Hoody Sunday

“When the Praises go up, the Blessings come down,” and so began the Pastor’s sermon today.

 

I came to this Harlem African American church today because I am in a course at the Union Theological Seminary in Art and Worship. Our assignment was to pick any type of ‘performance’, here defined in the abstract, and attend three sessions and report to the class. Some people chose ‘architecture’ as their performance study, others visual arts or dance. Art is performed even when static. I chose to follow African American Gospel Music, believing that there is something there that is so compelling not only to its congregants, but to myself, and I wanted to bring that to my practice of prayer leadership and sacred music.

 

I took a long walk through Harlem, it was 10:30 am, and shops were still closed. The only people on the streets seemed to be heading to one church or another, including me. I arrived before the service was to start, and my anticipation of being seen as an outsider or gawker, were immediately allayed by the women who were greeting each other by the door. I entered their sanctuary as comfortably as I would any Jewish synagogue, and picked a pew to sit in.

 

 

I watched people arrive, there were women ushers in white nurses garb, white stockings, shoes and gloves. It was Women’s Month, and there was a great deal of pride amongst the ushers. There was a mix of people dressed up and dressed down, many women with fine hats and men in suits. I noticed another white woman walk up the aisle to the choir loft, she was young and wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. It was a cold day, and perhaps she was keeping warm before singing.

 

The sanctuary started to buzz, and the pastors came to the altar and knelt, and then sat. They were dressed very casually, and it was strange how the woman pastor’s white clerical collar showed through the neck of her hooded sweatshirt. Why the collar in such a casual church where everyone wore street wear?

 

The music started off very slowly, the brush-stick of the drum set accompanied a few slow piano hymns. The pace picked up as the pastors began to take turns speaking. Some announcements of upcoming events, then, the music picked up in tempo again. The theme for the day came from John Chapter 27: Jesus foreshadows his death, much like Martin Luther King also did, as many leaders who buck the trends and are agents of change inevitably do. And he said, the hour is come upon me, and rather than avoid it, I am going head on into it. Facing destiny, finding the truth in taking the plunge, rather than running away. I am hoping to sing the Jennifer Warnes/Leonard Cohen song, “The Song of Bernadette” whose lyrics tell us, sometimes we fall, sometimes we fly/ we mostly fall—we mostly run. The parable says, don’t run; stay around and mend the damage that we’ve done.

 

A woman soloist opened up her voice, and my body sensed where it came from, those round gourds that reside in the back of the pharynx that I am learning to find. Well, she knew hers, and could easily and confidently and frankly cut loose with her vocal praises of Gd, and that ease and comfort and frankness translated to the whole congregation. We all stood and swayed and brought hands together to her music, sang with her and then applauded, not just for her, but for Gd. We were asked again to applaud, to applaud Gd. Who else could give us such a gift? And how could we not praise Gd for the many gifts we have, as we do when we are in a house of prayer singing together? The pastor asked us to greet everyone around us with, “Good Morning”. Later, it would be with handshakes, and then hugs. The physicality of the singing was manifested in the physicality of our recognizing each other.

 

By this time, I had the epiphany that the casual garb was not the norm here: the hooded sweatshirts were being worn in solidarity with Treyvon Martin. As I understood this internally, the room began to change. The senior pastor now came to the lectern and addressed the room. He welcomed everyone to “Hoody Sunday”, two weeks before Easter, the fifth Sunday of Lent. His words were like the crescendo of the service, beginning with the story of Trayvon, a young black man who was walking home with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, whose only crime was walking and wearing a hooded sweatshirt—and being black.

 

The hooded sweatshirt was created in the early 20th century for outside workers, for comfort them from cold outdoor working conditions. Today, the hoodies comforted thousands of people who wore them in solidarity with Trayvon. The message from the pastor was not to merely talk about the solution to this problem, and surprisingly, not to point the finger at others. Instead, in a powerful and unexpected leading note of ideas, he showed the congregation how to take action in their own backyard. In that very neighborhood only a few nights before, a young black man was also shot, by another black youth. Racism is not the only problem, inattention to our youth is. And not just in that neighborhood, but all over the nation. Talking about it doesn’t solve the problem, we are a nation crippled in “Paralysis by Analysis” he declared, Amen!

