If you’ve been to a few different Torah services you’ve probably noticed that everyone who chants from the Torah has their own particular way of doing it. There are standards for how things should go, but in terms of what notes people sing, and how elaborate they get, there’s an infinite amount of variation. That said, even cantillation from different parts of the world–say, Iraqi traditional trope versus Eastern European trope–has a lot in common, indicating that there was one ancestor to all of these contemporary versions.
A professor at the University of Kentucky is doing a study of the different versions of cantillation in American synagogues. Professor Jonathan Glixon and his grad students are trying to get as many people as possible to record themselves chanting the first three verses of Deuteronomy, so they can analyze the similarities and difference in cantillation. If you read Torah, I encourage you to take part in this study. Make a recording, and send it to Gregory Springer [Gregory (dot) springer (at) uky (dot) edu] as an attachment. Gregory is also happy to record you chanting over the phone, or to accept cassette tapes, if you’re rocking it old school. Email him for details.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: TROPE, Origin: Yiddish, notations indicating the tune for chanting the Torah portion or other biblical text.