Cantor Jeff Warschauer
TJC Newsletter Article for March 2020
The Joy of Transcendence
through Singing at TJC
A Yiddish song about Shabbat:
You’ve given the week the sweat of your brow,
But now you are a prince.
Come, my beloved, to greet
Your Sabbath rest, your princess.
Greetings to the whole world,
In a spirit of fellowship.
Let our voices all blend together
In one sweet Sabbath song.
Host der vokh dayn mi gegebn,
Itster mentsh, a prints bistu.
Kum, gelibte un bagegn
Sholem, sholem, velt der gantser,
Un a khaverish gemit.
Lomir zikh tsuzamengisn
In a hartsik shabes-lid.
Lyrics: I. Goichberg; Music: Ben Yomen
Translation by Cantor Jeff Warschauer and Michael Wex
As a cantor, one of the subjects dear to my heart is, of course, singing. What moves us to sing, and what does singing do for us?
So, prompted by a review in the New York Times, I recently began reading the book Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others by journalist Stacy Horn.
Horn is very funny, and she writes beautifully and movingly about her joyful experiences singing with the Choral Society of Grace Church in Manhattan, an amateur chorus that nevertheless tackles extremely difficult works such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”
I can tell you from experience that “Chichester Psalms” is an exceptionally challenging choral work, with a very complex harmonic and rhythmic structure. The JTS Cantorial School Choir, a group of highly-trained singers, worked long and hard to master it.
Only the most serious and committed amateur chorus would take on such a work.
Or, as Horn puts it: “The director of our choir has exquisite taste in music, but he also invariably picks pieces that are described as so challenging that they are either rarely performed or attempted only by the most professional choirs. We are not a professional choir.”
And Horn is not a professional singer:
“So while … the rest of the choir is racing ahead,” she writes, “executing some ridiculously difficult run …
I try not to panic … Oh God, my nose is running. Where…are we?”
So you might ask, why does Stacy Horn put herself through all this?
Stacy writes: “As long as I’m singing … it’s as if I’m inhabiting another reality. I become temporarily
suspended in a world where everything bad is bearable, and everything good feels possible … Once a week
I return to one of the most beautiful churches in Manhattan, pick up whatever masterpiece we’re currently
working on, open my mouth, and sing. Life is hard, battles of all kinds continue to rage around us, and
disappointments accumulate. But singing is the one thing in my life that never fails to take me to where
disenchantment is almost nonexistent and feeling good is pretty much guaranteed.”
Stacy Horn writes about her transcendent, ecstatic, comforting and spiritual singing experiences.
How does this connect with us here at TJC?
We talk a lot about transcendence in Jewish services. The hope is that we will feel changed by our
presence and by our participation. We are not passive listeners — we act, we answer — we sing!
And we talk about the idea that on Shabbat we are gifted with a second soul, a “neshamah yeterah,”
that, traditionally, helps bring us to heights of joy and spirit, and to a deep sense of comfort and safety
unattainable during the rest of the week. And one way we nurture this second soul is through the music
that is woven through our Shabbat services.
On Shabbat Shira, a Shabbat especially associated with music, we chant Shirat HaYam (the Song of the
Sea) with special melodies that bring out the majesty and joy of the moment.
In the reading we hear of the intense joy that led Miriam and the other women to sing, to drum, and to
dance ecstatically upon their deliverance.
What’s the takeaway? Here it is:
If you want an experience different from everything else — a transcendent, joyful, deep, emotional and
spiritual experience — sing!
At TJC we are blessed to have many opportunities for singing.: Sing in the Saturday and Holiday morning
services! If you haven’t checked out our Friday night services in a while, please do. They are rocking!
Come sing with our Wednesday Night Singers, who magically transform to Friday Night Singers, and
sometimes even Saturday Morning Singers, each week. We love to sing together, and we are constantly
learning new, beautiful repertoire.
If you are a kid in 4th or 5th grade, join our new TJC Kids’ Choir!
And when we sing together, let’s emulate our forebears, Miriam and her sisters, as they express their joy.
And let’s join together, singing with our second Shabbat souls each and every week, and letting ourselves
fully transcend the cares of the workaday week, in a peaceful, restful, and joyful Shabbat.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (347) 623-4228.
Cantor Jeff Warschauer