On the day of the lesson I woke up with the beginnings of a cold, harbinger of an unfortunate trend that would continue for the next two months. I went anyway, figuring I could coax out enough of a sound so that the teacher, whose brilliance at this sort of thing made up for his relative lack of charm, could figure out what I was doing wrong. Punctuated by my coughing, we ran through the usual drill--I sang scales and made strange therapeutic noises--and then reviewed a few prayers from the machzor. At the end he had me try an illuminating exercise in which I lay on the floor flat on my back and sang as high as I could. Even with the cold, I reached an altitude that had seemed impossible for this lifetime. The teacher's conclusion:
1. I needed to stand up straighter. (I knew this. It was the first bit of technical criticism anyone ever gave me. You'd think that after a decade I'd be able to get it right.)
2. I needed to open my mouth wider. (I knew this, too.)
3. I shouldn't be afraid of using vibrato, the gentle, shimmery tonal fluctuations that sound awful if not produced correctly. Think of bad opera singers and aging members of community choirs. (Usually my voice had a little vibrato. But too much and I was afraid of sounding pretentious or, worse, like I was doing a bad imitation of a cantor. So I tried to avoid it altogether.)
4. I should stop worrying. I would be fine.
I left the lesson buoyed but still nervous. If I had to focus all my concentration on making sounds, how would I pray? Balancing the theater of the event with its spirit seemed like a very difficult task.