Two years ago, when we gathered to commemorate my “Chai Anniversary” here at Kol Ami, I gave a helluva speech.
No. Really I did. It was great.
It was full of charm and witticisms and it was about all of the things that I have loved about being the Cantorial Soloist here at Kol Ami, or as I have lovingly labelled you all…."Temple Sings All the Time and Won’t Shut Up."
I won’t rehash those words. If you are completely lacking in memory due to the rapid onset of old age or you weren’t here for the occasion, I will repost it later on my blog for anybody who cares to look. Instead, I would rather share with you a few important life lessons that this wild and wacky journey of being a Jewish musician has taught me.
- Life is always easier in appropriate footwear. Heels are the bane of any woman’s existence and this is especially true on Yom Kippur. Be comfortable and the music will flow with ease. This is a moral imperative that we should recall in all circumstances.
- Music is always more beautiful when one is hydrated. Water, green tea, and honey/lemon lozenges are my own personal fifth food group.
- Don’t inform the congregation during a service that you just snapped your G-string. It makes for uncomfortable conversations at the Onegs.
- If you must remove your engagement and wedding rings in order to properly play the guitar, don’t leave them on the bimah following a service. It makes for uncomfortable conversations with The Husband at home.
- My favourite innovation over the last 38 years of song leading? Wireless mics. They have allowed both me and my guitar to roam freely amongst you, all the while saving my voice its annual bouts of laryngitis. I love the feeling of hyper-kinesis when we sing together. It makes the music and the prayer come alive.
- Music is filled with flavours and everybody has their favourite. Embrace those differences. Here is a typical post-service conversation that I have had many times.
Moishe Congregant: “I loved the service, but I really don’t like that new setting of the Mi Chamocha. I liked the old one better.”
Me: “I understand how you feel. Was there any piece that you did like this evening?”
Moishe: “Well….I always did like that version of L’cha Dodi.”
Me: “Then I guess we were successful, right?”
- Jewish music should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be a shared experience. When we sing together as a community, it facilitates prayer in a manner that can only be described as transcendent. I am at my happiest when you all are singing with me. If I could have one wish for this community going forward, it would be that you never just sit back and let somebody else do your singing and praying for you. Sing with full hearts and full voices, and believe me….you will find God in this place. To me….that is the best definition of spirituality.
- If you are going to do this job as Cantorial Soloist, make sure that you surround yourself with only the best people. They are everywhere in this congregation. My teachers, my students, my rabbis, my musician friends, my choral singers, my conductors. You have all made me better than I had ever hoped or ever deserved to be. I count every single one of you as friend. This journey has been incredible mostly because you all came along with me for the ride.
- If you are going to do this job as Cantorial Soloist, make certain that you tell your family how grateful you are for all of the sacrifices that they have made throughout the years. For all of those times when we couldn’t sit together; had to rush through Shabbat or holiday dinners; for when you attended family functions without me; when you had to spend your birthday at an honouring service; when you just wanted to blend into the scenery but couldn’t….for all of it…..know that I love you all and I appreciate everything that you have done. You are my heart and soul.
- And finally…know when it is time to let the next person come in and teach new things. We are never too old to learn. Embrace the change and accept the uncertainty of the future. Excitement awaits. Dr. Maya Angelou once said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I can only hope that the feelings are good ones.
Music Speaks Louder Than Words (Music and Lyrics by: Harold Payne, Edgar Pease, Michael Scarpiello)
Music speaks louder than words
It's the only thing that the whole world listens to
Music speaks louder than words
When you sing, people understand
Sometimes the love that you feel inside
Gets lost between your heart and your mind
And the words don't really say, the things you wanted them to
But then you feel in someone's song
What you'd been trying to say all along
And somehow with the magic of music the message comes through
The longer I live the more
I find that people seldom take the time
To really get to know a stranger and make him a friend
But the power of a simple song can make everybody feel they belong
Maybe singin' and playin' can bring us together again
Singin' and playin' can bring us together again