Monday, April 11, 2005

51. Singing along

(This goes right before "15. Learning")

I had been going to Saturday morning services for about six months when we shifted our venue from the church to the synagogue. Until everyone came back home in September, the Manhattan summer exodus meant we could actually fit in a space that held 800. Despite its beauty, the synagogue made me feel uncomfortable at first. I had just gotten used to the other place. And we sat closer together; it was harder to be anonymous.

I knew most of the prayers by now, and had discovered how much fun it was to sing along. Unlike choral singing, it was okay to be loud and not blend. I didn't have to balance with the tenors. It wasn't a performance. I was singing for myself, and no one else, for the first time in years--perhaps ever. I was shocked when I realized this.

It had taken me a few months to admit I actually liked the music at my synagogue. It was folksy in a Middle Eastern sort of way, featuring rhythms you could clap without hours of prior deconstruction--and simple, in the lexicon of a hotshot amateur, was supposed to be unsophisticated. No matter that it touched my soul; I still wasn't sure it mattered. Somehow, over the years, I had become a vocal snob, chosing to disdain all singing done by the untrained hoi polloi. Back when I lived in the small, quirky world of a cappella, I was proud of my relative open-mindedness. I would never be an obsessive reactionary like those friends who sang nothing but vocal jazz, Josquin, or Portuguese. Just throw it my way, I'm the alto for all seasons--as long as they're dramatic, storm-filled winters, or passionate, blistering summers. Any music that couldn't be sight-read without a measure of angst I considered a waste of time. And I was so intent upon notching my belt with Gesulado, Monteverdi, and legions of obscure twentieth century French composers that I had begun to lose sight of the reason for doing it at all. I very often sang because I could and always had, but not because I wanted to. This singing along--this taking part in music, rather than taking charge--reminded me that I did want to, always and very much so.

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