Sunday, September 20, 2009

Practicum #2

The morning of the practicum, right after practicing my walk for Hineni in my robe and shoes. I was worried about tripping and falling on my face, which THANK GOD did not happen. Thanks, Faith, for the picture!

I think I am beginning to understand the many purposes of student practica. Yes, we learn new and different music and share it with the student community. Yes, we have the opportunity to sing for and receive constructive criticism from some of the greatest cantorial minds in the Jewish world (both the SSM faculty AND our student colleagues.) And yes, we have the chance to show off our voices, chazzanut, and other cantorial skills for a crowd who can truly appreciate them.

From this practicum, however, I learned a very unexpected lesson on perspective. I learned that sometimes, sweating the small stuff is stupid, vain and unnecessary.

This practicum was put together quickly, went through several musical and liturgical changes, and contained a lot of big, challenging music. It was not even close to being executed perfectly. There were choreography mistakes, wrong notes, vocal issues, and a few word-jumbles. When the practicum was over and it was Julia's turn to sing, I sat down feeling deflated, thinking of what I would say at the review to defend myself and the mistakes that I made. I was trying not to cry as I mentally prepared myself to take the criticism I thought was coming my way from a room of tough critics.

When Julia was finished, we all got up and made our way downstairs. 20 minutes of compliments and beautifully positive remarks later, I made it to the table in the CL. Person after person stopped me to tell me how touching the practicum was, how beautifully I sang, how interesting and exciting my program was.

Singing Avinu Malkeinu at the ark, with Elana (left) and Michelle (right) serving as my ark-openers.

In the review itself, the only negative feedback was that I sang "too beautifully for chazzanut" (a fair criticism) and that I could have taken more time in certain places. The rest of my review time was filled with compliments on my congregational involvement, my cantorial presence and my vocal growth over the last 2 years. In the days that followed, I continued to get positive feedback from my classmates and teachers...even the maintenance man in charge of video taping--who normally sleeps through our practica--had nice things to say.

I'm not telling you any of this to brag. I'm saying it because I was blown away by how I paid so much attention to the 3 notes I sang incorrectly, the one time I forgot to turn the right way, and the 2 small mistakes in my written program--and paid absolutely NO attention to the millions of things I did WELL. It surprised me in the most remarkable way how the only person who seemed to notice my "glaring" mistakes was ME, and how all of the things I did well completely overshadowed all of the things I did wrong.

It feels strange for me to say that this was a lesson in humility, but it was. Human beings--even those of us who take the road to Clergyville, USA--are allowed to make mistakes. We are even allowed to acknowledge that those mistakes can create something wholly special and unique. Dwelling on silly "oops" moments only detracts from life's otherwise perfect experiences. This practicum taught me the value of being gentle with myself and allowing myself to let go of those silly moments that really don't matter. Life is far too precious to marinate ourselves in our shortcomings.

Singing the Levitt HHD Kiddush, the last piece of my program--partially relieving, partially terrifying.

This practicum was a beautiful gift and lesson that happened to take place right in the middle of the month of Elul. What an incredible moment to stop and think about the mistakes in life that really matter and how to fix them, along with the mistakes that don't matter and how to let them go. Maybe it's the forgiveness--of self and others--that gives us the space inside to allow more beauty and positivity into our lives.

Sounds like a good goal for 5770, huh?

It's A Woman's Perogative... change her mind.

After thinking about things over the weekend (because clearly, Rosh Hashanah didn't give me enough to think about) I decided that this blog isn't so personal that I need to mark it as private. It doesn't really talk about the intimate details of my life, and the personal stories I do share are nothing I feel I need to hide from the world at large. Thanks to those of you who took the steps to create a password and such; I appreciate your willingness and desire to read the blog despite the block. If I happen to change my mind again and decide to make it private, the username and password you created should remain the same. If I missed some of you who read regularly, my sincere apologies...I went with a list of people I know read on a regular basis. I didn't mean to exclude anyone, and now that I've lifted the privacy block, you should all be able to read freely once again.

Now that that's over, and Rosh Hashanah is over, and I have a little time before Yom Kippur to feel like a human being again, I have time to play catch up and offer you some fun new posts. Get excited for practicum and pulpit-inspired postings!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shanah Tovah--Muppet Style

I have no idea what the guy is saying, other than "Shanah Tovah" (Happy New Year.) Still, a fun way to ring in 5770.


Acharei HaChagim

Hey y'all...I've done a terrible job of updating and telling you about the exciting things that have happened in the last week. For this, please forgive me and know a full update will happen acharei hachagim--after the High Holy Days, when life will calm down a little and (hopefully) return to normal.

If you just can't wait until then, I encourage you to head here to check out the newest HUC SSM Blogger (it's me!) I'll be blogging on the HUC website on a monthly basis, so check me out around the middle of the month from now until the end of the school year.

If we don't meet again until acharei hachagim, I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and sweet new year. L'shanah Tovah U'metukah!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Things I Have Learned About Being a Cantor...

