Things I Learned with the Choir

Juval Porat, Cantor at LA’s LGBT Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, reflects on forming and working the shul’s choir during the Jewish High Holy Days.

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Now that High Holidays are over, here are some reflections on my work with the choir to prepare for those Days of Awe.

1. Never underestimate the power of a kind word. Gratitude, a sense of accomplishment, and the trembling caused by musical vibrations are just as much part of a rehearsal cycle as are worry and anxiety. Both make a regular appearance, much like friends you can count on to show up when all else fails. It’s in those moments when I think the choir should feel comfortable with new pieces and I come to realize that there’s still some way
to go, that worry and anxiety thrive. At times I doubted the choir’s ability to master all the music and to reach a state of confidence and calmness, in order to give a musical piece the best treatment.

When I didn’t know if the choir under my direction would make it through, choir members came up to me after rehearsals or sent emails of encouragement. These words of kindness pulled me out of a place of frustration, worry and anxiety and into a place of optimism, belonging and hope. Kind words can be like magic, conjuring up little miracles.

Where is God to be found? In the place where God is given entry. – Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

2. Failing miserably is part of the process. Some time around rehearsal number 5 or 6, when according to my plans, a certain song was supposed to be in good shape, everyone seemed to be struggling. I stopped in the middle of the piece and let the choir know that I was a little uncertain about what to do next. According to my schedule we should have been good with the song by now, yet that was not the case. It was then that a choir member raised their hand to let me know that we should sing the song through anyway. They said: “You need to let us mess it up. Like, really mess it up once.” And so we did. We sounded fabulously messed up and we laughed and bonded just a little more and the pressure was lifted just a little and without fully realizing it, we let our failure write our music, not run it.

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. – Woody Allen

Continue reading on Beth Chayim Chadashim’s website