I continued, punctuated by his interruptions. He pointed out numerous pronunciation errors and said I was underemphasizing consonants. Hebrew is all about those gruff "ch" sounds which Americans, and particularly me, aren't very good at. He also noted that I was, in a way, singing too much--allowing the melody to carry the words--rather than keeping the words pre-eminent, and then adding the tune on top. I chanted Torah this way at times, he said, and demonstrated. The contrast was striking, the difference between a pretty song and a powerful statement set to notes.
"You know," he added, after I warmed up a bit, "I don't think you're an alto." The other voice teacher had also suggested as much. It was an oddly disturbing idea, like when I discovered that my cat, whom I had been told was male and had given a dignified guy's name, was in fact female. It was unnerving enough to imagine myself, unsure and untrained, leading a congregation, but abandoning my proud, long-standing and quirky identity as an alto was too jarring to contemplate. I tabled the problem for later.
I was also fascinated by the many brilliant words about vocal technique being uttered by the cantor, who rarely spoke in public aside from an occasional "Please turn to page 92." And I was amazed that he would spend two hours during one of the busiest weeks of his year to coach me with so much patience, precision, and tact.
Finally we reached the end of the service. He told me which rabbi I'd accompany--unless it was someone else. These plans, apparently, were fluid.
And that was all. Now I just had to show up and sing. I thanked him profusely and left in a state of ecstatic, terrified anticipation at what I would do in a few days.