Thursday, July 13, 2006

344b. Singing workshop, part 4


Carl sang the solo the next day as his group performed "Amazing Grace." (Everyone at the workshop is placed in a group of about ten people and a coach, with whom you spend the weekend learning a cappella.) I never really understood the word "grace" until I heard Carl's voice, each note full, sweet, and resonating with peace, strength, comfort, and hope.

To prove even further that traditions can cross boundaries, the coach of his group happened to be the conductor of the fancy upstairs choir at the synagogue where I sang for the High Holy Days three years ago. (I was in the lower-rent downstairs quartet.) It was there I first heard and struggled with a technique called meshorerim ("singers" in Biblical Hebrew), wherein a big-voiced cantor changes keys to his heart's content while voices behind him create on-the fly accompaniment by following hand signals given by one of their own to indicate what kind of chord (I, IV, V, major, minor, etc.) the cantor is about to sing. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, meshorerim is:

"...the manner in which the old-time vocal accompanists rather than choristers... would alternate with and imitate the solo of the precentor."

It was a sort of organized improvisation that required a reliable cantor, much rehearsal, and mind-reading on the part of the signal-giver. Our quartet had none of these attributes. As the the alto and middle of the chord I got off easy, often perching on one note for many measures while everyone else pivoted around me to change tonality. When in doubt I became the Doppler alto, fading in and out at random intervals in case I found myself in D when everyone else had already made it up to A.

So I immediately recognized the little movements the coach made with his fingers as Carl sang and the other nine harmonized in the background. It didn't seem strange at all to combine an Ashkenazic Jewish musical technique with a traditional Christian song to create sounds that transcended all labels. It just seemed beautiful, and full of God.

1 comment:

alto artist said...

Thank you, and to you as well!!