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!

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