 

And in the pith and power of his speech came solutions, actions: “Readers are Leaders” get rid of the wii’s and ‘grand theft auto’ games. The rhymes became poetry became metaphors became psalms became more music. The organ underscored his words, the Amen’s underscored the determination of the hooded crowd. Another dynamite soprano unleashed our voices through hers, and the collection plates circulated.

 

But money wasn’t all this pastor collected. He had the children in the room come up and kneel at the altar. Then he called up all the men in the room to stand behind them in solidarity. Then he called up the families to stand up behind them in solidarity. Then he did something that I cannot applaud more for: he named three of the men to be in charge and form a group to mentor the youth of the congregation, and that they were to collect names and set a time to meet and not leave the church that day, until they reported that information to him. Action, and a plan; not words, not analysis, not a study. Action. Mentorship, stewardship, care for youth, who all need care, no matter what church they go to. It is a difficult world.

 

That pastor took a risk: who wants to be singled out in church and charged with a responsibility like that? Isn’t that up to the parents? He made them take responsibilities; don’t they pay him to do that? And wasn’t it about someone else doing the wrongs to them, so why blame ourselves? So many questions, analysis leads to paralysis.

 

What did music do for me today? It showed me how to comfort, to lead, to pray, to take action, to empower. It opened my vision to the power of adding music to words and ideas and greetings and actions. I saw how music changes attitudes and how important the role of the musician is in creating religious community.

“If My Prayer is Fluent in My Mouth…”

There are a lot of questions these days asking, just what it is that Jewish Cantors do? I say here Jewish Cantors, because one of the things I’ve learned this year is that other faiths, such as the Catholic faith, have Cantors, too.

As a child, I remember that the Cantor and Rabbi were an indispensable team at our synagogue. Although they both wore big black robes and tall hats when they led the services, they had different jobs on the bimah. The Rabbi told us things, gave impromptu teachings about the prayers we were about to sing, interjected jokes to liven the pace of the service, and of course, gave his sermon, and the important job of announcing page numbers.Image

The Cantor also wore a black robe and tall hat, but he seemed more mysterious. He rarely spoke, yet his voice almost effortlessly filled the sanctuary, as if out of nowhere, in a way that grabbed us from wherever our minds had wandered, into the flow and ecstasy of big, full, rich, fat notes. It was a strange contrast to me, those big ideas in words, and the big feelings in voice.

I especially looked forward hearing the Cantor at the High Holidays. And I admit, the average Jewish kid does not feel this way about going to High Holiday services…or Hebrew School…or Bar/Bat Mitzvah class. I did. So, now that you know, I can tell you that although during the Services, I may have wandered up the aisle and out into the lobby of the movie theater our congregation rented for the High Holiday crowd, I would keep my ears open for that voice back inside, the chanting that only happened at that special time of year. The sounds of the Cantor’s High Holiday Nusah.

What was it I heard that captivated me? It was the particularly warm rich sound of our Cantor’s voice. He had moments of grand climbing ascents and descents, but in a round full voice that almost floated through the air. I loved that sound, would come back into the theater and plunk down in any vacant seat and just listen. I would wonder if anyone else enjoyed or heard it as I did, in my core, in my cells, in my kishkes, resting there for another day and time.

These were the sounds of Holiness, they happened on the holiest days of the year. I looked forward to that every Fall; when school was starting, when we got new outfits to wear for the High Holidays–usually something woolen, which was never right, since this was the San Fernando Valley and it could often be in the 80’s and hot! We also got out of school, and could feel a specialness with our other Hebrew School friends, who were also uniquely out of school for those few days. And, I got to hang out in that air conditioned movie theater-turned-sanctuary; and be coddled with the visceral journey, from reassuring pleading to solace and redemption, the Cantor’s voice took us with him. It was a good trip.

It was good enough that when I grew up enough to make my own decisions a few years ago, I decided to play the instrument that I knew would make that sound with me, my oboe. I have no regrets other than having waited so long to do it. Moving along the trajectory from my holding the music in my core, to several years of lay prayer leadership, to playing the oboe, I’ve come face to face with the possibility of training my own voice to be as inviting and restorative as my Cantor’s had been.

