I’ve conducted many seders. Large public ones; smaller ones with one or two families present. I love the chant that begins the ceremony. The chant is called the “Si’ma’nei ha-Seder.” It’s simple; no ornate musical flourishes. Its musical intervals are small; close together, rather like Gregorian or Yogic chant (except for a jump of a “6th” on “Ma’ror” and “Tza’fun,” but this is still vocally easy for almost anyone). Musically, it gives me that same thrill as when I chant the “Ba’r’chu” for the first time each year on Rosh Ha-Shanah, in its special musical mode. At a seder, I chant the “Ka’deish…” to draw everyone’s attention away from anything else towards what’s happening (or about to commence) at that moment. I also do it somewhat quietly, to settle the atmosphere in the room and to help create a unified group out of a varied collection of individuals. I’ve heard it chanted in a lighter, more playful style, when children (especially young children) were present. At those times, it’s also been chanted by the entire group, rather than just by the leader. So, it can have various musical presentations and functions.
It also serves a crucial pedagogical purpose.
“Seder” means “order” or “sequence.” It’s related to “sidrah” — the term for each sequential reading of Torah annually, and “siddur” — the prayerbook/publication in which the daily prayers appear in the order of their performance. The “Ka’deish…” is the recitation of the steps that are about to happen. Without telling the actual story of Pesach/Passover, it gives an overview of the procedure that is about to take place.
Knowing the sequence, or structure, of the “Seder” can help maintain attention on it.
This is true of other things, too. For example, when I first began going to synagogue as an adult, I was very inspired by its overall meaning, but I didn’t understand the sequence of what was happening at all. This was especially true of High Holiday services. Later on, familiarity with the structure of the service made participating in it much easier — even with all its variations. Another example, for me, is listening to classical music. I can listen just to enjoy the “feeling,” but listening with a knowledge of the structure also helps me appreciate what a composer is doing (even when they vary the structure or do away with it altogether). It can be just as true for listening to jazz. I even found that I could listen attentively to a raga (Indian classical music), the structure of which is basically “theme and variations”: Once I’d identified the primary melody, I could follow, appreciate and enjoy the subsequent variations that emerged throughout the performance.
So, chanting the “Ka’deish…,” or “Si’man’ei ha-Seder,” both begins the procedure and readies people for attending to and participating in it.
The melody that I use can be heard at:
(The cantor uses a tiny bit of vocal ornamentation or flourish that I wouldn’t use myself. Use it if you like it, but it’s not essential).
An alternate melody can be heard at:
Several creative versions can be seen and heard at: