Many thanks to Faith for this great picture of Cantor Jack Mendelson and I, taken right after the practicum was over.
It's hard to believe that practicum #3 has not only come and gone, but was already 2 1/2 weeks ago. Time flies when you're jumping for joy that the damn thing is over with and you can return to normal life again.
Out of all of my practica thus far, this practicum, which covered the traditional liturgy and nusach for Tefilat Geshem, was easily the most challenging. Tefilat Geshem is a series of prayers and liturgical poems, said just before Simchat Torah, in which we remind God to send rain to make this harvest season a successful one. Growing up in my largely Classical Reform congregation in St Louis, Tefilat Geshem was never even a figment of my (or the rabbis' or cantor's) imagination. I never even knew there was such a thing as a prayer for rain until I watched my colleague give this same practicum last year (while simultaneously praying I would never be stuck with this topic...just goes to show that God interprets prayer in God's own way...)
There were all sorts of emotions that filled my body the day I opened my email to discover what the practicum topic would be. At first glance, I wanted to throw my computer out the window. At second glance, I cried. Yes, I cried. Over a practicum. Thinking back, I read the email at a time when I was frustrated with both nusach and the idea of impractical practica (practica that have little to no application in the real world.) I didn't understand why the faculty would assign ME this practicum, knowing my aggravation with these things and knowing that I was struggling so much with school. Though I didn't contest the assignment, I thought A LOT about it--probably too much.
I started working on this program the day after practicum #2. Thank God I had a wonderful coach who also happens to teach the class on the nusach of Geshem. From day one, I had my entire program planned out and I knew exactly what music I needed to learn. I quickly got to work learning the many melismatic passages and new liturgy. The music was hard, of course, but it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the many, many struggles I faced with this practicum.
For whatever reason, I got it into my head that this music was written for and designed to be sung by a man. Therefore, I began singing it as such, singing the pieces bigger than they needed to be. Those of you who know music and my history with singing know that I have a history of singing sharp; this is usually due to working too hard to make too much sound. I have had to learn how to relax enough to bring my voice back into the correct intonation which has NOT been easy or fun. Well, as I pushed my voice to be bigger and more manly than it is, my pitch slowly started to rise once again. There was a period of about a month where I couldn't sing this music without sharpening, sometimes going a full semitone higher than I should have been. It was incredibly frustrating. Thank God I had an amazing voice teacher who had the patience, persistence, and vocal expertise to help me get my pitch where it needed to be.
Another frustration: This liturgy consists of poems written about biblical men and their miraculous experiences with rain and water. It didn't make sense for me, as a liberal Jewish woman who knows that plenty of WOMEN in the bible also have miraculous experiences with water, to be singing these poems strictly about men. Combine this with the above issue of singing like a man, and it became hard to make sense of this practicum. Trying to sing music written for men and about men as a woman was confusing. It was the first time I've ever felt as though I was a woman trying to do a man's job--I've never had that kind of experience in the cantorate before.
The whole time I was preparing for this practicum, I felt as though I never really had a clue as to what was going on. I felt very little connection to the music or the text, and wasn't sure how I could fit this into my Reform cantorate. I'm still not sure about that last point, honestly, though I'd love to find ways to introduce it in ways my congregants can understanding. In order to do that, however, I need to continue to educate myself about Geshem and it's importance within Judaism.
In spite of all of this, I am happy to say the practicum was a rousing success. I sang well, with confidence (hey, fake confidence is better than no confidence at all!) and for the most part, in tune. It felt good to succeed in spite of the personal and vocal struggles that never seemed to end, and showed me that I can indeed tackle difficult nusach. The faculty seemed pleased and the feedback I received was helpful.
Overall, I'm glad the practicum was successful, but I'm especially glad it's over. I look forward to practicum #4 (the last one!), which will hopefully be a concert-style program on the music of a composer or a time period of Jewish music.
Many thanks to everyone who helped to keep me sane throughout this process. I appreciate you all!