Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fourth Year Highlights

I wish I had the time to talk all about my fourth year of cantorial school in detail. Since I don't, however, I'll share some highlights (and one particularly awful low-light) with you. This year was huge in terms of professional and academic growth, but for the most part, I'd like to talk about the moments that made me the most proud, thankful, and happy.

Debbie Friedman (z"l) Concert
On November 6, 2010, I was privileged to sing in a concert at Temple Israel in celebration of the newest rabbis. The concert featured none other than my friend and teacher Debbie Friedman. Debbie was a professor at HUC-NYC until this past school year, when she returned to Los Angeles to be closer to her family. When I found out that she'd be performing at my home congregation the same week as I'd be visiting for my cousin's bridal shower, I emailed her to ask if I could join her on the bimah for the concert. Being the sweet soul that she was, she graciously agreed and allowed me to sing an ENTIRE song with her playing guitar in the background. The entire time, I expected to sing WITH Debbie, not IN PLACE of Debbie--to sing her song "Mourning Into Dancing" by myself, with her smiling and kvelling at me in front of so many people from my home congregation, was a thrill and honor I'll never forget.

Performing at Temple Israel with Debbie Friedman z"l

Debbie passed away rather suddenly from pneumonia on January 9, 2011. The loss that the entire Jewish community suffered when she died is still radiating through our veins; there isn't a day that passes that I don't think of Debbie, or miss her terribly. Her passing makes me even more grateful that I had the wonderful opportunity to learn from her, to sing with her, to connect with her on so many levels, and to play and sing her songs. My life is forever changed because of the impact she had on me and my Jewish identity, musical and otherwise, and she will forever be an angel that guides me through everything I do.

Julius Chajes Practicum
I must admit that when I received my practicum assignment at the end of my third year, I was terribly disappointed to have been given a composer I'd never heard of. I was hoping to sing the music and dive into the life of Charles Davidson, or Max Helfman, or another composer I was actually familiar with. However, as soon as I heard the opening riffs of Chajes' beautiful compositions, I fell in love. His writing style so beautifully described the Israeli deserts and "Palestinian Nights" the texts spoke of. I shared this practicum with my classmate Michelle, and we both agreed that the work we did with the choir, cellist, clarinetist, organist, and pianist was so worthwhile in the end. There is much I could say about what I learned from singing Chajes' exquisite music, but I'd rather leave you with a video of my performance of "By the rivers of Babylon." I must say, I really earned my stripes with this piece, and while I know it's pitchy in spots, I'm proud of my performance and to have this piece solidly stored in my repertoire. (I'm sorry it's sideways, BTW...I couldn't figure out how to rotate it.)

"By the rivers of Babylon", composed by Julius Chajes, accompanied by pianist Joyce Rosenzweig and cellist Elizabeth Thompson

Wandering Jews of Astoria
This year, I have been incredibly active with the Wandering Jews of Astoria, a 20-30's group of Jews that meet for a monthly Shabbat service and potluck dinner, as well as a few social events throughout the year. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this group, which has helped me to make wonderful friends in Astoria and feel like an integral part of the community. For the first time ever, I feel as though I have a core group of friends that has nothing to do with Hebrew Union College, people I can call upon should an emergency arise (God forbid!) or I need help with anything. In March, I hosted a Shabbat minyan in my apartment, where I somehow fit 22-people in my apartment and everyone made it out alive. I've taken on the role of t'fillah coordinator/teacher, in which I help those who are not comfortable leading a Shabbat service learn how to do so. It's a fun role for me to take on, and I love knowing that the minyan will be able to continue on even after the HUC members graduate and move away from the area.

Wandering Jews Chanukah party

Michael, myself and Marsha (all proud Wandering Jews) at the Mets game

At the end of our fourth year, all HUC-NYC rabbinic and cantorial students graduate with their Masters degrees. This year, I was proud to walk across the stage at Temple Emanu-el as I earned my Masters in Sacred Music degree from the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As we prepared for the ceremony, most of us went in thinking the ceremony would amount to, "Mazal tov, you have another year of school, a thesis to write, and a recital to prepare before you actually become anything of importance! Good for you!" I think we were all surprised to find that the ceremony was actually beautiful, and that we all felt excited and optimistic about the exciting year ahead. While none of my family members were able to attend the ceremony, I was tremendously honored by the presence of "The Barbaras"--the president and immediate past-president of Temple Beth Israel, my student congregation in York, PA. The evening turned out to be very special, and I'm glad that our attitudes changed as the ceremony progressed.

After 4 years together, we have Masters Degrees in Sacred Music!

Hava Nashira
These Hebrew words, meaning, "Come, let us sing!" are actually the name of a program held every summer at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Founded by Debbie Friedman, Hava Nashira is a yearly gathering of songleaders, cantors, and Jewish music lovers from around the country. Together, we sing (a LOT), learn, teach and network with those who love Jewish music as much as we all do. It was truly an honor to attend this conference this year and to learn from the leaders in contemporary Jewish music
. I took one-on-one workshops with Cantor Jeff Klepper (Shalom Rav, anyone?), Peter and Ellen Allard, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Josh Nelson, Merri Lovinger Arian, and Shira Kline (with special appearances by other amazing teachers) and learned more than I could possibly imagine.

Vicky, Benjie, Julia and I after lunch at Hava Nashira

The most amazing part of Hava Nashira, however, was Shabbat. Far and away, this was the most amazing Shabbat experience I've ever participated in; there was so much energy, so much spirituality, so much love and singing and appreciation of being Jewish that it was impossible to hold back our emotion. As I looked around the room, which was practically buzzing from the energy of our incredible harmonies, I saw tears falling down almost everyones cheeks (including my own.) I wish I could share some of that with you in some way, but unless you're there for yourself, words or recordings or descriptions can't do justice to such an amazing Shabbat.

There are so many other things I could talk about in this post, like the amazing summer I've had in New York City, but I will save them for another day. Hopefully, year 5 will be discussed much more thoroughly, on a much more regular basis!

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