feasts of pilgrimage, primarily at the beginning of the feast of tabernacles (Sukkot), on the steps of the temple. The Talmud teaches that there was a semicircular flight of 15 stairs in the temple at Jerusalem leading from the women's district up to men's vestibule. The early Christian Church believed that Levitic priests during the feasts intoned each following psalm in a higher key on each next step of the staircase. Martin Luther translated the Hebrew subtitle of the psalms of pilgrimage by "song in an upper choir" because he assumed that the songs had been recited by a choir on an elevated stage.

The CD "Ma'alot"
The Songs of Ascents / Shirei ha Ma'alot
Psalms 120 through 134 and Psalm 139, sung in Hebrew
Waltraud Rennebaum & Ensemble SHOSHAN
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© Haenssler CLASSIC, D-71087 Holzgerlingen, order-No. 98.292 • Shoshanim order-No.: S-CD-07
total time: 67:11 min.
CD Maalot Featuring these 16 psalms, vocalist Waltraud Rennebaum presents a work of high artistic maturity and emotional depth. Most of the songs are her own compositions. Due to her warm, flexible and natural voice, she is succeeding to create a very intense and appealing atmosphere, in which the ancient texts of the Bible develop new life. Her expressive singing combined with the sound of the Hebrew language is unique and intriguing because of its purity, tonal beauty and great variety of vocal colours. The music is rich of delightful melodies and lively rhythms. The arrangements of Waltraud’s husband and pianist Raimund Rennebaum connect two dissimilar worlds in an artistic manner: The Jewish Middle Eastern and the European classical cultures of music. The lively filigree or rhythmically accentuated piano play, the melodic serene or racy brilliant flute passages, as well as the melancholic cello cantilenas, the oriental hand drums or Latin percussions, the mystically archaic sound of the Celtic harp and the classical cultivated choral singing of the male vocal trio, all musicians demonstrate a high degree of artistic ability and versatility.
Presumably this is the first coherent musical version of the Psalms of Ascents in the original Hebrew on CD. As "encore" or "bonus track" the listener can enjoy a sweeping and at the same time touching interpretation of psalm 139.
Psalms are prayers and cries from the bottom of the heart unto God who is answering the praying person. And this is precisely what you will experience in the music: Passionate lamentations, longing and rejoicing praises of men alternating with blessings, comforting and eternally valid promises of God.

CD-booklet: 24 pages, all colour printed, written in three languages: Ivrit and phonetic transcription of Hebrew, German and English, with many pictures of Israel.
Song titles
1. El Adonai (Psalm 120)
2. Essa einai (Psalm 121)
3. Shaalu shelom Yerushalayim (Psalm 122)
4. Hineh keinei avadim (Psalm 123)
5. Nafshenu ketzipor nimleta (Psalm 124)
6. Ha tzadikim (Psalm 125)
7. Ke cholmim (Psalm 126)
8. Im Adonai lo ivne vait (Psalm 127)
09. Yevarechecha (Psalm 128)
10. Adonai tzadik (Psalm 129)
11. Kiviti Adonai (Psalm 130)
12. Lo gavah libi (Psalm 131)
13. Po eshev (Psalm 132)
14. Ke tal Chermon (Psalm 133)
15. Hineh barchu et Adonai (Psalm 134)
16. Anah elech (Psalm 139)
The musicians
Ensemble SHOSHAN:

Waltraud Rennebaum mezzo-soprano;
composer; producer

Raimund Rennebaum piano, keyboards;

Heike Zehe flute, alto flute

Anselm Schardt violoncello
Helmut Kandert percussion
Tom Daun Celtic harp
members of vocal ensemble "Bel Canto":
Olaf Rosier high tenor
Torsten Ache tenor
Klaus Kölsch baritone

International media reviews of the album

...very entertaining in a jaunty way... The vocal and instrumental qualities of the group indicate that they are well trained and skillful. They perform with utter conviction... (Fanfare, Classical Music Reviews & Magazine, New Jersey, U.S.A., May-June issue 2008)
read the entire review

