RSS Feed

A Summer of Singing


At the first official choir rehearsal for the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, starting Sunday night, September 29th), I received a loose-leaf full of music from the choir director. Most of the other choir members have been there for years (some for over thirty years), so while they mostly had to show up at rehearsals and sing, I had to take my loose-leaf home and study. Even the songs I thought I knew had to be relearned, because I was used to singing the melody with the congregation, and now I was singing the harmony with the other altos.


“Do you really have to sing that again?”

The music kept repeating in my head all summer long. I knew my brain was doing this to be helpful, so that I could learn what I needed to learn in a hurry, but it meant that I was drowning in melancholy music for months. I couldn’t even escape it while I was sleeping.

The dogs are probably sick of hearing about repentance and atonement, but they seemed to like finally being able to participate in synagogue services, in their own way, in their own home. When the summer rehearsals started, I spent a lot of time being mute and grumpy, because I couldn’t sing along. But after months of studying I’ve learned most of the songs, and even figured out how not to be completely distracted by the other voices around me.


Except for Cricket’s voice. That still distracts me.

Starting in September we had choir rehearsals once a week, and by then I knew most of the music, though some things were still beyond me, especially the songs where the altos just sing the oohs and ahhs in the background (it’s so hard to learn the music without words to hang the notes on!). There are a few pieces of music that still confound me, especially one that requires us to sing ten notes on one word, over and over again. I get three notes in and then shut my mouth and wait.


“I’ll sing for you, Mommy!”

Unfortunately, no one seems to have noticed all of the progress I’ve made, even though I make a point of singing out when I know what I’m doing. Maybe they think it was as easy for me to learn all of the music, or they forgot that I’m new to the choir altogether. I was kind of hoping for some praise; you now, gold star stickers to put on my loose-leaf, something like that. Maybe someday.

One very lucky break is that our temporary conductor is one of the altos, so she has been able to help us out with finding notes and some much needed attention. She also has her own interpretive dance style of conducting that’s really easy to follow, so that even when I’m looking down at the music and can only see out of the corner of my eye, I can understand what she’s telling us.

54 - wow, what's next

“I bet I could lead a choir!”

For the High Holidays, the choir will be sitting on a raised platform, in our newly redone sanctuary, and I am not looking forward to that. I’m used to being mostly invisible in the crowd at the high holidays, able to be grumpy or tired or whatever I am in relative obscurity. But this year I will be on public view, so I may have to put on a happy – or at least normal – face. This is also when I start to wish I’d lost more weight already, and bought a whole new wardrobe, and maybe had plastic surgery, because otherwise I just look like me. We don’t even get to wear robes to hide behind.

The biggest downside of being in the choir is that I can’t sit with Mom during the services. Hopefully she’ll be able to sit near the choir area, so that I can roll my eyes at her discreetly during the services. I think it might be frowned upon if I actually took out my cellphone to text my ongoing commentary during the services, but it might come to that. I mean, these are long services, and I have a lot to say!


“Do you? We never noticed.”

I’ve made some friends among the altos, though, so I should be able to nudge someone and whisper when something especially ridiculous happens. Which, of course, it will. With a new sound system, and echoing acoustics, and everyone stuffed together in one big room trying to express all of the repentance and atonement and misplaced guilt of a whole year, laughing fits are inevitable.

I wish you all a Shana Tovah U’Metukah (a good and sweet new year) with as much laughter as possible!

Happy New Year!



If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?



About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

76 responses »

  1. I would love to hear that singing, including the melancholy! I have a mental block about singing myself, but love to hear and watch others in choirs. Good luck.

  2. Thank you, and Happy and Sweet New Year to you. I used to work with a lovely lady who brought us apple slices dipped in honey every year.

  3. Happy New Year to you, Rachel, and the adorable hounds. 🙂

  4. Here’s a gold star for you, Rachel! 🌟

  5. Okay, here’s God’s joke on me. I can play the piano. I play the piano for our Eastern Star ladies and Masonic brothers. BUT, I can’t sing a lick. When our choir director asks everyone to sing along, I STFU. I just move my lips. Glad to hear you are singing in the choir.

  6. I have never been able to sing harmony!

  7. I admire anyone who is musical, happy holidays and fingers crossed

  8. Love your puppies!

  9. Happy New Year. Your dogs are lovely 🙂

  10. Happy New Year to you too. I had no idea that getting involved in a choir would require so much preparation. Well done.

