[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]
I grew up with a visceral distaste for chazanim and choirs.
Part of that was just an immature impatience with all things slow.
Part of it was a dislike for music that didn’t fit the ‘80s pop mold.
And part of it was the cynical feeling – again, visceral rather than intellectual - that people were singing to impress rather than davening to express/build kavvanah.
That distaste continued into my yeshiva days. One Rosh HaShanah I asked the posek in Kerem b’Yavneh whether I should ask mechilah from the Yamim Noraim chazan, for the comments I had made about his cantorial style.
Fast-forward to today, and my taste in music is still decidedly un-chazanish, and my impatience with artifice [in all but myself, of course] is undimmed. So this morning, when I knew a choir would accompany the Shabbat Shirah davening, I was apprehensive. I brought along a sefer, but even with that – would I survive?
I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised. It was beautiful. More: My sons sitting with me enjoyed it, too. It even helped my davening.
What’s changed in me over the years? Is the choir an acquired taste?
Part of it is the patience that comes with growing older, yes; adults have enough data and concerns in their heads to pass the time.
Some of it is the realization that people who ordinarily chattered or spaced-out during davening were actually paying attention to the words.
A piece of it is just that the choir was really good [and not too slow, either].
And part of it is the fact that growing up, and meeting/working with a diverse sample of humanity has uncynicised my view of people. I find it easier to discount my first-impression suspicion and perceive what’s really there. So when my gut reaction to singing is, “Those are performers,” my next reaction is to ask myself whether I have any basis for that assumption.
Certainly, there is a performance aspect to singing - but the sincere כוונה [focus] of the singers this morning was so blatant as to be undeniable. These were not actors, manipulators of voice seeking approval from their audience. Rather, they were בשר ודם [flesh and blood] turning to HaShem with the gifts at their disposal, and helping others to turn to HaShem likewise.