Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prayer versus Production

Any choir that sings for a religious organization is challenged to create a prayerful atmosphere without putting on a performance. I hadn’t realized just how sensitive our rabbi was to this concept until this morning when he literally exploded over something that I had facilitated in my role of chairing the High Holy Days for our synagogue.

We hold our services in a very large, very old stone church with three times the capacity of Temple Micah. We have struggled for the past few years with the antiquated sound system that comes with the Methodist Church, being plagued by a buzzing speaker in one of the chandelier lights, feedback, and dead spaces where no one can hear anything.

Largely as a stroke of luck, I was offered an $8,000 sound system using state-of-the-art components at no charge for our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. After our choir rehearsal with this sound system in the old church, we realized just how good the choir could sound and how it was no longer necessary for our cantorial soloist to strain her voice.

Last night’s service seemed to go off without a hitch. Everyone I talked to in the congregation marveled at the fact that they could finally hear everything and it was all in balance. I felt like this improvement was my legacy to the High Holy Day process as I near the end of my term as chair.

But then as we were in the middle of our rehearsal before the morning service today, the rabbi came in and simply exploded. He didn’t like the look of the speakers on stands. He didn’t like the monitor on the altar that allowed him and the staff to hear themselves properly. He didn’t like the fact that the music now seemed like a production. He didn’t like their “rock-star” microphones. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn’t like the fact that no one had told him about it ahead of time.

I could feel my ego deflating about as fast as a helium balloon with a sudden leak. Did he have any idea how hard I had worked to make this happen? Did he realize that no one in the back section of the Church had ever before been able to hear? Had he checked with anyone in the audience to see how they felt about the new and improved sound? Did he understand that my motive was simply one of wanting everyone to be able to concentrate on praying instead of on listening?

The choir is better than ever this year. We are so much enjoying the fact that we finally can hear each other and the room sounds so alive. It makes such a difference. But we still have a lot of musical ground left to cover.

I don’t know how this is going to be resolved. No one is blaming me for this problem, but I was certainly part of the small group that made it happen.

As for the prayer versus production issue, to me what seems important is not the music itself but rather the spirit in which it is presented. Some people would have definitely classified our big number this morning that included piano and clarinet as a production, but in actuality it was just “making a joyful noise.”

The Temple Micah staff will meet this week in at attempt to dissect this problem and construct a workable solution. Hopefully it will still result in a sound system which allows everyone to hear. But despite my role in the changes this year, it’s no longer my problem.

I knew things were going entirely too smoothly. But if there is one thing Jews are good at, it’s dealing with problems. So I’m guardedly optimistic.

Shana tova!


Blogger Ulysses said...

Shana tova to you.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Ulysses -- It's getting better anyway. I just got off the phone with our rabbi who called because he had heard my feelings were hurt. He wanted to assure me that the problem was not my fault. It was a productive discussion, although there's still work to be done.

5:28 PM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

At least he apologized for his behavior. What more can one ask?

Happy new Year!
(it is the New year right?)

5:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gewels -- He didn't really apologize for his behavior. He just wanted to make sure I didn't think he held me responsible! But I did appreciate the fact that he called.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

My mom works in a church. (I suppose it's kind of the same and really only my frame of references.) The pastors don't much like change, much less change they didn't initiate, but they generally come around.

Congrats on all of the hard work, though. It sounds like you've done a great job.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- No leader ever likes to feel blind-sided. Unfortunately I think that's what happened here. I also think it will eventually work out alright.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

As a member of the congregation, I SO preferred being able to hear this year. I noticed that I could hear so much better (I was in the back on erev Rosh Hashanah), and eventually noticed the speaker, and smiled. I was so happy that someone had noticed that not everyone could hear, and had done something about it.

There was not a bit of "production" aspect to it -- only an improvement in the experience! I could hear every word from the bima, and that has never happened before. Straining to make out what's being said and sung is much more of an obstacle to a spiritual experience than the fact of the speakers. I never noticed any mikes, never felt that anything was rock-starrish, never noticed anything about the choir other than that it sounded particularly wonderful this year.

Can congregants make their views known?

1:28 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Robin -- This is definitely music to my ears! Thanks so much for the vote of confidence.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

People get worked up over the weirdest things.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- I agree, but at the same time I have to respect his opinion. It is his congregation. It was just unexpected.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I tihnk this is just another case of people showing they don't like change. Or maybe they don't like change they can't directly take credit for.

Of course, I know nothing of the situation outside of your e-mail, so I may be completely unfair to the Rabbi.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- He is not so egotistical as to want credit. He simply wanted to be consulted when the decision to make this change was made. Here we thought we were sparing him the details to give him more time to concentrate on his sermons. Hindsight is always 20-20.

8:57 PM  

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