Sunday, December 06, 2020

Awkward :(

Start here.

I can't forget the words of a cantor whom I heard speak at a panel discussion:  "I am the curator of my congregation's music."  One fine Shabbat, several months before the pandemic, our cantor asked me to teach him some Debbie Friedman songs.  While I was happy to know that he was even interested, I couldn't help thinking, "You're the cantor.  Aren't we paying you to teach us new songs?"

So there are two issues involved.  One is that we put up with our cantor doing only part of his job for close to 25 years.  *Now* we're upset?!  He's more than old enough to retire!

The other issue is that I think the cantor is feeling competitive and/or threatened by our current approach of going around him to add new music to the services.   (Yes, I said "our."  Did I mention that my husband is our synagogue's acting rabbi?)  After we had led Adon Olam with new tunes for several weeks, he insisted on teaching a version that he originally said was new but then said was only new to us and was actually about 50 years old.  Sometimes he sings along (or did, before we went on Zoom), but sometimes he jumps in first, and I'm never quite sure whether he's doing that automatically, or whether he's trying to cut us off.  In the interest of keeping the peace during Elul, the High Holidays, and Sukkot, I was careful, after a couple of false starts, to wait to see whether he was going lead an old version of Lulei He'emanti Lir'ot or let me lead my, um, slightly rearranged (shorter and easier) version of Eliana Light's If Only (Lulei).

I'm sure it doesn't help that he knows I auditioned for cantorial school.  (In defense of Hebrew Union College, New York City campus, I have some memory of how I sounded on my second and last audition at age 30, and frankly, even I wasn't impressed by my voice.)  So I really can't blame him if he sees me as a competitor.

Have any of you any advice on how we might best continue to bring new Jewish music into our services, given the cantor that we have?


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Copied from Facebook:
[Cantor] Ellen Dreskin
Hi, Shira Salamone - from reading your blog, it sounds as if your cantor is in a very vulnerable place and has brought this to you because they feel that you are a partner/friend/expert on what they could do to better serve your congregation. Perhaps some of your uncertainty about what kind of assistance you might offer could be clarified by an honest conversation, (as you wonder about their motivation/intention behind certain ways of being on the bima, you could just ask them) and perhaps a playlist of suggested ways in which they might broaden their musical horizons. If you feel that you/they need a coach or a colleague with whom to discuss this, those avenues are also open. Your cantor sounds like they are indeed curating, though you may disagree with their choices. It might be a lovely gift to share your perspectives on the value of contemporary liturgical music directly with the cantor. Kol tuv

Mon Dec 14, 03:25:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Shira Salamone
Ellen Dreskin, thank you for showing me another perspective. I've shared numerous music links with him via e-mail, but he hasn't shown much interest in listening to them. Also, another cantor who has occasionally served as guest cantor at our synagogue has offered him suggestions that he didn't follow. (It probably doesn't help that he still has a full-time job.) That said, it can't hurt to try another and/or a different approach.

Mon Dec 14, 03:27:00 PM 2020  

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