...This is not simply a matter of soulful rejoicing. Here you find psalms set to music on a high artistic level, in a mixture of classical and Israeli folk music... (Juedische Allgemeine [Jewish General Weekly], Berlin, 31 Jan. 2008)

For 14 years now, Waltraud Rennebaum has been interpreting psalms and praise songs of the bible – very sensitively and up to date – in order to revitalize them in melody, rhythm and sound.
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, "Aus der jüdischen Welt" [Germany-Radio Berlin, "From the Jewish world"], 25 April 2008)

The German Ensemble Shoshan demonstrates by its recent production "Ma'alot" once more in a remarkable way, how melodious and singable this old new language can be... Listening to the music, you feel like being invited to a pilgrimage. (idea Spektrum [German evangelic news magazine], 15 May 2008)

... a sophisticated work of sacred music... The tunes are partly lively, partly saturated with a fine melancholy. Waltraud Rennebaum's voice has a warm tone and a beautiful volume. With her expressive mezzo-soprano, she is smoothly modulating the biblical words – in the language of the bible... (factum magazine, Switzerland, release 3/2008)

In regard to composition and performance, this is an appealing production. The catchy melodies – due to frequent repetitions – and their loveliness, but also the melancholy atmosphere will enthuse friends of that style of music... Maybe it is just the today's musical setting and arrangement, that will enable certain people to access the everlasting beauty of the pilgrimage psalms. (Kalonymos magazine, Salomon-Ludwig-Steinheim-Institute for German-Jewish history at University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, release 4/2007)
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download Maalot cover graphic Cover picture in print quality (jpg file) for download. The size of the picture is 6cm x 6cm at a resolution of 300 ppi. Please convert the file for professional printing from RGB into CMYK mode.

Maalot track notes Detailed track notes as pdf file for reading and printing with Adobe Reader. You can open the file online or download it to your computer hard disk.

Maalot distribution International distributors list sorted by country (pdf file). Please find out how you can purchase the CD in your homeland.

The Psalms 120 through 134

(translation: JPS Bible © 1917 by The Jewish Publication Society of America)

rocks at the Dead Sea Psalm 120 Elegy audio sample CD track 1
1 A Song of Ascents. In my distress I called unto HaShem, and He answered me.
2 O HaShem, deliver my soul from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given unto thee, and what shall be done more unto thee, thou deceitful tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of broom.
5 Woe is me, that I sojourn with Meshech, that I dwell beside the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul hath full long had her dwelling with him that hateth peace.
7 I am all peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

(lyrics of CD track 1: entire psalm, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

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Psalm 121 Joyful praise song audio sample CD track 2
1 A Song of Ascents. I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come?
2 My help cometh from HaShem, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber. 
4 Behold, He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep. 
5 HaShem is thy keeper; HaShem is thy shade upon thy right hand. 
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. 
7 HaShem shall keep thee from all evil; He shall keep thy soul. 
8 HaShem shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and for ever.

(lyrics of CD track 2: verses 1-4, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

Psalm 122 Prayer for Jerusalem audio sample CD track 3
1 A Song of Ascents; of David. I rejoiced when they said unto me: 'Let us go unto the house of HaShem.' 
2 Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem; 
3 Jerusalem, that art builded as a city that is compact together; 
4 Whither the tribes went up, even the tribes of HaShem, as a testimony unto Israel, to give thanks unto the name of HaShem. 
5 For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David. 
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee. 
7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. 
8 For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.' 
9 For the sake of the house of HaShem our God I will seek thy good.

(lyrics of CD track 3: verses 1-3. 6-7, music by Waltraud & Raimund Rennebaum)

Psalm 123 Waiting for God's mercy audio sample CD track 4
dove 1 A Song of Ascents. Unto Thee I lift up mine eyes, O Thou that art enthroned in the heavens. 
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants unto the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look unto HaShem our God, until He be gracious unto us. 
3 Be gracious unto us, O HaShem, be gracious unto us; for we are full sated with contempt. 
4 Our soul is full sated with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud oppressors.

