Some dozen years ago, I was hired by a great mentor of mine to translate the Aruch haShulchan's Laws of Shabbos. It was an incredible learning opportunity, on many levels - and one of those was intense exposure to R' Yechiel Michel Epstein's views on halachic debates of his day.
Here is one of my favorite passages, on disobedient chazzanim; it came to mind today because I included it in this week's Toronto Torah, in our Biography/Torah in Translation section:
For some decades, due to our great sins, a tzara'at has spread among cantors. These cantors hold a small silver fork or a lump of iron (termed kamar tone) when standing before the platform on Shabbat and Yom Tov, for setting the song’s pitch. The cantors place the fork between their teeth, and they hear a musical sound; they then know how to arrange the song.
This is, literally, a musical instrument, designed to produce music. We do not have the power to protest their claims that they cannot generate music without these instruments. Due to our great sins, our generation is loose and the masses support these cantors. Not only are we unable to protest, but even exiting the synagogue causes a fight, as is known.
Perhaps it is possible to suggest that this device is not among the “musical instruments” which our sages prohibited, for the following reasons:
•The sound of this music is not heard other than from the cantor’s mouth to his ear,
•The sound is only momentary, and
•The purpose is to generate vocal song, which was never forbidden.
This matches what we wrote regarding whistling and placing one’s hand in one’s mouth.
We need to justify this; it would be disgraceful to say that the Jewish nation would stumble in a shevut (rabbinic Shabbat prohibition), all the more so when standing in prayer before the King of Kings, Gd Himself!
[Further, regarding the practice of saying words, and repeating them twice and three times, and spreading notes before the platform to sing in the style of a performance – all who have awe of heaven are pained by this, and they cannot protest, for the masses are undisciplined, and they will not listen to the words of the sages in this matter! They say that this is their enjoyment of Shabbat and Yom Tov!
In truth, perhaps there is no prohibition in this, but one who is good before Gd will flee therefrom. We have come to justify the actions of the sanctified descendants of Israel, whose eyes are sealed. Perhaps, from the fact that our Sages said one silences a cantor only for repeating the word “Shema,” we may say that this is not true for other words that they repeat twice and three times.
As to the notes they spread before the platform, we cannot present a reason to state a clear prohibition here, and so, “Let Israel practice as it will; better for them to practice in error, etc.”]