High Holidays

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 08:11 am
chanaleh: (leaves)
[personal profile] chanaleh
My two favorite friends from synagogue are MH, the president, and EHF (hereinafter SCO#4), the chair of the ritual committee. Between them, they have been talking to me for ages (since I was pregnant with Aria; possibly even before that) about training me up to lead High Holiday services.

Which is to say, CBI has a full-time rabbi but not a cantor (which is why they were keen in the first place to put me on retainer to lead the Friday night service; apparently SCO#4 used to lead it himself, having a pleasant voice but not, like, a performing voice). So like most such places, they hire a contract cantor for High Holidays every year. Most recently, it's been this guy who apparently grew up in an earlier incarnation of this congregation (in their old building 50 years ago), and who is lovely and warm although just not my personal style. (Me, last year: "Did you know he has his own cooking show on YouTube?" [livejournal.com profile] etrace: "COLOR ME SHOCKED.") He was on board for the last 2 years and there was a lot of back and forth in committee about whether to have him back again this year.

Apart from that, I heard very little between last fall and this spring other than "Well, the committee still has to decide. Well, we're going to reach out to Mitch and see if he's even still available. Or maybe we'll want you! Or maybe we'll divide it up between you and MW!" (MW is our other cantorial soloist who leads the Shabbat morning davening twice a month... the one who reminds me startlingly of a young [personal profile] mangosteen... who is probably in his mid-20s but grew up in the congregation so everyone, including himself, seems to still think of him as "one of the kids". He also teaches in the Hebrew school, but for his day job he teaches math at an area public school, which as it turns out also throws a bit of a wrench in his holiday availability since he can't or won't take off weekdays, even for Yom Kippur. And even though YK is on Shabbat this year, he also coaches the chess team and might have to take them to a meet that weekend and won't know until the week before. Sigh.)

I keep telling them that even if I study up for a year, I'm not going to be, like, cantorial about it; my davening style is more straightforward and traditional. They keep saying that's fine. They did offer to line someone up (and pay them) to actually teach me, presumably someone out of Chicago, although I never heard if they had someone specific in mind. I'd been thinking I could just as easily enlist one of my rabbi/cantor friends for phone lessons. In the meantime, I spent $20 on downloading the complete Virtual Cantor archive last October. But I've still never really embarked on studying it... mostly because it's set up as a CD-ROM, not a playable CD, so I can't just burn "Rosh Hashanah Musaf" and press Play.

Anyway, so, 2 months ago -- that's mid-May -- SCO#4 emailed me "can we have a phonecall to talk about the High Holidays?" and I was terrified that the topic was going to be "please learn all the davening in the next 4 months kthx". But instead it turned out that the topic was "we hired a new recent cantorial graduate to do the primary davening this year, really sorry, hope that's OK" and I had to reassure him that that was far and away my preference! He asked me instead to lead the Shacharit service on Day 1, and also to read the Day 1 haftarah -- which is the story of Chana and personally meaningful to me and also I've read it before, so yay. But I do have to learn Shacharit pretty much from scratch, so, eep.

(Interestingly, around the same time, I also received an email from the nondenominational Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute about their fledgling, online and self-paced Cantorial Program. I am tempted to pitch this to MH and see if the congregation would like to underwrite it for me. Only $12,000!)

The rabbi subsequently pointed me at this set of "recordings of the HH services according to Conservative custom", as recorded by Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. The recordings are transferred, quite noticeably, from audiocassettes dated 1995 -- so old that they reference the page numbers in the Silverman machzor. It's also more editorial commentary and instruction than actual singing. But it's helpful, and even pleasant to listen to (if you are a liturgy nerd and Rosh Hashanah enthusiast like myself).

