Sunday, December 08, 2019

Feedback--and pushback--on trying to help our synagogue become a singing community

Start here.

It's our own fault. We forgot that, when the cantor leads from the center of the sanctuary on the High Holidays, the sanctuary is set up in a completely different configuration, with long rows of chairs facing a wide center area, rather than short rows facing the Aron Kodesh and separated by an aisle that's only about a yard (just under a meter) wide.  Unfortunately, due to the necessity of renting our sanctuary when we're not praying, we can't leave the sanctuary in the High Holiday configuration.  One congregant who sits on the center aisle complained that, when cantor sings from there, s/he is singing almost directly into that congregant's ear!  Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised when the majority of congregants supported the cantor's request to return to the bimah (prayer platform).  Perhaps I should also not have been surprised that, even when the cantor was singing from the center aisle, s/he still didn't notice that s/he was sometimes singing too quickly for some of our congregants, who were singing quite audibly slower than the cantor.  Why the cantor didn't notice, I don't understand--I've noticed that problem for years.  :(

As for the new music that we've introduced, some congregants have complained that they miss the tunes that they're used to, others have complained that the new songs don't sound Jewish, and yet others love the new songs and are delighted that we're trying to liven up the service.  My husband has concluded that, if we want to start a monthly Musical Kabbalat Service, we should probably try to hold it earlier in the evening (6:30 PM?) and maintain our the usual 8 PM service as a separate service, less we tick off the traditionalists.

We hope that attending the Rising Song Intensive will help us get a sense of how best to proceed in encouraging congregational participation and interest in singing more contemporary Jewish music.  But I, for one, am not sure which Intensive track would work best for me.  In theory, the Tefillah Leadership Track seems the best track to address our goals.  In practice, however, we rarely lead tefillah (prayer) other than P'sukei D'Zimra, which my husband leads almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday) for the grand total of roughly four-six people who are usually present at (or near) the beginning of the service.  Neither of us 70-somethings feels that we could sing much more than part of a service.  And our cantor is also a 70-something--their voice isn't holding up so well either.  I think that what we really need to do is to figure out how to encourage some of the 30-somethings who are now attending services to pick up the torch.  (Three of them sing well, and two can chant a haftarah.)  Any suggestions would certainly be appreciated.


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