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Things I Learned Working with the BCC Choir

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

3. Structure is useful, until it isn’t.

Each year I try to improve the process of High Holiday preparations with the choir just a little more. I plan out what we’ll be singing each rehearsal; I lay out a “welcome to the choir” document with a list of expectations and suggestions for a smooth, fun and efficient choir practice. I know it helps me and the choir members a lot. But life is often unpredictable, and there were times when we needed to use creativity and play as tools to create a space outside of the barriers of imposed structure. Sometimes we’d tell a joke or two or three, sometimes we’d give each other neck massages, sometimes we’d make strange sounds and movements and whatever else it would take to create something beautiful, achieved by intense cooperation, sustained effort, week after week, regularly working through mistakes.

Chaos is the score upon which reality is written. – Henry Miller

4. Beauty is best achieved through “I and thou,” not “I or thou.”

When the choir sings together, it’s team effort at its best and somehow, when we pay attention to our voices blending in with the others, gently pushing the piece forward, we nurture the attributes of human beings that set us apart from machines: love, compassion, kindness, caring and determination. Our singular voice becomes an indispensable and important part of a whole that is the choir. When we sing a great piece of music together in harmony, as opposed to listening to it, we discover how to listen carefully and we become a great piece of music.

A good team, like a good show, comes into being when the separate individuals working together create, in essence, another separate higher entity – the team – the show – which is better than any of those individuals can ever be on their own. – Gary David Goldberg

5. Everyone can sing!

It’s not crucial to have a fantastic voice in order to be part of the choir, though the harder we work on our voices and on singing together, the better it will feel. Many of us have been told at some point in our lives not to sing, or that we should never use our voices, and that leaves a mark. I’d like to think, when we’re having a hard time holding the pitch or even producing a sound, it’s not so much because we’re tone-deaf, but rather because we’re extremely nervous and unfamiliar with using our voices for anything but talking. I learned that when the choir is relaxed and feels good about themselves, they sound great as well! I’m grateful for everyone in the choir who sought me or anyone else out to listen to their voice and to help boost up their confidence in using it.

I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain; what a wonderful feeling, I’m happy again. – Arthur Freed

6. Spirituality and religiosity are friends.

Introducing a song to the choir for the first time is a powerful experience. Practicing it every Monday night, discussing its meaning and message, enhances the spiritual experience as the music bridges people with different ideas, politics, religions or no religions, and goes straight to our common ground, which some people call spirit, soul or our heart. Tears might fall, silence might occur after a piece is sung, and transcendence might be felt.

A choir member once wrote to me: “…on the High Holy Day itself, something happens and all the adrenalin is on, and occasionally there is a miracle and we sing a song better than we have ever sung it before.” I’d like to think that what actually happens is that the practice and the intentionality in extracting the meaning and emotions out of a melody and/or lyric are exalted by the religiosity of the High Holidays, the rituals, the framework of the liturgy, the space and the worship. And so, having a spiritual practice, whether it’s singing, or meditating, or acting kindly to others is enhanced when contextualized within a religious tradition.

I’m a big believer in the way ritual can put us in connection with our spirituality. – Sue Monk Kidd

7. Perfect is boring!!

The more I spend time with the choir the more I learn that it is not about being perfect. Perfection doesn’t really matter when rehearsing and practicing a piece in order to move the worshippers and stimulate them spiritually. I have learned that what matters is having enthusiasm, the ability to embrace the possibilities, rejoicing in the achievement of the group as a whole, working as a team, being fearless, being patient, and the amount of effort being put into the process.

When you’re passionate about something, you want it to be all it can be. But in the endgame of life, I fundamentally believe the key to happiness is letting go of that idea of perfection. – Debra Messing

Thank you dear choir for your lessons! I look forward to singing with you again! Relive portions of the choir singing during the High Holidays by clicking here.

High Holiday prep

At BCC, we’ll be joining many Reform Jewish communities across North America in using Shirei Mishkan Hanefesh, the new High Holiday Prayer-books (also known as Machzorim). With the new Prayer-books, a musical compendium was published as well. Check out my class focusing on much of the new music we’ll be sharing this year.


Also, here’s a recording of our S’lichot service – may the melodies, meditations and thoughts shared here inspire you on this last week of the Jewish year.


Shana Tova Umetuka to you and yours!