(Continued from here.)
(I should add, in case anyone read my earlier post and wondered: no, the cold didn't get worse, nor was there a replay of 2005, thank goodness.)
Since our same group of musicians and hazzanim have been doing this for years now, we didn't need much rehearsal time. I spent an hour with one group (the Smaller Church Ensemble), and a few days later headed over to the Massive Church to practice with that band. I entered by the side door, awash in memories of racing through it at 8:59AM in order to join the choir for "Mah Tovu" at 9:00, and ran into the rabbinic intern. He seemed anxious to leave. "How was your rehearsal?" I asked.
"Nothing happened," he laughed, and darted off.
The church interior looked much the same as I remembered, but a lot cleaner. Great chandeliers hung from the ceiling, their lights warming domes, vaulted arches, and vast eggshell walls adorned with gilt quotes about God and love. (If you squinted, you might not even notice the tiny New Testament attributions right below.) Two large men were hammering nails into a platform situated between the stage-like altar area and the floor, creating a middle ground for service leaders that nether towered over the congregation nor sunk within it. This time, the stage would be reserved for the Ark alone. Off to the side, another group of men with many different accents yelled and gesticulated: the platform wasn't right, Rosh Hashanah was in two days, and there was no time left for a sound check. Meanwhile, the musicians had given up and gone to lunch.
I was quite happy to wait, however, and so the gabbai gave me a tour of this church's version of the Secret Rabbi Room. It was the best ever, an elegant warren of connecting rooms beneath—within—the stage and accessible by recessed mahogany doors on either side. There were two Laura Ashley-decorated bathrooms with gold faucet handles, a central sitting room with a long, upholstered built-in sofa, tiny windows covered by gently ruched chintz curtains (OK, not much of a view, just the alleyway and some garbage cans, but the curtains made up for it) and about 50 closets, each large enough to hold a choir robe. A clever Manhattan realtor could probably get $3,000 month. (Hey, all those closets!)
The band finally returned with their sandwiches but the sound engineer was still moving mikes, so I huddled with the musicians in a corner to run though bits and pieces unamplified. I still had no idea what it would feel like to sing into a mic in front of 2,000 people, and realized I wouldn't know until it happened for real. I walked past the cantor, who was busy analyzing the engineering of a large wooden platform. "Anything you need to tell me?" I asked. (We hadn't exchanged a word about the service since he emailed weeks earlier to let me know where I was leading.) "No," he smiled, and went back to carpentry. Neither he, nor the yelling hammerers, displaced musicians, or bored gabbais, seemed bothered by the chaos, and so neither was I. I walked out into a light rain, decided to play hooky from work for a little while, and treated myself to an omelet at a nearby diner.