September 24, 2012 On Chazzonus
When I did my undergraduate college degree, a one-year process that took place when I lived in Kiryas Joel and which amounted to scraping together credits from any venue that awarded it without going to class, I found a guy in Israel — a doctor he said he was, a professor and rabbi too of course, who was accredited to award credits for cantorial performances, or, as he called it, chazzanos. It was obvious that his institution was not intended to train the next Rosenblatt, but rather � and unabashedly � it was for frum yinglech who could repeat any prayer by rote, not trope, and needed a few extra credits to become accountants. The doctor/professor/rabbi in possession of these credits seemed rather questionably trustworthy, but he convinced me that the program is perfectly easy and only marginally expensive, and I desperately needed easy. I was in. My assignment was to give an oral performance over skype. The doctor told me to prepare by learning to recite the megillah, eicha, kabalat Shabbat and high holiday prayers. All in all, it was familiar territory and obviously not difficult.
Actually, turned out it was.
There were challenges� big ones. For one, I can’t sing to save my life. Me in a torture chamber, they try to make me “sing”, I couldn’t even if I was about to have my eyes gauged out. All other challenges became irrelevant in the face of this one. Still, I desperately wanted those credits. Oh, how I languished over them. How I saw my expedited credentials through them!! A degree! The employability of more than a Monroe Satmar meidel! The possibility of standing on my own feet! I couldn’t give up.
I spent hours listening to the hamelech [def: the king] prayer piece from yom kippur, rewinding, forwarding, making notes, memorizing pauses. After some weeks I had gotten no better whatsoever. BUT I wasn’t giving up. I walked around the house singing and shrieking and hoping to awaken my musical mind. It was so damn frustrating. Finally I figured that while I couldn’t sing, I could at least write it down. So I wrote it down and sang from my writing. It looked something like this. Listen to the Hamelech, the emotional and evocative start of the Yom Kippur service:
Ha, ha, ha, haaaaa haaaaa, ha ha,
haaaaheeee hauuu eh
haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa [more kvetch]
And so on for a while. At the end the “melech” was finally blurted out and a huge resuscitating breath was ingested to restore oxygen to the brain.
I took the exam on the scheduled day. I remember putting on the wig for the exam, nervous about actually performing a shtikl chazzones for a tiny audience. I was prompted with pieces, and I had to perform it. There was the hamelech, of course. It started out low, and in no time went higher and high and higher and shattered a few windows and traumatized a few Israelis. It was, if nothing else, cathartic. And it was nothing else. I got a C with a minus.
I was devastated. It didn’t feel very hahahaha then. I resigned all cantorial aspirations right then and there. I’ll rather listen to others do it and write more fruitful homework notes than a series of ha-s. I like to hum the eicha (lamentations) song especially in moments of sadness, but that’s as far as my own cantorialship goes.