  11. Sending a virtual gold star of good luck and wishing you a happy New Year!

  12. And a good and sweet New Year to you too!
    I cannot carry a tune to save my butt. Nope, can’t do it. I sing to Maverick. He stops pulling on the leash when I sign while we walk, I think he’s hoping that he can just find somewhere to hide from the caterwauling. I envy you being able to be in a choir! They would show me the door! Also, no texting during the service. 🙂

  13. Shana Tovah U’Metukah to you and yours!

  14. Happy New Year Rachel and I think your doggie admirers look impressed.

  15. I can’t sing a note, so I am suitably impressed by your dedication and talent, which I am certain is much more than you let on to the rest of us. 🙂
    Happy New Year from England.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  16. I sent too fast 🙃. I was thinking of singing and long services and being in front of people. I had a choir teacher in 5th grade who made me self conscious of singing and I still am. I can imagine how you might be anxious but I wish I could hear you sing. I know your voice must be lovely. If only Cricket and Ellie could be up there with you. Happy New Year! 😊

  17. Happy New Year Rachel. The dogs are your favourite audience no doubt!
    I remember choir practice as a child, going to someone’s house on a Tuesday evening. At school, I was in the choir and got to sing solo (!!) but at Grammar school I was not considered good enough.
    I don’t seem to have the breath to sing these days!

  18. 10 notes on one word – wow, that’s fantastic! I started playing music as an adult, and now it seems I need to play just about every day, but singing is so very difficult for me.

  19. To look good, have my peep in the choir who has a voice that can empty the building faster than someone shouting “FIRE-EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY”.

  20. You’ve made great progress. You know it, and God knows it. ❤

  21. Happy New Year to you, Rachel, and as my mama used to tell me when I was trying out for my high school choir in West Columbia, Texas: try out for alto, they always need altos.
    It turns out our high school choir was short on boys, so another alto and I sang tenor.
    The alto section always has the most fun choir members, so I’m sure you’ll be able to roll your eyes at the person next to you.
    Bravo for your effort to learn the music – I believe you’ll be a wonderful addition!!

  22. Happy New Year from Savannah, Ga. Hope the services go well and that you end up having fun singing in then. St. Francis of Assisi says those who sing pray twice.

  23. Congratulations on the book. It sounds fascinating. I get the issue worth the music. It’s tough coming into an established group that makes it all seem easy when it’s complicated. Been there done that with a choir I love. I often feel lost until one day something clicks and I get it. Good luck. Hope you don’t get into too much trouble for eye rolling. Ha.

  24. Have an awesome new year!

  25. Don’t know how I missed this post until today. Anyway, I am “thrilled and delighted”(can’t seem to get Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and the 2000 Year Old Man out of my brain)that you have taken the leap into singing in front of the congregation. Alto no less. I am an alto but utterly unable to harmonize. My 6th grade teacher kept moving me back and forth in the sections to no avail. May the High Holy days remind you of how much you are loved by our Creator.

  26. Heliophilecooksandwrites

    It’s beautiful!!

  27. One of the things I miss most, not attending worship services anymore, is that I have no opportunities for singing with others. I grew up in a family that sings and was in choirs from religious school as a first-grader until I left the Lutheran church in my 50s. (Environmental irritants affected my voice, in addition to my sense of balance.) I never got over being self-conscious when singing in public, even though nobody ever said anything derogatory about my singing. Being self-conscious didn’t and still doesn’t keep me from enjoying singing.

    I must admit that my dogs really wish I wouldn’t sing, their having no way of avoiding my voice in the house. 😀

  28. L’shana Tova, and I love your puppy pics! They are so cute

  29. Loved this post! I have a Teddy Bear “Mason”.

  30. Do you really have to sing that again? One good howl deserves another. 😉

  31. Happy New Year. It’s wonderful you can sing and sing well.

  32. I miss my 6th and 7th grade choir days. Our teacher/conductor Sister Clement was always challenging us with newer songs or revised versions with various harmonies. I went from soprano to alto in one year (talk about a change in vocal range). But I really enjoyed the church sessions, many of them in Latin, which seem to wow the parishioners. Many thanx for the flashback, Rachel– even if this is an older posting. I enjoy reading how bloggers have evolved through the years.


Leave a Reply to ekurie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: