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sermon: Shabbat Voices

Shabbat Shalom from Cantor Alexandra Fox

June 2020

“The singing. There was so much singing then, and this was my pleasure too. We all sang. The boys in the fields, The chapels were full of singing, always singing. Here I lie. I have had pleasure enough. I have had singing.”

The past few months have been a whirlwind. With the state of our world changing ever so rapidly, we have all had to learn on the job and make decisions at the drop of a hat, when most of the time, we had little to no idea as to whether or not we were making appropriate decisions, whether or not it all made sense, and what the immediate and long term impact of each decision would be. At times, it truly felt like the only thing I could rely on was the song in my heart and sharing it with all of you.

The above lyrics are from a piece of choral music called I Have Had Singing (music by Steven Sametz / lyrics based off of book excerpt, Voices of Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe). This piece of music was a regular recurrence in my college choral repertoire: one of the choirs in which I sang throughout my college years closes-out every concert with this song, and the conductor of the Chorale invites alumni to join in. In addition to the powerful words, the music is just phenomenal. Take a listen here – you won’t regret it!

Throughout this pandemic, as has the rest of our leadership team and I am sure some of you in your respective professional roles, I have been in very close contact with other Reform cantors. Hands down, the largest point of conversation and fear has been the impact of COVID-19 on singing. There is ample evidence to suggest that singing creates a lot of fine aerosols that can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time, move with air currents, and stay infections for many hours. The future of singing – especially group singing that takes place, for example, during congregational worship – is uncertain, a reality with which I have seriously struggled to come to terms.

Communal singing is at the heart of what we, as Jews, do, and is at the very center of what drives my work as a cantor. To that end, perhaps the hardest part of this time of shelter in place for me has been not being able to be in the physical essence of our spiritual home, joining our voices together as one. I have come to terms with the fact that I will probably not have the opportunity to immerse my soul in the beautiful sounds of all of your voices before I move at the end of June, and as I shared at our beautiful L’hitraot service last Shabbat, it pains me. I am abundantly grateful for the memories that will inspire me and last a lifetime.

Singing is far more than the expression of a piece of music or text. It is the expression of one’s heart and soul. Each and every single one of you carries a melody – the soundtrack of your heart – that is stamped upon each individual whose life you touch. Over the past two years, you have each become a part of my melody, and so many of you have let me in on your melodies. And for that alone, I am forever blessed. I certainly have had singing with this beautiful PTS community, and I will always have your song in my heart.