It just seems so patently unfair! Just when the North American political scene is heating up and offering so much material for me to discuss, (a puffin shitting on the shoulder of Liberal leader Stephane Dion is just too synergistic for words!) I have barely a minute to commit thought to keyboard. For example, I haven't been able to muse about how John McCain looks slightly leering when he watches Sarah Palin deliver her stump (or is it rump?) speech. Watch him next time. He is staring at her ass!! He tries not to, but his dirty old man-eyes are constantly shifting downward. I haven't been able to comment on the asinine reporter who asked Prime Minister Harper this Barbara Walteresque question on the campaign trail. "Mr. Harper, if you could be one vegetable, which one would you be?" Poor Stephen. He looked positively dumbfounded. He couldn't even come up with a pithy response like "Hey potato head!! We are meat eaters in Alberta!!!" I have many a thought on the exclusion of the Green Party from the national debate, but I cannot utter my disgust! No, my blogging has taken a direct hit due to the upcoming High Holidays. I am positively swamped with Jew music and projects for our services. I have been in this game for many years, but for some reason it always sneaks up on my like a stealth bomber. It doesn't matter if Rosh Hashana falls early in the fall or later, (as is the case this year) I am constantly feeling as though I am the slow kid in the race.
Rabbis and cantors are partners in the High Holiday experience. But, I have come to realize that this is not an equal partnership. Sorry, rabbis!!! You work hard and stress hard, but you have nothing on us. We cantors and soloists are the ones with the gut-churning, acne-inducing and hair-losing job!! Allow me to count the ways.
1. It is true that rabbis are responsible for sermonizing and it is also true that many High Holiday congregants judge their service-going experience on the rabbi's 20 minute oration. But, come on!! There should be no shortage of sermon ideas out there, given the majesty of the holidays, the political climate, the attempt to draw people back to Judaism, the social agenda of the speaker, Israel and her issues, or Jewish practice. Not only that, the net has opened up a sermon-sharing world with resources that are infinite. The cantor, on the other hand is charged with updating the service music on a yearly basis. They need to energize the worship experience with new melodies, all the while protecting the beloved tunes that the congregation just cannot do without. The hunt for new music often begins as soon as the holidays end so that they can be vetted, rehearsed, ripped to shreds, rehearsed some more, discarded because of poor response, resurrected, rehearsed again and finally polished for the day! A year long process that beats out the rabbi's month-long sermon writing.
2. The rabbi works in solitary confinement. His or her sermon preparations are done in isolation and other than sharing with a few trusted confidants, doesn't need to perform until opening night. The cantor's preparations are done in both private and public. He or she must perfect the piece individually and then attend various rehearsals with a litany of musicians, accompanists, and choirs in order to achieve the desired sound. In volunteer organizations such as mine, most of these rehearsals are held in the evenings or weekends extending my day far beyond the norm. (That said, I am eternally grateful for every single member of my choir, music staff and my director. They are exceptionally devoted people who do what they do for the love of it, and not the glory! Yes, I am sucking up!!! I NEED these people desperately!!!!!) Ok! I will give points to the rabbi because they still have to carry on the day to day job of being a rabbi, while still preparing for the holidays. Weddings, funerals and B'nai Mitzvah do not take vacations in September.
3. The rabbi has readers to spell him during the service. Honours are given to lay people to participate in the service, and the rabbi can sit back and take a breather for several minutes during the worship. Where are my breathers? Nobody can spell me. I would love to take a break or two, but I haven't yet found the congregant willing to come up and sing Avinu Malkeinu or Kol Nidre for me!!
4. Most prayer is sung. The rabbi basically becomes a member of the congregation during the T'fillah. I need to be physically strong, in shape and of massive voice or else the prayer falls flat! God forbid I sound like a frog! The rabbi can suffer from a slight cold and still deliver with vigour. Not so, the cantor. Trust me! It is nerve-wracking to sing to 1300 critics.
5. The cantor, by virtue of her constant participation in the service, becomes a de-facto stage manager. We keep the whole production together. I follow the list of honours, the order of the choir pieces, the added music, the anthems, the songleading, whether or not there are matches for the candles, the Torah settings, spotting the Hebrew readers etc. In short, the whole balagan falls on me to navigate. The rabbi is responsible for his/her sermon!
6. The cantor needs to deliver emotion, spirituality, and pizzazz all while looking out onto a sea of congregants expecting to be moved. Pressure cooker!!
So, please excuse me if my blogging becomes a bit more scattered over the next month. My work is interfering with my hobby. I will try and keep up as best as I can, but I think I need a ghost writer. Maybe I should ask the rabbi.
This post was not intended to paint any specific rabbi in a negative light. I love rabbis! I love my rabbi! i love working with my rabbi! I hope that when he reads this, we are still friends. I just wanted to illustrate how nuts my life has been and how much more nuts it will become in the upcoming weeks. NOT TO BE TAKEN PERSONALLY OR LITERALLY!!!