By Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer
To quote from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”
I take a lot of things seriously. I’m a Type A person that will drive my coworkers up the wall with my organizational ‘tactics’—ones that usually involve color-coding systems, timelines, mass emails, and a lot of post-it notes. If you had met me six years ago, you would not be shocked to discover that I was someone who trained in classical music, because classically trained individuals are bursting with seriousness. We take those notes on the page VERY seriously…every dynamic marking, every rest, we observe it. Recovery is one of those things that requires the same level of seriousness. This concept of living well is meant to be your strong foundation in which you build an amazing life on top of. It’s a similarly meticulous process.
Something that needs to be worked into this seriousness, though, is the concept of FUN. At Beit T’Shuvah, any money placed into our tzedakah boxes (before we light Shabbat candles and officially welcome in the Sabbath bride) goes towards something Harriet devised, “mandatory fun.” It’s some sort of weekend programming, ranging anywhere from movies to field trips to the theater to museums, that comes with a philosophy of “you’re going to have fun, whether you like it or not, because it’s just as much a part of your recovery as everything else you’re learning.” Being around Beit T’Shuvah, I also had to learn how to adopt the concept of “mandatory fun” into my music. Find the “both/and.” Respect the notes on the page AND give them a free spirit. It sounds so contradictory (or at least it really felt so to me), but it’s not. It’s synergistic, actually. I forced myself to sing things that weren’t in my comfort zone—jazz, pop, anything that could push me into HAVING FUN. Six years later, I’d like to think I’m a whole new type of musician than just someone who is classically trained.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of producing Beit T’Shuvah’s very first “cantorial” concert, Sing to Save a Soul. I put the word “cantorial” in quotes here because, while the performers were all cantors (and certainly some of the most talented in this city in my opinion), I tried my best to shatter the rigid seriousness that seems to be in so many other concerts that feature cantors. I took the concert very seriously, and at the same time I applied the concept of mandatory fun. Everybody had to come with music that they had fun singing…that was my only rule for song selection. I stuck to my guns on it (nobody seemed to complain).
The result was far greater than anything I could have ever comprehended. It felt like everyone was letting their guard down, both on stage and in the audience. As cantors, we have years of training in voice, language, Jewish law, liturgy, and a million other things I could list off. But when you throw some occasional fun into the mix and make it a requirement alongside the required meticulous seriousness, then real spirit can thrive. I can’t describe G-d that well, but I’d like to believe that where seriousness and fun meet, He is right there smiling in that convergence.