I may or may not become a vocal virtuoso as he had been. I do know that our intentions when we speak and when we sing carry great power. I know that understanding silence does, too. I am learning the skills to balance in prayer leadership a wholeness and sensitivity of being, above and beyond virtuosic ability in singing. That comes with the confidence built from mastery of voice and training to fall into the prayer itself.

As a prayer leader, engaging with the words and intentions of the prayer comes through understanding the language it is written in, the poetry and pronunciation of the words as lyrics, the silences as well as the sounds, the halakhic and historic reasons for the prayer. Truly understanding them intellectually and technically brings them to life. Owning them, feeling the importance of them, and the genuine possibility of bringing others into sharing that experience, is what Cantors as prayer leaders, do.

This requires specialized training. I say this as an answer to my own questions, and those of others who wonder why we bother with all this training in Cantorial School. Why can’t anyone with a good voice be our Shaliach Tzibur, our Ba’al/a Tefillah, our cantor? From deep within the walls of the Seminary, I am learning how much depth there is to leading others into their prayer moments. There is a difference between a catchy tune and a prayer. We do need to enjoy services, or no one will come to them. We also need to have sacred space and time to come together and let our hair down, and share moments of joy and pain and gratitude together from our within places. Too many words, or too many melodies rob us of the richness and depth we can attain together in prayer. A Cantor knows where those places are; in addition to language and text study, we learn to find those holy places within ourselves, and we learn from the gifts offered by our mentors and coaches who show us how to make it a natural practice.

Returning to the quotation I began with, “If my prayer is fluent in my mouth…”, brings us to another aspect of prayer leadership, in the role of prayers for healing. The source of this quotation is an anecdote from Berakhot 34b. In the anecdote, the son of Rabbi Gamliel falls ill. He sends two scholars to R. Hanina ben Dosa to ask him to pray for his son. R. ben Dosa goes an upper chamber and prays for him, and sends the scholars back to R. Gamliel. Before they leave, they ask R. ben Dosa, if he is a prophet? His answer is:

“I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I learned this from experience. If my prayer is fluent in my mouth, I know that it is accepted; but if not, I know that it is rejected.”

The two scholars note the time of the prayer, and upon returning to R. Gamliel, find out that that is the precise moment the son’s fever leaves, and he asks for water to drink.

What happened here? the power of a prayer that was fluent: natural, spontaneous, intentional. Where does this come from? not, as R. ben Dosa says, from any innate giftedness, not from raw talent, not something inherited in his DNA: it comes from a place of familiarity, of a spontaneity and trust. Prayer can be a practice that becomes so familiar that we mold and bend with it, much like a dancer who upon entering her studio, feels her body know it is once again time to engage, how my routine of soaking the reeds and putting together the joints of my instrument awaken my anticipation of the mix of pleasure and work that lay ahead in that day’s practice, it is what our most valued and revered artists have capitalized on, hours and hours of engagement. Intentional passionate engagement, until mastery, whether it’s a violin, piano, voice, photography, writing, figure skating, or yes–prayer.

Yes, as author Geoff Colvin tells us, talent is overrated. Yes, one can have a great voice but this alone does not make a great prayer leader, whether it is community prayer, or personal prayers in a healing relationship. Voice, education, training, dedication, mentoring, and practice are behind Cantors whose prayers are fluent in their mouth.

Cantors are a precious line of prayer professionals: From their mouth, to Gd’s ears.

“And the Red Sea Parted”

This past week was one of great anticipation for me. It was the week leading up to Shabbat Shirah, the portion of the Torah that describes the parting of the Sea of Reeds (‘Red Sea’), the passing through of the Israelites, their joyful song of liberation, and the final demise of Pharaoh.

 

I looked forward to this reading, marking a moment of affirmation in my first year of Cantorial studies here in New York. What parasha could be more about my journey than that of Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. The week began with my student ma’mad duties and I created the opportunity to lead a musical morning service. Moments ago, the week of Song ended with the victory of the NY Giants in the Super Bowl.

 

I usually don’t link Torah, music, and football, but this week, I did. As an instrumental musician, I relished the opportunity to organize a prayer service that could include instruments, and on Tuesday, we brought in the morning with hand drums, an Argentinian cuatro guitar, and melodies that lead us up the steps of kavvana into our daily keva of the Shaharit service. I was able to play my djembe drum alongside a hand-drumming friend from another synagogue, while also doing my ma’amad duty to shepherd the service in on time. Where was my oboe for this one? in its case for another time when I am not overseeing the service and I can bring it out for musical inspiration.