(lyrics of CD track 4: verse 2, music: Israel Harel / Raimund Rennebaum)

Psalm 124 Thanksgiving song audio sample CD track 5
1 A Song of Ascents; of David. 'If it had not been HaShem who was for us', let Israel now say; 
2 'If it had not been HaShem who was for us, when men rose up against us, 
3 Then they had swallowed us up alive, when their wrath was kindled against us; 
4 Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul; 
5 Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.' 
6 Blessed be HaShem, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. 
7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we are escaped. 
8 Our help is in the name of HaShem, who made heaven and earth.

(lyrics of CD track 5: verses 7-8, music: Martin Neeb / Raimund Rennebaum)

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Psalm 125 Prayer from Jewish-national point of view audio sample CD track 6
1 A Song of Ascents. They that trust in HaShem are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever. 
2 As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so HaShem is round about His people, from this time forth and for ever. 
3 For the rod of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; that the righteous put not forth their hands unto iniquity. 
4 Do good, O HaShem, unto the good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. 
5 But as for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, HaShem will lead them away with the workers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel.

(lyrics of CD track 6: entire psalm, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

Psalm 126 Like those who dream audio sample CD track 7
oranges 1 A Song of Ascents. When HaShem brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream. 
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; then said they among the nations: 'The HaShem hath done great things with these.' 
3 HaShem hath done great things with us; we are rejoiced. 
4 Turn our captivity, O HaShem, as the streams in the dry land. 
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. 
6 Though he goeth on his way weeping that beareth the measure of seed, he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves.

(lyrics of CD track 7: entire psalm, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

Psalm 127 Man’s labour and God’s blessing audio sample CD track 8
1 A Song of Ascents; of Solomon. Except HaShem build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except HaShem keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. 
2 It is vain for you that ye rise early, and sit up late, ye that eat the bread of toil; so He giveth unto His beloved in sleep. 
3 Lo, children are a heritage of HaShem; the fruit of the womb is a reward. 
4 As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of one's youth. 
5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be put to shame, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

(lyrics of CD track 8: verses 1-4, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

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Psalm 128 Joyful blessing audio sample CD track 9
1 A Song of Ascents. Happy is every one that feareth HaShem, that walketh in His ways. 
2 When thou eatest the labour of thy hands, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. 
3 Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, in the innermost parts of thy house; thy children like olive plants, round about thy table. 
4 Behold, surely thus shall the man be blessed that feareth HaShem. 
5 HaShem bless thee out of Zion; and see thou the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life; 
6 And see thy children's children. Peace be upon Israel!

(lyrics of CD track 9: verses 5-6, melody: David Vincrantz)

Psalm 129 Hard-pressed Israel’s cry for help audio sample CD track 10
poppy blossom 1 A Song of Ascents. 'Much have they afflicted me from my youth up', let Israel now say; 
2 'Much have they afflicted me from my youth up; but they have not prevailed against me. 
3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows. 
4 HaShem is righteous; He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.' 
5 Let them be ashamed and turned backward, all they that hate Zion. 
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it springeth up; 
7 Wherewith the reaper filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom. 
8 Neither do they that go by say: 'The blessing of HaShem be upon you; we bless you in the name of HaShem.'

(lyrics of CD track 10: entire psalm, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

Psalm 130 Psalm of repentance audio sample CD track 11
1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths have I called Thee, O HaShem. 
2 Lord, hearken unto my voice; let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 
3 If Thou, HaShem, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 
4 For with Thee there is forgiveness, that Thou mayest be feared. 
5 I wait for HaShem, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope. 
6 My soul waiteth for the L-rd, more than watchmen for the morning; yea, more than watchmen for the morning. 
7 O Israel, hope in HaShem; for with HaShem there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. 
8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

(lyrics of CD track 11: verses 1-5, music by Raimund Rennebaum)

nach oben
Psalm 131 Childlike surrender audio sample CD track 12
1 A Song of Ascents; of David. HaShem, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in things too great, or in things too wonderful for me. 
2 Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother; my soul is with me like a weaned child. 
3 O Israel, hope in HaShem from this time forth and for ever.

