A shofar (pron. /ʃoʊˈfɑːr/, from Hebrew: is an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram‘s horn, used for Jewish religious purposes. Like the modern bugle, the shofar lacks pitch-altering devices. All pitch control is done by varying the player’s embouchure.
The shofar is blown in synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and at the very end of Yom Kippur, and is also blown every weekday morning in the month of Elul running up to Rosh Hashanah. Shofars come in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending on the choice of animal and level of finish.
You may ask, what is information about a Jewish instrument doing on a trumpet player’s blog? Especially due to the fact that the host of this site can trace his heritage back to the Nation of the American Cherokee Indian, who grew up in a Disciple of Christ Church, graduated from a Lutheran College and married a direct decedent of the King of Denmark!
It all began a few weeks ago when I was asked if I could blow a shofar horn for an upcoming church production at our church here in Denton, Texas. As usual, I had no idea as to how or even what a shofar was and in the true fashion of an educator, I began to look into the history and use of this ancient instrument.
As luck would have it, our good minister, Dr. Ed Jones just happen to have not one, but two authentic (plural shofars or shofroth or shofarot or shofaroth). Thus began my quest to become a non-kosher shofar enthusiast.
My first step to accomplish this undertaking began with all the YouTube videos I could view demonstrating the different calls required in the Jewish church – Oops! Synagogue. After several evenings of viewing, listening and practicing, I realized that my wife would never switch from Lutheranism to the Jewish faith. I think it has something to do with the mournful cries of a ram’s horn in the wee hours of the morning. One thing that I did learn was the fact that everyone’s concept of what the “correct” calls entailed was not the same. One video instructed the player to do this while the next video demonstrated an entirely different interpretation of the same call. And in some cases even the names of identical calls were different. So much for the “correct “way to perform each call.
The second revelation I encountered was the fact that the very small opening called the mouthpiece which actually was only a small hole drilled into the smaller end of the rams horn tended to act as an instrument of pain, used to extract biopsies from my lips. In order for your performance to be considered “kosher” in the Jewish faith, the ram’s horn cannot have any attachments or modification done to it other than polishing. Knowing this important fact, I began to try to lessen the discomfort in any non-kosher manner I could come up with. I decided to go the nontraditional as opposed to the painful approach. For you purists, it has been recommended to me that to play the shofar correctly, one must use very little pressure and buzz from either corner of the mouth. Knowing that for most of my life I have attempted to lessen mouthpiece pressure and after spending at least a year moving my mouthpiece to the center of my embouchure, I decided to forgo any attempt at playing my shofar in a true to Jewish traditional manner. So much for authenticity! For those who choose to follow my misdirected path to unkosher shofar performances, read on. Please excuse my lighthearted approach to this very serious subject but the following information may be helpful to those in a situation similar to mine.
Should you place an additional mouthpiece in a shofar in order to make it easier to play? No! Not only is the addition of another piece of equipment contrary to the Jewish law, you will never be able to get a true rams horn sound which is one of the unique features of the instrument. It does make it easier for a trumpet player to play, but if you sacrifice this unique sound just to make it easier, you shouldn’t be playing the shofar.
Now we will visit the comfort zone of playing a shofar.
After several attempts to make the playing more comfortable and at the same time trying to keep the true rams horn sound, I eventually came up with this combination; a small ring of plastic tubing encircling the sharp edge of the ram’s horn mouthpiece area. By applying a small ring of plastic around the opening of the horn you will not affect the sound and at the same time make the instrument more comfortable to play. In a sense, you are creating an additional rim to the horn which gives you more rim size to make playing the instrument much more comfortable.
See photos below.
I have also included an example of the most complex as well as the simplest examples of shofar calls I was able to find on the internet for your practicing, if you choose to enlighten yourself in the practice of playing a shofar.
Mazel tov my friends,