One day in May the year before, I got a call from V., an old friend from my a cappella days. When not being a technology consultant, he sang with a professional octet at a very fancy, very formal synagogue on the other side of the park. They just decided, for the first time ever, to hire an additional quartet for the non-members Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services downstairs in the ballroom. V. wondered if I'd like to be the alto.
I was quite flattered, especially since my last professional singing gig had been ten years before and netted $11. I loved the holidays at my synagogue, but also knew it wouldn't hurt to widen my social circle. Maybe a nice single guy would hear my voice and want to find out what I sounded like when not fasting. And if he went to that synagogue, he'd probably be rich, too. You never know. I said yes.
Besides V., the bass, and myself, we had a soprano who was a voice teacher, and a red-headed opera singer tenor who looked like an Irish bodybuilder and had last been in a synagogue at his own bris. We were given a large binder of standard Germanic 19th-century arrangements, beautiful stuff, xeroxed from copies which looked to have originated around the time of the crossing of the Red Sea. We would accompany a cantor who had done this for the past 30 years, but never with other singers. His wife, in beige and perfectly coiffed, came to each rehearsal with a tiny tape recorder that she switched on and off, on and off, each time her husband opened his mouth.
We had three rehearsals. It was challenging and fun, an excellent test of my sight-reading abilities. The cantor eventually caught on that he had to follow the written scores or else the four of us woudn't know what to do, and by Rosh Hashanah we sounded pretty good.