I finally trimmed out just the RH Shacharit section of those MP3s, burned it to a CD, and started playing it in my car. (Two roundtrips, < 10 minutes each way, means 35-40 minutes a day.) The aggravating part about that, though, is that my car stereo doesn't have a "skip back 5 seconds" function -- it's all-or-nothing to the beginning of the track. So for now, I'm just listening to it all the way through, over and over. What I need is each prayer as a separate track -- which is how the Virtual Cantor files are, if I save them down appropriately in a numbered set. But because this congregation is prone to skip or Englishify a lot of the prayers, I really want JUST the segments I need to learn. So the next step is that the rabbi will mark up a machzor for me with the actual sequence of what I'm expected to daven out loud, and we'll meet to review it. And then I'll compile my playlist and burn yet another CD. And then I will play it continuously til mid September.

I figure, if I memorized the entire Hamilton soundtrack in less than 2 months, I can do this. It's just Shacharit, right? Right? #17tammuz #tishreiiscoming

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
elbren: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elbren
I'm intrigued. Chanting in the orthodox church is pretty improvisational, you learn the tones and the frames and fit the words to it as you go. You do end up doing some certain things the same way, and a given community will have its own habits, passed from chanter to chanter, but I'd only memorize as such specific rare works (e.g. for holidays), or when it's in arabic rather than english (because I don't know enough arabic to get the divisions between the words right).
Is RH Shacharit like one of specific rare things that memorizing a specific realization is better than improv from the rules because it's a special occasion, or is it just that it's hebrew, or does cantoring not operate on the same rules-improv basis as orthodox christian chant in general?

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 02:48 pm (UTC)
elbren: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elbren
interesting. yes, we have special holiday tones too, but they're variations on the basic set. very cool! enjoy!

a perhaps-interesting aside: we have an "ison", a base drone note that the chanter carrying the line tunes to (traditionally bass register, but when the chanters are a tenor and an alto, well...) the head chanter and I (at the congregation where I was ordained chanter) converged on a pitch halfway between d-flat & d, which annoyed the choir director with perfect pitch. we were super consistent about it though.

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 04:31 pm (UTC)
drwex: (Default)
From: [personal profile] drwex
I'm sure you can do this; the question is do you want to?

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 05:09 pm (UTC)
vettecat: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vettecat
Very flattering that they want you to do this! Glad they gave you a little lead time and a specific piece to focus on. Hope all goes well!

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 06:13 pm (UTC)
filkerdave: (jew roll)
From: [personal profile] filkerdave
Heh. I like the "so old that they reference the page numbers in the Silverman machzor" bit. My shul only switched over from Silverman to Lev Shalem...err...2 years ago?

Date: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017 01:55 am (UTC)
filkerdave: (judaism)
From: [personal profile] filkerdave
It was definitely dated, but at the same time very familiar. I kind of miss it.

As far as doing this? You'll rock at it.

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 09:38 pm (UTC)
debka_notion: (Default)
From: [personal profile] debka_notion
You can totally do this. I did it in less time, and you're actually a vocalist (I'm a former recorder/trombonist who fakes things), though my version is not exactly ideal (aka, I learned it a bit too fast, then never relearned it properly).

If I can be of any help, I'm happy to be, though I think you know other more competent shlichei tzibbur.

And all the times I've lead or rabbi-ed the high holidays for grownups, they've all been from Silverman, except the one place that used the transliterated Artscroll for a heavily shortened service. (Now skip the next hundred pages to continue at the bottom of page 347...)

Date: Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 10:06 pm (UTC)
bluepapercup: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bluepapercup
what a lovely honor to be asked. I think it's plenty of time to get all trained up on your part, and I'm sure you will do a great job!

I do love the idea of you doing the cantorial program. :)

Date: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017 01:07 am (UTC)
goljerp: Photo of the moon Callisto (Default)
From: [personal profile] goljerp
Ah, the Silverman... So does this shul use the Harlow, or the Lev Shalem?

Also, congrats! My shul has a cantor, but since we've got a strong lay-led ethos, Pesuke (and maybe Shacharit) on the first day is usually lay-led. (That's ignoring the two other minyanim which meet, and are entirely lay-led, of course).

Date: Thursday, July 13th, 2017 08:37 pm (UTC)
mbarr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mbarr
Learning one service is probably the best way to start :)

And I'm sure that some of your cantor type friends might be available to teach, particularly if you could do an online one, or something. I think you know one that lives in Skokie, for example..

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