If there is one defining moment that first set me on the path to becoming a cantor, it was certainly Rosh HaShanah 5757 (1996), after silent prayer in the evening service at the Suburban Temple Kol-Ami in Ohio. A harp began playing Bonia Shur’s Yih’yu L’ratzon, softly bringing the congregation out of personal, private meditation. Then the soprano joined in, singing the haunting melody, followed by the choir. The moment I got home I tried to recreate what I could remember on the piano.
In many ways this musical moment of my past defines what it is to be a shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader), addressing one of the central issues of modern t’fillah: navigating between individual, private worship and the prayers of a congregation together. Over the past year, as my community made the transition to a new siddur, these issues became even more apparent. Some in the community prayed best in English in unison, and some responsively. Some wanted to sing along with melodies from their childhood, and some were searching for musical contemplative moments that invited them to listen. As for me – I pray best not with my voice alone, but with my fingers on the piano or guitar. Some of my students pray with drums or saxophones. And so it seemed like everyone in the room prayed differently! What a wonderful opportunity we had to share and explore the diverse modes of Jewish expression. I am looking forward to continuing this with my new community in Connecticut.