 

I also had the privilege of hosting a service for a Rabbinical student who was giving his senior sermon. I had not met him in person before; we emailed a lot during the week to iron out details of the very brief mincha afternoon service he would be leading and offering his d’var Torah in. When we met, moments before the service, I saw he was my age. And as I listened to his words of Torah after he’d led the service, I knew it was besheret that we would be working together. He spoke about the parting of the Sea of Reeds, about the grace of Moses in allowing his arms to be supported by others when he grew tired.

And most resonant for me was his description of how the Reed Sea closed behind the Israelites, and they were now faced with a new destiny. Here, he focused on the Israelites’ infamous 40 years of wandering. Was it really wandering?

 

Those of us who begin later may seem lost, yet with those figurative, and maybe literal, 40 years of experiences, we later starters have a fullness with which to appreciate the richness and wisdom of our traditions in a way that cannot be transmitted solely through texts or musical training. When I turned 50, I bought a necklace with a fob that says, “Not all who wander are lost”, and his words truly phoned that message home. Are we lost, or are we found?

 

Shabbat Shirah then came, and I craved more words, interestingly enough, rather than a musical Shabbat service, here in New York. I was offered an aliyah, without realizing that I would be saying the b’rachot for the reading of the Song of the Reed Sea. Enjoying yet more of the synchronicities of the week, as I stood next to the reader at the amud, I took in all I could of the beautifully laid out acrostic of words in the scrolls, which she read in the Sephardic cantillation. My week of song had unfolded well.

 

After Shabbat, I assumed the serendipities of song had come to a close, but I was mistaken. I had a lot of work to catch up on, including continuing to imbue myself toward piano and solfeggio recognition by ear, and spent much of the day literally hugging the piano upstairs, drawing the resonant pitches into myself.

 

I also knew it was Super Bowl Sunday, and that the NY Giants were playing their biggest rivals, the NE Patriots. I remembered football games from growing up in Southern California, and knew the game would be slow compared to the adrenalin-laced action of Stanley Cup Hockey Finals. But, I wanted to be part of ‘New Yo’k’. I quit my tasks near the end of game time and joined the gang of students in front of a Big Screen, picked my way through the vestiges of wings and meatballs, got directed to the barrel of iced beers, and settled in, and managed to control my quips about hockey pucks vs footballs.

 

In the end, the Giants won, pushed to victory by Ahmad Bradshaw’s bum-planting goal. The kicker for me: as Bradshaw sat momentarily triumphant on the ground the announcer told the world: “Yes, the Red Sea parted–and Bradshaw came through!” The Giants came from behind to win.

 

Yes, indeed, the Sea parted. Our team came from behind to win. Did the announcer go to shule yesterday to hear that parasha read? or did he bring a little bit of shule to the world?

 

 

 

Hallelujah!

This past week a YouTube video that must have gone viral through the Jewish community, arrived in my inbox from many diverse sources. It was a video of a young Israeli singing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, in Hebrew*.

The first wave of emails I got with this link came with emphatic subject lines to ‘watch this!’: I didn’t really look, though, until the link came from a dear friend back home in Vancouver.

I needed both the message from my friend, and also the message from Mr. Cohen. I watched the video stream into my view in rapt attention, and the gooey trappings of the talent show faded to the background. Because it was in Hebrew, I could let go of the familiar sound and imagery of Cohen’s words, and allow just his music to sail into a novel understanding of the pathos of the song.

The youth who sang seemed too young to have lived Cohen’s poetry, although he brought a youthful fever to the song that kept me on edge, his voice always near the breaking point, but not quite. It was a cliffhanger. He filled his container to the brim, without fear of breaking or overflowing. That is what I have been seeking in my art: that is what I needed to see this week.

I replied to my friend, “Now I know what I will sing for my Cantorial Boards this Spring, thank you!”

What are Cantorial Boards? at the end of the academic year the Cantorial students at JTS present our vocal, and in my case instrumental and vocal, accomplishments to our faculty. The wonderful part is being able to choose something dear to the heart, and I have already chosen my oboe piece, a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23 by Gerald Cohen. I also know I will be presenting as a liturgical piece, a selected prayer moment from the Weekday Nusah.

