As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we often do not consider one aspect of ourselves, our voice. I’m taking about our actual vocal cords; our means of producing sound.
We use our voice to chant along with or respond to the cantor, but many of us will also use our voice minimally, as we let the cantor and choir fill our ears and hearts with deep meaning, letting us sit there and contemplate our lives, our loves and our transgressions.
Never before (most likely) has anyone said lift up your voice in song like your life depends on it! Even as cantors encourage you to sing, they don’t tell you that in doing so — by truly engaging your physical voice — you will create a physically healthy and rejuvenating experience. They also don’t tell you that psychosomatically engaging your voice will help you release fears and emotions stored in the voice and mind, and therefore help bring you to new levels of self-realization (what the High Holy Days are about).
It is true: Singing relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, simultaneously engages your left and right brain to build your intelligence and creates a vibration of your vocal cords that resonates throughout your entire body, that creates a positive, healing response in your mind, body and spirit.
Not to mention, when a community sounds their voices together, the room shifts from a bunch of people with different lives and problems, to a kehillah (community) with a common intention for healing and peace.
And here’s where I get personal: Having studied and taught voice for a decade, I know many of you believe “you can’t sing” or “you have a bad voice.” That’s OK. You can think that, but realize you’ve helped make the belief a reality by believing it.
The ultimate truth is that you can sing. It is your birthright. Why do I know this? Simply because you have a voice.
Cantor Neil Newman, my first cantorial mentor, reminded me to tell the congregation that it’s not singing we’re doing; it’s praying. This will make people more comfortable to join in the song. And while he is right, I cannot help but remember that singing and praying are often deeply connected. It often doesn’t matter if I’m singing an Italian aria, a Spanish rumba or the Avinu Malkeinu; to me, it’s all prayer.
These High Holy Days, please give yourself permission to use your voice a little more assertively than you have in the past. I promise that the people sitting next to you won’t mind or judge you. It is most likely that you’ll motivate your neighbors to sing as well (they may be too nervous or uncomfortable to use their voices in the first place).
It’s wonderful that your cantor has a great voice. But so do you. It’s yours!
And as a cantorial soloist, sure, I love singing from my heart so that all can hear. But the magic truly happens when I succeed at leading the community in song; when they lift up my voice so I can continue to lift up theirs.
We then become individual prayers as one voice.
That, is ruach.
Ariella Forstein is a cantorial soloist, performer and vocal empowerment coach based in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis. Find out more about Forstein’s work at ariellaapproach.com and about her performing at ariellaforstein.com