...From My Student Pulpit, Which Technically Doesn't Begin Until Next Weekend:

-Being a student cantor is a lot of work, even though the job isn't "real." Meetings, photocopying, organizing, learning music, learning Torah, planning services, lesson planning (which I technically haven't started yet) and more.
-Doing all of this long-distance, without a big photocopy machine and unlimited office supplies, makes it feel more stressful than it actually is.
-I am the most unorganized person I know. I have cue sheets, music books and loose music scattered EVERYWHERE in my apartment.
-My apartment is a disaster zone, and will be until the holidays are over. I've just come to accept it.
-The same goes for my diet.
-Working with a rabbi who is excited to have a student cantor is really fun and meaningful.
-My new congregation is pretty rad.
-Double-checking your work is the key to creating useful binders for yourself and your organist. Finding out from your organist that you forgot to insert pages of music or you DID insert the wrong piece of music is humiliating. Yes, I'm admitting to both of these things.
-Not knowing your organist's skills for yourself is frightening, especially when picking out music. You don't want music that is too easy or too difficult, as to not insult the kind person who wants to accompany you.
-It's difficult to pick music, period. There is a lot of HHD music out there. The congregation has favorites. The rabbi has favorites. YOU have favorites. Shmooshing everyone's favorites into one service means a lot of give-and-take. I won't always get to sing what I want or what I know I can sing well. I've learned to be agreeable to that, but I haven't completely learned to be happy about it. I don't know if I ever will.
-None of that matters if the services turn out successfully and your congregation is happy.
-HUC professors, graduates and students are incredibly kind and helpful people.
-Despite my complaining, I am honored and happy to be in this disorganized, crazy place (disorganized and crazy=Tracy's apartment. Her congregation=lovely. Just to clarify.)
-I am going to keep a bottle of something 'adult' in my refrigerator, that I will sip in relief as I finally get around to deep-cleaning my apartment after Simchat Torah.
-The madness will end, even if it still feels like it's going on forever.
-Next year will seem like a piece of cake, as I will be doing this without the pressure and workload of a practicum taking place in 4 days.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Best Day of the (School) Week

I almost hate to say this for fear that my words will spite me, but it must be said: So far, this year has been awesome.

I once again look forward to coming to my classes, hanging out with my classmates and friends, and roaming the Conference Level (lovingly known to HUC'ers as the 'CL') in search of practice rooms, leftover food, and that one piece of HHD music that inevitably gets left at home the day I want to do my photocopying. So far, my classes are enjoyable and appropriately challenging, and the workload has been reasonable. Some days I am actually able to see how all of these different subjects and styles of Jewish music we're learning really do come together in creating the next batch of modern cantors.

Wednesdays are by far my favorite day of the week. My day starts with a new class (an elective!!) on the music of Debbie Friedman. The best part: Debbie Friedman TEACHES the class. Most of you who read this know who she is and love her music; if you don't know of her, she's a singer/songwriter (NOT a cantor) who, with a handful of other Jewish songwriters, has helped to change the face of Jewish music as we know it. Her repertoire is so much bigger than I ever realized, and the point of this particular class is to go through some of her lesser know music in hopes that we can bring it into our congregations. As we learn the pieces, we also hear her personal stories of how and why she wrote them, along with her and our classmates' interpretations of the Hebrew texts. It is a very fun, relaxing way to begin the day, and our small class size allows for beautifully intimate conversations about God, Torah, liturgy and Judaism.

Then, it's time for practica/recitals. This week began the year's cycle of practica with my 3rd year class (is it as weird for you as it is for me to acknowledge that I'm in the 3rd year class?) This past Wednesday, Vicky and Michelle beautifully delivered their traditional and reform S'lichot practica. Next Wednesday, Julia and I are on the chopping block with our Rosh Hashanah practica (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.) Elana will sing in October, and then our class is done until our second round of practica begin in January. I truly love and value the time spent preparing for and attending practica...but I'll be incredibly happy when mine is over next week.

After the lunchtime practicum discussion, we move onto our Traditional High Holy Day workshop with Hazzan Jack Mendelson. Jack's preferred method of teaching is as follows: open the siddur, follow along as he sings for you, sing it yourself, and repeat it over and over again until you get the notes and--more importantly--the cantorial inflection correct. He encourages us not to even look at the music until we leave class--I think this is so we pick up on the nuances and ignore the burden of looking at the complicated note patterns on the page. At first, the visual learner in me started to freak out about this--but when I opened the music and the prayerbook to learn my assignment for last Wednesday's class, I was amazed that I hardly needed to look at the music. Many of the notes had stayed with me more than I expected, and more than that, I naturally sang them in the style he wanted us to. It was an interesting lesson in my own methods of learning and confidence in my own retention abilities.

The thing I love most about my Wednesdays is that I am either singing or listening to music ALL DAY LONG. I begin the day with current melodies and end with the melodies of our tradition, and the two usually merge in the middle of the day with the practica/recitals. I am seeing more and more how even contemporary composers use the modes and nuances of traditional melodies in creating pieces that are singable for a congregation. I am also realizing that there is truly a place for all styles of music within reform Judaism, and how I as the cantor can make even traditional Nusach feel as accessible to my congregants as the melodies of Debbie Friedman. It feels good to know that the training we receive at HUC from our amazing teachers and from the music itself is going to serve us so well when we do finally hop off this wild ride known as cantorial school.

Speaking of a wild ride, I am off to run through my practicum program for the 5,798,417th time. Much love!