We also present a secular song. My first thought was something from West Side Story, I always loved performing the score on oboe in ensembles, grabbing onto the sexy driven pace so characteristic of Leonard Bernstein. I gave myself the challenge to vocally step outside myself, and in fantasy, don a bouncy ponytail and swirl skirt and sing, ‘I’m So Pretty’. If I could pull this off, be someone I have never been, indeed, I could transform myself into any role, with practice.

As another, more academic part of developing my identity as a Cantor, I attended the Mini Semester at the Seminary this past week. I was the only student from the Cantorial School among the many Rabbinical students. The Interfaith theme for the week took us to the nearby Catholic Church, where I learned that Catholic Churches also have Cantors, and the Cantor at this Church was a woman. She shared with me that the Catholic prayers can be sung to musical modes particular to each prayer, something that I had thought was unique to Jewish prayers. This Cantor’s training came from memory, listening to recordings, and composing in those modes. I also noticed that she had a natural way of moving herself, sweeping us up with her as she swept up her arms, keeping the flow of prayer moving along by extending her presence into the sanctuary draw us in, and she avoided invasive singing ‘instructions’, those interruptions to explain how and when to join in, that can kill the kavana or prayer intent.

One of the four days of the mini Semester focused mostly on music and prayer. The first presentation was with Neshama Carlebach and members of the Green Pastures Baptist Choir. We heard the channeling of her father’s voice in the selections of his music, with the addition of the voices of her Inter-faith ensemble. The gospel spirituals styling and falsettos got us to our feet and I felt the flight of spirit as we left the structures we are so used to in our traditional Jewish prayers. The exposure to different prayer music continued after dinner, when we went to a Gospel Church in Harlem for the Wednesday night Manna Service. Here, the worship ran with escalating energy and reverb into and through the congregation. Again, many of us enthusiastically joined in, hands and body in the music, as well as voices.

And here is where I realized that I could dump the ponytail and swirl skirt, and pack my powerful body of spirit into prayer. This is where I understood how the rigorous seminary training as a Cantor would serve me. In the church, the spirit would fly from the soles of my feet and my bones, up the windpipes and out the lid: but sometimes, unlike the young polished Israeli singer, it would get away from me. I yearned to do whatever I needed to, to keep that tension of spirit and verve in check, from getting away, and to keep it suspended joyfully like a beautiful kite on the wind, not allowing it to be torn away and lost by a gale force.

At my next voice lesson, I allowed myself to open further, freer and let my teacher guide me when I got to the point where I would lose it, to keep the music in check, to tame it. The grunt work of ear training helped me stay on pitch, and now I could begin to trust my ability to feel the pleasure of the beauty of voice without the fear of losing it to the wind. The tension of holding pitch while releasing into the sounds I anticipated was a taste of liberation for me. Hallelujah!

Sometimes it is a good thing to venture past the familiar. Experiencing the joy and ecstasy in prayer with confidence came with accessing prayer differently with others. That is the value of Interfaith experienve.

In the past, singing Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ was frustrating, much like trying to catch a little fox and hold it by the tail, only to have it skitter away. The song itself is about relationship, bittersweet, somber, with moments of ecstasy and pathos ensconced in the musical moments, juxtaposition of pitches and modulations. How to, it is like the intonation of the oboe; piercing and beckoning and visceral all at the same time. How reminiscent of relationships we’ve all had. How much this music resonates with my life, and how at peace I am to know that I can learn to capture this yearning, at least for an afternoon of graduation.

*http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1RgQrw2WLc&feature=colike

Patience, סבלנות

I’m learning a lot right now, during the semester break from the Seminary.

The first part of the learning came in the form of סבלנות. The Hebrew word savlanut means “patience”. I had always respected the concept of patience as a virtue. I owned it, though, when I drew it from a basket of words, on my first evening, of my first venture, into formal davenning (prayer) leadership training. I was at the DLTI at the Isabella Freedman retreat center. “סבלנות”, yes, I struggle with patience: sometimes I have too much, and I get left in the dust, and sometimes, too little and, well, impatience is not a virtue!

