Tag: Cantor

The Blooper Reel: Not-So-Great Moments in Cantorial History

Everyone loves watching the outtakes from a movie–sometimes presented during the credits or as part of the bonus features of the DVD. (Does anyone watch DVDs anymore??) Unfortunately, all of my scenes are live presentations with no chance to redo them.

I’ve had more than a few bloopers in my many years as a cantor. A few memorable ones come to mind:

Early in my career, I was soloing at services for one of the first times, and I was pretty nervous. When we got to the part when we announce the yahrzeits (the anniversary of a death) for the coming week, I not-so-eloquently announced, “The following yahrzeits will be celebrated during the coming week.” No one said anything to me after services, so either they weren’t paying attention, or they took pity on a newbie cantor.

Being inexperienced isn’t just nerve wracking–it can also be dangerous. At one of my first funerals, it was time for me to cut the mourner’s black ribbon with the little razor that the funeral home gives out. In a bit of nervous energy, I not only made a cut in the ribbon, but also succeeded in slicing my finger. But the show must go on–I surreptitiously grabbed a tissue, kept it wrapped around my finger for the entire service, and only bled on my book a little. No one ever noticed. Still, I’m happy that most funeral homes now use the self-tearing ribbons.

One Shabbat morning, it was the week before Rosh Chodesh, the new Jewish month, when it’s traditional to add a prayer announcing the coming new month and exactly when it begins. That would have gone very smoothly had I actually bothered to look at a calendar ahead of time and seen not only what day the month began, but also which month it was. Before I started chanting the page, I had no choice but to do the walk of shame over to the rabbi’s side for a quick whispered conversation. Lesson learned.

Finally, one of my all time favorite and memorable moments in the history of services. During a bar mitzvah many years ago, the family had assigned the honor of reading the Prayer for Peace to a friend who had traveled in from South America.

Do you know what happens to the Prayer for Peace when it is recited with a South American accent? It turns out that the long ē sound in the word “peace” doesn’t quite make it all the way. (Go ahead, I’ll wait till you try that out.)

And so, while the guest proceeded to recite the now unfortunate line, “And may a great peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea,” I stared laser beams into the carpet in front of me.

Does anyone else have any good work-related bloopers to share? Do accountants find it funny when they add two numbers wrong? Do doctors ever say, “So there I was about to cut the left arm…”

I guess it’s just a cantor thing.

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That awkward moment…

Over the years, my colleagues and I are constantly asked the question, “Why did you become a cantor?” The best response I ever heard was “So I could have awkward conversations with the person sitting next to me on the plane.”

It’s something that I never envisioned, but whenever I’m a guest at an event, or meeting people for the first time, or yes, sitting down in my seat for a flight, I’ve come to dread those 5 little words:

“So what do you do?”

Ah, it would be so much easier for me to say, “I’m a computer programmer,” or “I work in a bank,” or any of the myriad professions that exist. By this time I do have it down to something like a science. I duly respond,

“I’m a cantor.” I observe the blank stare, wait a brief moment, and quickly follow that up with,

“Do you know what that is?”

This has become so routine that I sometimes forget myself and answer,

“I’m a cantordoyouknowwhatthatis.”

In fact, it really is a teachable moment for most people, many of whom may only have a passing familiarity with the term but are often very surprised at the range and depth of training, responsibilities, and professional status of a synagogue cantor. (“You can actually marry people?”)

Other times, the person sits in polite silence, clearly figuring that they got in way too deep with what was supposed to be a polite question. Now that they’re chatting with Mr. Jewy Jewman, how are they going to extricate themselves from this awkward situation?

Even if they don’t realize it yet, I know exactly what’s coming. Sure enough, I see a little light flick on in their head, and I think to myself, OK, here it comes:

“Hey, there’s a Jewish family on my street. The Goldbergs. Do you know them?”

So I’ve gotten much better at avoiding these interactions each time I sit down on a plane. I decide at that moment how much I’m in the mood to chat with the person next to me and respond in three possible ways to “So what do you do?”

Level One: I’m not in the mood for small talk at all and really just want to be left alone.

Response: “I work for a non-profit organization.” (Crickets….mission accomplished)

Level Two: A little friendly conversation is OK while we’re waiting to take off.

Response: “I’m a music educator.” This can result in some fun conversations and memories of piano lessons of years past.

Level Three: I just sat down next to someone returning from a Victoria’s Secret catalog shoot.

Response: “I’m a flight instructor.”

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