I've often joked that the Cantor is my ultimate synagogue nemesis -- were it not for Cantors showing off, the service would end in half the time and I'd be that much closer to the delicious bagels at the reception. To be fair, I'm a tough critic to please -- were it up to me, every song would be sung exactly as it was when I was growing up, with no alterations whatsoever. This may run in the family -- at my old synagogue, I distinctly recall that anytime the Cantor experimented with a new melody, my dad would start loudly singing the old one in reprimand. It never caused the tune to be changed, but perhaps it served as a deterrent.
Whenever I go to a new synagogue, I'd always grouse about how I preferred the singing at my home congregation. As I grow older, even the tunes at my home synagogue grow more unfamiliar, which I don't like. Our new Aleinu sounds like a funeral dirge, for example. But hearing that new tune (and others) made me wonder -- just how old are the songs we sing? Not the words, but the music? Are they hundreds of years old, recognizable in the Shetls of Europe or the villages of the Middle East? Or are they all reinvented anew by each generation of Hazzans? Do we have any way of knowing? I doubt songs such as these were ever committed to a score. It seems like one of those mysteries that may be unknowable. But maybe not -- historians have sussed out stranger facts.