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Over the semester break, the gift and the lesson came in the form of resigning myself to just stay in bed and rest, and let all other plans go. Holidays with friends and all. Then, I was alone with just me, and my very active imagination. Like Ya’akov in the night, having stepped away from his amassed household, I began to truly wrestle, and name the things that are a blessing for me, and those which are not. I listened to my favorite oboe recordings, Joseph Robinson’s albums, and fell back into the swoon that brought me to the instrument: I listened to Cantor Gerald Cohen’s album of his music, Generations, and looked ahead with anticipation and resolve to playing some of the pieces on oboe, myself. I started writing, and this blog came about after realizing how much I miss writing and publishing. I finally finished editing the manuscript for a second anthology of personal narratives from my writing students. Not surprisingly, in my wrestling, Music and Writing came out on top; and my fearful and shy selves were named and recognized as needing to be moderated and fazed out.

I looked forward to stepping out, and the first activity in the queue was the Nusah and Nigun Intensive at the Mechon Hadar. Nusah and nigun are two forms of Jewish music. Nusah is the structure from which cantors riff and modulate to lead prayers, and nigunim are songs in various modes, with or without words. Both forms have soul stirring, captivating rhythms, cadences, modulations from traditional minor to major modal themes. The music was taught without musical instruments of any kind, all singing, and using the body as percussion instrument; hands clapping, knee-slapping-toe-tapping as drums. We even had a session on table top drumming. How resonate is your dining room table? or a hollow wall, chair back, door? did you know they make great percussion instruments, with the correct hand and finger-drumming techniques?

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The Intensive also had a text study component. And there, in our study of the origin of the Amidah, the heart of the Jewish prayer service, we ran into Lot’s Wife. The thread is: the word עמידה, amidah, means standing. The prayer is said standing. Why? According to the sources we read, in the story of Abraham’s bargaining with Gd to save Sodom and Gomorrah, we learn to stand in prayer from Abraham’s example: After all the bargaining, Gd destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. We don’t know if it is because there just weren’t even ten innocent people, or because Gd had intended to destroy the cities no matter what, for their outrages to Gd. In the end, as we know, Lot’s Wife turned back, perhaps worried about the daughters and family left behind; regardless, she turned to salt. I reflected with my hevruta, my study partner, that this could be compared to the impossible situation that Holocaust Jews may have faced, being pulled away from family and herded onto trains and into camps. Should one stay back, look back, or keep moving ahead? Sometimes, we have to make these decisions, perhaps this story shows us with metaphor what could happen.

What struck me though, was the next verse. In the very next morning, Abraham gets up and goes and looks down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and sees the smoke rising like the smoke of a kiln. Why did Lot’s Wife look and become salt, and not Abraham? Perhaps it was because Abraham had returned to a place where he previously stood and found communion with Gd, at the same appointed time: for Abraham, his looking across the same plain was a regular act of prayer and communion, as opposed to the fear and doubt of Lot’s wife’s gazing back toward home.

Now, how are the text and music related? through nusah. As Jews, we pray several times a day, we have secular days and holy days, and we have seasonal prayers. Nusah is the spiritual, musical cue for time and place, that tells us what season we are in, whether it is a regular weekday or a holy day or Shabbat, and what time of day it is. All that, without words! This is brilliant, and this is what we know about Abraham: he had a regular prayer habit with Gd.

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The system of nusah melodies has become so universal, that at one time, it was possible to walk into a synagogue service and know exactly where on the calendar and the clock one was, by the musical cantillation modes.

Unfortunately, with the Holocaust, and its disruption to, and destruction of, the stabilized fabric of life for Jews of pre-War Eastern Europe, much of this music was lost, or worse, abandoned. The people disappeared, and so did their traditions. Post-war Judaism attempted to adopt Modernism, assimilate, and adopt new customs from other faiths. There has been an effort in recent times to catalog and preserve nusah, such as in this Nusah and Nigun study program. This is also at the heart of Cantorial training. Years spent learning and capturing the souls of the nusah and prayer modes for the weekday service, the High Holidays, for Shabbat, for Festivals, and for services for the different times of the day. In this way, we as Jews can once again feel the cycles and rhythms of our lives through prayer. I feel privileged to be learning them, the lore of my Jewish heritage.