Monday, 26 May 2014

Music and the Spirit According to Plato

I have been trying to find a way to say this, but it seems that Plato said it for me and far more eloquently.

Expressions of spirituality are not my strong suit. Better to let the experts handle the tough stuff. (Thanks to Philosophy Wall for adding the guitar. It was just the right touch.)

More to come as the end draws nigh.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Singing is Like Air

The Husband and I were just lazing around last night half-watching insipid television while waiting for Modern Family to air. In the midst of a lull, he dropped a bombshell of a question.

"Are you going to miss singing, honey?", he asked with tremendous sincerity.

What is interesting about the query, is that in all the time that I have been considering my retirement from the Cantorial Soloist position, I have never once thought of it as a cessation from singing. How could I even possibly imagine a world in which I don't sing?

I sing all the time. All the time!! I don't always realize that I am singing. I'm that person; the moron you've often seen stopped at a red light who is totally immersed in and belting out whatever is coming out of the radio. (More often than not it is Sirius XM channel 72 On Broadway, but it really doesn't make much of a difference. I have been known to wail everything and anything from Fleetwood Mac to Adele to Kenny Chesney to Pete Seeger.) If you've been anywhere near the Greater Toronto Area in the last fifty years, I'm sure you've seen me car-boogieing to Aretha and Tina, or air-guitaring a lick from Zeppelin or ZZ Top.

Yup. I'm that person.

I sing in the shower, when I'm drying my hair, when I'm on the treadmill, when I'm ironing clothes, and when I'm grocery shopping. I'm the dork who sings too loudly with her headphones on, and the idiot who has elicited odd looks from complete strangers on airplanes. (There was that time that I absent-mindedly crooned  Hasa Diga Eebowai from The Book of Mormon on a flight to Denver without a care in the world until the young mother sitting across the aisle with her small children gave me the death stare...but that's a whole other story.) I sing when I'm happy, sad, miserable, excited, bored, and every other possible emoticon sitting on your laptop.

I sing.

I sing so often that my children used to beg me to stop.

It's just so much a part of my psyche and my soul that when The Husband posed his question last evening it stunned me.

Now I fully realize that he was talking about my public singing, that persona I assume whenever I ascend the bimah or stand in front of a class or a dining hall filled with campers. But the way he phrased it was a bit of a jolt.

I have been actively involved in the world of Jewish music since I was thirteen years old. That is more than 3 1/2 decades of teaching religious school and preschool music classes; conducting junior and youth choirs; singing in dozens of choirs, choruses, and ensembles; NFTY, camp, and retreat songleading; soloing for several congregations; leading seminars, workshops, and day-sessions for the up and comers; community healing services, B'rit Milah, B'nai Mitzvah, weddings, funerals and unveilings. I was a Jewish music professional long before the internet made sharing so easy. I was the person who played those first NFTY albums (on vinyl!) over and over and over again so that I could accurately learn how Debbie played the chords to Sing Unto God. I still have some of those early Eurovision cassette tapes and those Israeli song contest recordings. I still remember the arrangement I taught one of my earliest youth choirs for Shir Baboker. 9 and 10 year olds sang the entire piece...every Hebrew. We rocked Zimriyah that year. I was the music teacher who composed her own Chanukah and Purim songs because there wasn't all that much out there at the time. I was the soloist on the bimah who came down into the congregation because I insisted on not being the only voice heard singing L'cha Dodi on Shabbat. This has been my professional world for almost 40 years.

Will I miss that? Of course. It is hard to walk away from a passion that has been all-encompassing, but as it says in Kohelet "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."

The time is right. In my years in Jewish music, I have been privileged to be part of a revolution. We have taken our synagogues' prayers and liturgy and transformed them into living breathing experiences in which our congregants actively participate. We sing the music of Lewandowski alongside that of Debbie Friedman and Dan Nichols. We have welcomed all manner of instruments, styles, languages, voices, and we use them all to further our conversation with The Divine Spirit. I am proud of what I have accomplished in my career, but the time has come to do something else.

Will I miss singing? No, because I will never stop. Singing is like air to me. I could no more stop singing than I could breathing. You may not see me leading a Mi Sheberach from the front, but I would lay even money that you will hear my voice from somewhere in the congregation. I'll be the dork who is swaying back and forth with her eyes closed while miming the chords on an imaginary twelve-string.

I will have more to say about my upcoming retirement and my amazing congregation in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Making Plans

There is an old Yiddish proverb that goes something like this:

.דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט

Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht.

In short, it roughly translates to "Man plans and God laughs". 

I have always loathed this bit of witticism. The idea that God would have a hand in the day to day actions of individuals is anathema to me, and even worse, that a caring and compassionate God would purposefully play Russian roulette with people's lives by bringing pain and suffering on a whim, runs counter to my entire belief system. Instead, I choose to believe that God exists in the spaces; a divine presence that remains close by in order to provide support and strength during those times when life turns sour. God is found in the comforting touches and glances of The Husband or in my children's voices. God is in my friends' phone calls and emails. The notion of a vindictive God with a personal agenda is unfathomable. The very idea that we shouldn't have longterm goals or intentions because of what the Divine Spirit might do is extraordinarily defeatist. We may as well just curl up into a ball right now and call it a day.

And yet...I have to admit it...I have been stuck for these past five months. My grief has turned into trepidation and it has caused me to spin my wheels on more than one occasion. I haven't been able to plan for anything further out on the calendar than a medical appointment. There have been more than a few Saturday evenings recently where The Husband and I have looked pitifully at one another and wondered aloud why we didn't think to organize an outing or a dinner with friends. It isn't that I don't want to plan, rather it is born out of a fear of what might happen if I ponder the future with too much gusto.

It was my mother who shook me out of my funk. My mother who has suffered a loss so wounding and visceral that even those closest to her can't completely comprehend it, was the one who categorically stated to me that she was looking at some new travel opportunities. To anybody who knows my mom well knows that this is a sign. She was signalling to me and to the outside world that  she needs to get on with her life, even if that idea is wrapped up in a minuscule gesture like looking on the interweb for globetrotting options.

"Life is about the touchstones and the memories we make", she said.

"We have to get on with the business of living."

(And people wonder why I worship and unabashedly adore this woman.)

So, I am back to planning. There will be trips and new experiences; New York this weekend and Newfoundland at the beginning of the summer. There will be simchas and wonderful times ahead this summer and fall celebrating with family and friends. (The marriage of one's child is an amazingly self-reflective event.) There will be new challenges for me to conquer as I embark on the next phase of personal growth and leave my old career behind, and undoubtedly much of all of that will be shared in this space.

And guess what?

I don't hear God laughing at all.