Last night I was immersed in music, some Jewish and some not, for the entirety of the evening. After performing in a concert for the Hallel Choir, the community choir I sing with as part of my community service requirement for HUC, I attended a concert of the Jerusalem A Capella Singers which my voice teacher Judi directs. The concert was fantastic in every way; not only did the choir sound beautiful and sing interesting and entertaining pieces, but there was positive energy bouncing off every square inch of the walls. It's an energy I'd forgotten about, an incredible energy that I can't really explain but feel so deeply at certain moments as a musician.
Attending the concert and watching the interaction between Judi and her singers was so special, so intimate, that I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness about the fact that I don't have many of those opportunities anymore. As I listened to and watched the choir perform last night, it brought back so many memories of the energy that comes from choral and soloistic singing--singing Carmina Burana with full orchestra in high school, performing with University Singers at the Matyas Templom in Budapest, singing Cara Sposa at my senior recital, and more. The concert forced me to remember that I am, at the heart, a musician. Singing is my first passion, followed closely by Judaism, and SINGING is the first and main reason I am here.
As a cantorial student, my goal is to share my love of the liturgy and the music that accompanies it with my congregation. It's different than singing an art song or aria in that it's not about me-- I'm not trying to show off my talent or the composer's talent, but rather I am trying to find and connect to Gd and to help others do the same. It's certainly not an easy task, one that all spiritual leaders struggle with at times. But, at the right moments, there is an energy present that is far more powerful than anything I have felt while performing secular or non-Jewish pieces. Moments where I know in my heart that I am doing my job and doing it well; moments where the congregation disappears and only Gd and I are there, together, creating our own unique dialogue. Interestingly enough, it is in those moments where the members of the congregation also feel Gd's presence and their own connection to Gd. THAT is my goal--to help others connect through my connection. In my opinion, that is what being a shliach tzibor, a spiritual emissary, is all about.
I've been thinking a lot lately about one of my favorite prayers, Elohai N'Shama, which reads as follows:
אלהי נשמה שנתתה בי טהורה הי
My Gd, the soul You have given me is pure.
אתה בראתה, אתה יצרתהת, אתה נפחתה בי
You created it, You sustained it, You breathed it into me
ואתה משמרה בקרבי
And You protect it within me.
כל זמן שהנשמה בקרבי
For as long as my soul is within me,
מודה אני לפניך
I offer thanks to You,
Adonai, my Gd
ואלהי אבותי ואמותי
and Gd of my fathers and mothers
ריבון כל המעשים, אדון כל הנשמות
Source of all Creation, Sovereign of all souls.
ברוך אתה יי
Praised are you, Adonai,
אשר בידו נפש כל חי ורוח כל בשר איש
in whose hand is every living soul and the breath of humankind.
While I've spent a lot of time and money working the technical aspects of my voice and my musicality, I am 100% convinced that my best singing--my talent and my gift--comes straight from my soul. When I pray these words (preferably in the form of a melody, of course) I am thanking Gd for giving me this special gift and the ability to help myself and others find Gd through song. Because of this prayer and others, and my own deep personal relationship with Gd, I am able to strive to create the spiritual energy I spoke about earlier in this post. My singing is my soul, and my soul is my singing, and there is no greater gift than the ability to use this to make my life and the lives of my congregants more spiritual and fulfilling.