This past Shabbat I chanted an enormous (for me) Torah portion, and was concerned that it would go on and on and get boring. I thought of the cantor, who could keep us engaged while singing the phone book. He never makes a superfluous or casual sound; every note seems to have intention and purpose, even though he repeats the same prayers week after week, year after year. He sings as if every instance of those words yields a new discovery.
I listen and am reminded of what's said about the Torah, that each of its letters exists for a reason. This idea is often used as an excuse to keep traditions fixed and unchanging--but its flip side is that every word is a universe in itself, to be honored and explored. I can't know, of course, if the way he sings is just marvelous theater, or how authentic and honest his prayers may be. But to me it sounds like those notes come from his heart, and that he never tires of seeking out the worlds that lie behind each syllable. I tried to keep this in mind as I chanted my Torah portion, thinking about the meaning of what I read even though my comprehension was incomplete. I tried, as I sang, to convey my desire to understand.
It's a good lesson about life, too. There's no excuse for boredom; everything around us offers infinite possibilities.
Maybe this is why the cantor can make music that so powerfully reflects and carries the emotions of the crowd. His singing isn't just an expression of talent and ego but is truly offered on our behalf by someone on the same journey, helping us put a voice to our own individual searches.