(lyrics of CD track 12: entire psalm, music: Elisheva Shomron / Raimund Rennebaum)

Psalm 132 The election of Zion audio sample CD track 13
granate blossom 1 A Song of Ascents. HaShem, remember unto David all his affliction; 
2 How he swore unto HaShem, and vowed unto the Mighty One of Jacob: 
3 'Surely I will not come into the tent of my house, nor go up into the bed that is spread for me; 
4 I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids; 
5 Until I find out a place for HaShem, a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.' 
6 Lo, we heard of it as being in Ephrath; we found it in the field of the wood. 
7 Let us go into His dwelling-place; let us worship at His footstool. 
8 Arise, O HaShem, unto Thy resting-place; Thou, and the ark of Thy strength. 
9 Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let Thy saints shout for joy. 
10 For Thy servant David's sake turn not away the face of Thine anointed. 
11 HaShem swore unto David in truth; He will not turn back from it: 'Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne. 
12 If thy children keep My covenant and My testimony that I shall teach them, their children also for ever shall sit upon thy throne.' 
13 For HaShem hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation: 
14 'This is My resting-place for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it. 
15 I will abundantly bless her provision; I will give her needy bread in plenty.
16 Her priests also will I clothe with salvation; and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. 
17 There will I make a horn to shoot up unto David, there have I ordered a lamp for Mine anointed.
18 His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon himself shall his crown shine.'

(lyrics of CD track 13: verses 13-16, music by Waltraud Rennebaum)

Psalm 133 Praise of brotherly fellowship audio sample CD track 14
1 A Song of Ascents; of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! 
2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard; even Aaron's beard, that cometh down upon the collar of his garments; 
3 Like the dew of Hermon, that cometh down upon the mountains of Zion; for there HaShem commanded the blessing, even life for ever.

(lyrics of CD track 14: entire psalm, music by Raimund Rennebaum)

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Psalm 134 Solemn praise song in the temple audio sample psalm 134 part 1 (part 1)
1 A Song of Ascents. Behold, bless ye HaShem, all ye servants of HaShem, that stand in the house of HaShem in the night seasons. 
2 Lift up your hands to the sanctuary, and bless ye HaShem. 
3 HaShem bless thee out of Zion; even He that made heaven and earth.

(lyrics of CD track 15: entire psalm, music by Waltraud & Raimund Rennebaum)
audio sample psalm 134 part 2 (part 2)

Ma'alot – a town in Israel

town sign of Maalot Ma'alot is located on a plateau in the hills of the Western Galilee region of Israel, some six miles south of the Lebanese border. The town was founded in the 1950s when hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews immigrated to Israel. They were refugees from North African countries, mainly from Morocco and Tunesia, Arab nations, where they felt no longer safe. In 1974, Ma'alot gained notoriety by a bloody massacre carried out by terrorists.
On May 15 (Israel's Independence Day), a group of schoolchildren from Safed (Tsfad) were on a field trip to the Golan. That night, the children were housed at a school in Ma'alot for sleeping. During the night, three Arab terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers attacked the school, killing the guard and some of the children. A few children escaped by jumping out of the window on the 2nd floor and the rest were held as hostages. In the morning the terrorists were identified as members of the "Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine" (DFLP) who had infiltrated from Lebanon. They presented their demands to the Israeli government: release Arab terrorists from Israeli prisons, or they would kill the children. Deadline: 6 pm the same day. At 5:45 pm a unit of an Israeli elite brigade stormed the building. But the rescue operation failed: the terrorists murdered 21 more children by gun fire and grenades, before they themselves were finally shot.

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