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A Cantor's Rant: The back story

I went on a rant yesterday during Hebrew School music. We were beginning to learn a Chanukah version of "Let it Go" (written by my colleague Deborah Jacobsen and adapted by me), and - there are a couple of higher note points - one child started to do the "opera voice" in reaction to the way some of the kids were trying to sing. I lost it. 

Here's what I posted on my Facebook page:  


Nothing - I mean NOTHING - makes me more upset than kids making fun of the way other kids sing. Too many grownups won't sing because their voices were mocked when they were children by teachers and/or peers (Believe it or not, I am a prime example). Cantor Kessler's #1 Music Rule is: no one makes fun of anyone's voice. Cross that rule at your peril. OK, rant over.


Here's part 1 of the back story.


Years ago an adult told me that when he was a bar mitzvah student, his cantor told him that he shouldn't chant the haftarah because it wouldn't sound good. That adult never sang in public again. It broke my heart. 

Here's the real back story.

When I was in 5th grade, I already knew I had perfect pitch and a really good ear. The 5th grade was singing some big piece of music for an assembly and during a rehearsal, the teacher Miss Muleady noted that someone was singing flat. Diane W. (yes, I still remember their names) pointed to me. Miss Muleady told me - in front of the class - to stop singing. Humiliating? Yes. Devastating? Yes. Destructive? Hell, yeah.

How destructive? I was determined to never sing again. In 6th grade we all had to audition for the junior high school chorus (we'd be heading there starting in 7th grade). 

Imagine this scene:


Chorus teacher plays a note on the piano, we have to reproduce that note with our voices. 
I hear the note loud and clear and with all my might and prayer, I totally mess it up. I deliberately blow an audition. I'm talking almost funny had it not been so damn pathetic: a decades-earlier 10 year old's version of that song from A Chorus Line
Chorus teacher gets this look of annoyance (like he knew he was being scammed, which, of course, he was). He keeps plunking. I keep deliberately missing. 
To my delight, I am placed in the junior high school band where, at 5 feet tall and maybe 100 pounds, I am handed a mellophone (a marching band Eb version of a French Horn that makes a sound like a barfing cow). Diane W., by the way, a rather large girl, gets a flute. Who says life is fair. 
I stay there until I am rescued by accident by my high school girls' choir teacher (how I got there is another story as is what happened afterwards).
Bottom line: that classmate and teacher mocking me destroyed my soul and my spirit. And for what? A perfect performance? A chance for a teacher to be brutal? At the expense of a child? It took years for me to recover from stage fright and a throat/vocal chord tightness that caused me no end of throat pain whenever I sang. Cut to now: by the grace of God and one of the best vocal teachers ever, I still get nervous when I stand on a stage but my throat is clear and open and I am no longer in pain. 

Here I am, 50 years later, and a child makes fun of another child's singing, and I am back in 5th grade and I am back sitting with a grownup who refuses an aliyah to the Torah or a chance to chant Torah or haftarah just because someone made fun of us. 

So yeah - I rant. And I repeat: 
Nothing - I mean NOTHING - makes me more upset than kids making fun of the way other kids sing. Too many grownups won't sing because their voices were mocked when they were children by teachers and/or peers (Believe it or not, I am a prime example). Cantor Kessler's #1 Music Rule is: no one makes fun of anyone's voice. Cross that rule at your peril. 
 OK. Rant over. 



  

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