The Joy of Shul Music
By Chazan Jaclyn Chernett
The Masorti Movement prides itself on its learning and commitment to Jewish engagement and intensity. This year, the Movement, together with EAJL, the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy, is presenting a full-day seminar devoted to singing and t’filah. The seminar is open to people from all levels of Jewish liturgy and from within or outside the movement. EAJL’s stated main purpose is to enable communities to sustain themselves. This is done through training people in the leadership of t’filah.
T’filah is known in English as prayer, although I dislike the word prayer because it has different implications from those of its Hebrew counterpart. T’filah, from the verb l’hit’palel, means to look inside oneself. It relates to soul-searching. Our ‘prayer’ services carry different aspect of engagement between ourselves and the Almighty, the Unknown. It can relate to praise and thanks and also to bakashot which are pleas for all sorts of things including peace, good health, return or redemption, forgiveness, knowledge, understanding, wellbeing, salvation, freedom etc. What each of these contain is depth of yearning.
How do we express yearning? We do it a lot through the music that carries ancient and modern texts on its wings. The emotions are triggered through music. The Canadian neuroscientist Daniel Levitin wrote “The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving both the oldest and newest parts of the brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of your head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes”. As Francis Crick (co-discoverer of DNA) said, your brain on music is all about, connections.
When we daven (pray), we connect with something outside of ourselves and yet deep within. The person who leads us, the sh’liach tzibur, has the task to not only keep us going in time, but to enable us to enter our own t’filah. With the dearth of professional Chazanim these days, committed lay people have taken on the privileged responsibility. What a charged task! The job of the sh’liach tzibur includes the difficult issue of ensuring that his or her leadership is not a performance. However, he or she is required to be able to sing melodiously so that the davening congregation is able to feel the t’filah and engage with it and thus their own yearning. The sh’liach tzibur has to have fluent and correct Hebrew and deliver the t’filot with intensity of meaning, without stumbling or hesitating, with humility but with confidence so that the people feel safe in their hands.
This is part of the teaching we will do on the 4th June, an exciting day dedicated to the music of the shul.
We don’t do the yearning without the learning! This year we will dedicate intensive 4-part courses in:
1) Chazan Jason Green’s pop-up choir on Friday night melodies. This is for people who just love to sing their hearts out. You don’t have to be a fluent Hebrew reader as transliterated music will be provided.
2) Chazan Rebecca Blumenfeld’s class for beginners and intermediate leaders’ of t’filah, even those who have never led before, in Musaf for Shabbat. This is a chance for beginners to dip their toes in the water and for those who already lead Musaf to access more in-depth learning. If you learned from a CD or MP3 already and think you know it, you will be surprised at how much more there is to learn.
3) Chazan Jalda Rebling’s (and my) class for expert leaders of t’filah in the often glossed-over sections of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot on Rosh Hashana and other aspects of Musaf for the Yamim Noraim. This is for people who lead High Holy Days and want to gain more in-depth learning. Also we will be working on our ‘T’filah Lab’ experience in how to enable our congregants to access their own t’filah. How do we draw them into a k’hila k’dosha (holy congregation)?
4) Chazan Paul Heller’s course in Torah reading. For those who want to learn to leyn in a day, Chazan Heller has a visual presentation to ease learning. If you want to join the leyning team in your shul, you don’t want to miss this!
Also we have two 2-part sessions where
5) Rabbi Carl Wolkin (from Chicago) will be leading discussions on aspects of t’filah for those who are curious to learn or find the concept of prayer difficult, this is for you.
6) Robert Davis will teach on finding your voice, with techniques for those who want some vocal coaching. You don’t have to strain your voice in order to project it so it can be heard. Robert is a highly intuitive coach who understand the needs of each singer. Let us know what music you would like to sing - (it can be in any language).
What a feast! The building will be buzzing with music and vibrancy. It is a unique seminar, built in response to requests by our members. Even if you don’t want to lead services you can still come into sessions and learn as a congregant. After all, if you want your community to succeed you need good leaders and also good followers.
Lunch and mid-morning and afternoon refreshments will be provided.
Jaclyn Chernett is the Chazan of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue.