Two Trop Tune
Matthew Schutz from Three Bridges, NJ wrote:
I notice in Parshat Yitro two different trop [cantillation or "tune" markings associated with each word] were given - one for Shabbat and one for Shavuot. Why is this?
Dear Matthew Schutz,
There are two kinds of trop by means of which the Ten Commandments are read. They are called ta'am elyon and ta'am tachton (lit. the "uppermost meaning" and the "undermost meaning"). The difference between the two is "musical" but not only musical.
Ta'am tachton is the regular trop of this passage as part of the Scriptures. The special trop - ta'am elyon - breaks up the sentences in a different way, joining all Ten Commandments into one long sentence, and is used only in the public Torah reading, resembling the revelation at Sinai. As you noted, most communities use it only on Shavuot, the Festival celebrating G-d giving us the Torah.