Wednesday, May 13, 2009


COMPS ARE OVER!!! And I lived to tell :)

For the full effect of just how good it feels to know they are over and done with, turn up the volume of your speakers as loud as they can go and then play the video.

This is the piece that the choir sung at Investiture/Ordination, right after the last new rabbi was ordained. If there's ever a time to burst into a song of this nature, that's it! (and after comps, of course :)) It's one of my new favorite pieces of choral music ever, probably because of it's connection to the event in which I first sang it. It's also so damn fun to sing and hear.

Those of you who've been with me since the beginning of this year know full well that it's been a rough year for me. I've had a rough transition to New York and everything that accompanies it; mice, public transportation, the different mannerisms of some of the people here, the fast pace, etc. It's also been a rough year in the Jewish world; my mentor lost her job at my home congregation, my good cantorial student friend was unable to get a job for next year, a lot of Jewish organizations have crumbled or faced extreme layoffs etc. This year, it's been especially hard to find inspiration to stay focused and excited about my future as a Jewish leader. For the first time ever, I felt myself losing my motivation to make this dream come true, which was both depressing and scary.

You all are probably also aware that the last few weeks have been especially crazy around here. As soon as Pesach was over (it was only 3 weeks ago!), I hit the ground running, writing a crazy-long Bible final, enjoying a visit to South Bend, planning and executing 2 very successful morning services, singing at Investiture/Ordination, finals week, comps, and now a concert for my last (!!!) visit to South Bend, a choir concert in Albany, moving home to STL for the summer, and singing in 2 weddings my first week home. It's still crazy around here, but I couldn't have asked for a better end to my semester.

I have to say that the end of this semester has been so great that I'd put up with this year all over again. Especially when you wake up in the morning and see the following email from a professor in your inbox:

"You were superb in every way.

Nuances!! Elegant phrases!!!

So much kavanah, in everything you sang, OMG, it was beyond great.

Thanks for the memories, and Kol Hakavod."

To all of you who've stuck by me this year, and who've read my sometimes depressing posts about my very real life here, I thank you. I so deeply appreciate your love and support, and you're a huge part of the reason that I've been able to stick it out. Todah Rabah to all of you.

What does a cantorial student do with herself the day after comps? She goes shopping for a pretty dress to wear to her concert on Saturday night, of course! I'm thinking a mani/pedi may also be in order :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Comprehensive Exams!

Finals are over! Yay! After 3 intense weeks of work, reading, writing papers and music curricula, and a plethora of other things, it's finally summertime!

Oh, wait. We're cantorial students. Scratch that.

Now that finals are over, it's officially time for comprehensive exams. What does that mean?

It means lots of this:

Yep, it's a large. 32 ounces of fat free, caffeine-y, iced latte goodness. You know how I roll.

And a lot of time with these guys:

The works of Adolf Katchko (dark blue), Israel Alter (light blue), and Noah Schall (orange). They wrote the books on chazzanut (literally--there they are in the picture!) and we use them to learn how to daven in the traditional manner. I've spent so much time with them in the last few weeks that I feel extremely close to them now. If the books were actual people, we'd probably be close to married.

Finally, you throw in a traditional siddur, one that is used in a Conservative or Orthodox congregation. To help with organization, I've tabbed each prayer I need to sing. The colors represent the different services we're required to know for this year's exam.

I jokingly refer to this as "Tracy and the Siddur of Many Colors." There are actually blue tabs in there too, but they're hidden by the others. And in case you were wondering:

Pink=Kabbalat Shabbat
Green=Ma'ariv (Shabbat evening)
Orange=Shacharit (Shabbat morning)

Basically, the gist of comps is to be able to pray from the siddur with as little music as possible. Most of what we have to sing is required from the siddur itself, meaning we have to memorize the melodies and sing from the actual text. We are able to use music for some of the longer, more difficult pieces, but they don't account for much of our exam. We also have to sing 2 contemporary pieces, one from our Contemporary Shabbat class last semester and one from our Contemporary Rosh Hashana class this semester.

The exams take about 30 minutes from start to finish, and are done in front of the Olympic judges (Okay, the entire SSM faculty.) It's more than a little intimidating and I am scared out of my mind to sing on Tuesday morning. Thank goodness we'll be well prepared (thanks to our classes and professors and the hours upon hours of practice time we've put into this) and we know everyone there is rooting for us.

And, the best part is that as of 11:00 Tuesday morning, it's officially SUMMERTIME!

Until then, send love my way, and keep your fingers crossed that my brain doesn't go to Bermuda when I'm on the bimah on Tuesday morning (it's only right to use a Steinsnyder-ism to end this post.)

Home to STL for the summer in 2 weeks!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Today was exactly what I needed to get back on the "being a cantor is a wonderful thing" bandwagon.

Today, 11 cantorial students and 14 rabbinical students went from being ordinary people, to extraordinary cantors and rabbis.

The ceremony was so beautiful; tons of good music (yours truly sang in the choir, and several of our amazing faculty sang special blessings and/or wrote music in honor of the class), lots of family members and friends, and beautiful blessings from the entire HUC community. The process of being invested or ordained is also quite lovely; one-by-one students are called up to the ark and given a special blessing by the HUC-JIR President, Rabbi David Ellenson. He spoke to each student while the student's choice of song was played on the organ, with his hands placed gently on each student's cheeks, later giving them each a kiss on the forehead and a big hug of congratulations.

The ceremony was so unlike my high school and college graduations; there was so much emotion in the air. After 5 years of school, I'd imagine one is ready to get out into the world and be an amazing cantor or rabbi. However, you're also saying goodbye to the friends and teachers who've been with you every step of the way.

And now instead of being friends and/or teachers, you're also colleagues. Weird to think about, but also kind of awesome.

It's also the realization of your wildest dreams; you're no longer planning on going to cantorial school or studying to become a cantor--you ARE a cantor. How cool must that be?

I spent the majority of today's service in tears. I've come to know and like these new cantors as I've enjoyed watching and/or participating in their recitals and sharing many a pracitcum discussion with them. They are amazing people and will make such necessary and great changes in the Jewish world. But more than that, I realized that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, a reason for struggling through comps and history papers and public transportation that's never on time.

Is it weird that I'm already envisioning Rabbi Ellenson's hands on my face, seeing my family, C-Squad members, and favorite faculty member beaming with pride, knowing that I've already accomplished my biggest life goal?

That vision is one I've needed for awhile now. And it's one that will carry me through terrible semesters like this one, not to mention finals and comps and apartment problems.

Throughout this rotten semester, I've spent a lot of time questioning my reasons for being here.
Feeling like I wasn't strong enough, good enough, talented enough to make it in the big, bad cantorial world.
Wondering if I had a place in this Jewish world that sometimes seems to put cantors on the backburner.
Worried about my own future and the future of the cantorate as a whole.

Today I remembered why I am here, and I became excited again to serve the Jewish people and to sing to God with gladness.

Most importantly, I remembered just how special this profession is. I get to sing my heart out to God on behalf of my people, bringing God's presence into their lives in a way that simple speech or reading never could. That fact alone is all I need to pull me through the roughest times of cantorial school and life in New York City.

Well, that and my ever-expanding list of song choices for my Investiture 3 years from now, of course :-)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Check It Out!

This is the beautiful flier that was put together to advertise the concert I am giving in South Bend, during my last scheduled visit with Temple Beth El. I know it's a drive for most of you, but if you are willing and able to come, I would LOVE to see you there!

PS--click on the link to enlarge the poster, so you can read about the details. It's a fun night of Jewish music and musical theater (is there really a difference, I ask you?)