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Choir Videos

            One of the more nerve wracking parts of my summer has been the process of rehearsing for and recording choir videos. Since my synagogue will be all virtual for the high holidays, and singing in a group over zoom is a non-starter, the cantor and the musical director came up with a plan to create ten choir videos to add to the Zooms, cutting together individual videos of all of the singers and musicians. This means that I listen to a guide track on my headphones, and sing at my computer screen, day after day. It is awful.

“Oh God, she’s singing again.”

            I hate looking at myself. I look like Mrs. Potato Head, but when I tried to look just over the computer screen to stare at the wall instead of at my face, the videos came out disturbing. I deleted one attempt after another until I finally decided to ask my mom to help me decide when it was good enough to send in (because left to my own devices it was clearly never going to be good enough).

            The first song took twenty rehearsals and ten to fifteen deleted videos, the second was not that much better, but by the third, maybe because we were finally singing just the Alto part and I could sing along with the head Alto on the guide track, I did the video in one shot. Three days of rehearsal leading up to it, of course, but even with the Mrs. Potato Head thing still going strong, I was happy with my vocal and willing to send it in.

            We’ve been having zoom rehearsals every two weeks, to familiarize us with the two or three pieces we need to perform before the following rehearsal, and to review the technological issues, like accessing the google drive folder where all of the music is hiding, and how to send in the oversized videos. I was so proud of myself after I finished the first batch of videos, and even had two days to go back to ukulele practice before the next rehearsal, but then, of course, the next set of songs were harder than the first.

            My favorite pieces are the ones where I can sing along with the head Alto, both because it’s comforting to hear her voice and because I can focus on the best parts of my vocal range. When we sing along with the cantor I’m usually singing an octave above him, so the notes that are easy for him are tough for me, and it feels more like harmony than unison. There’s something magical about singing the exact same note as someone else, as if there’s a sort of “ding” that goes off in my head that tells me I got it just right.

“Ding!”

            We won’t be doing much communal singing this year at my synagogue. During a normal year we would have a choir rehearsal every other week, just to hang out and learn new music, but with the average age of the choir members in the seventies, and the extra danger of passing Covid while singing, we’ll be staying on Zoom for the foreseeable future, which means we can learn a song, but we can’t sing it together. So I’m trying to make the most of the singing I get to do this summer. There’s some small sense of community from the Zoom rehearsals, but the real power comes from singing along with one other singer and the piano on the guide tracks, and knowing that, eventually, all of the voices will come together, somewhere in the cloud. And if that means I have to sit in front of a computer and stare at my potato head for minutes at a time, so be it.

            Cricket and Ellie have been kind enough not to laugh.

“It’s hard work.”

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.

92 responses »

  1. Such perseverance! Congrats. Was hoping for a listen.

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  2. I can’t imagine. You probably sing beautifully but I know how much I dislike recordings of my own voice, let alone while watching myself on a screen. I think you are amazing and I hope the joy of the unified effort “in the cloud” (sounds rather angelic put like that) pays you full dividends. A beautiful voice is something I envy beyond almost any other talent.

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  3. I wonder if this is one of those “when it’s all put together it’s wonderful“ things… Some stores now have cameras at self-checkout and you see yourself. It’s also terrible.

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  4. You are doing it, Rachel! Mazel tov!!!

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  5. Good for you for continuing until you are happy with your end product. I am sure it will be lovely.

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  6. Strange times! I’m sure whichever one you choose will be lovely and appreciated 🎶❤️

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  7. Well that’s dedication. I’m sure it will all sound beautiful when put together.

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  8. No doubt about it, singing to the computer is better than no singing at all.

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  9. I love reading your posts… I applaud you each time, you truly are a ray of sunshine, courage and strength in your vulnerable truth. Thank you again, for such great read!

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  10. I enjoyed reading about your adventures in music!

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  11. Oh my goodness — I can so identify with your discomfort. The hardest thing I do all week is check my class videos to make sure they recorded properly — I HATE listening to myself speak, and watching the video is misery!

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    • Whenever I’m on a Zoom and someone says, “Can we record this?” I start to back away from the screen. I may unconsciously be one of those people who thinks the camera is going to steal my soul. Or not so unconsciously.

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      • Interesting! I record my classes so students who have to miss can catch up. However I do not require that people have video on or participate. At the end of class I stop the recording and ask one more time for ?s and comments.

  12. I have heard some choir zoom videos, and they have been beautiful. As odd or uncomfortable as it might be to add your voice in this way, the end results I have seen are amazing, and I imagine your choir’s will be too. I hope you can share a link when the editing is finished.

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  13. I am very impressed with you videotaping yourself singing. I couldn’t do it. Then again, the last time I tried to be in a choir, I found I pretty much cannot hear if I am in tune or not. By the way, I’m still giggling over Mrs. Potato Head. You do not!

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    • The biggest positive AND negative about the videos is that it gives me the chance to hear my voice very clearly and critique everything. At in person choir events I was so busy listening to everyone else that I had no idea how many mistakes I was making. Blissful ignorance!

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  14. And I thought creating taped lesson plans for my English classes was tough…

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  15. I think it’s pretty awesome how much your technology knowledge has grown, even if by need and not by choice! And I’d love to hear your alto voice and hum along in my own! Keep pushing yourself – you’re doing amazing!

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  16. Well done…hope the microphone/speakers do not disappoint.

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  17. I can relate. I’ve been recording demonstration videos for a drawing class. Every time I look at my video face, I see more wrinkles.. I have to edit closed captions (one of my students is deaf) leading to repeat listens. I’ve grown very tired of my nasal voice and tendency to start sentences with, “So, I made a few marks…”

    It’s hard not to notice imperfections recorded on video, but I take comfort in the thought that my wife doesn’t seem to mind me. Our close ones probably find our “nonconformities” endearing.

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  18. The synagogue I work for doesn’t do music (Conservative). Thank goodness we don’t have that component to add to Zoom. My husband does all the technical work and production of the combined Zoom webinar/meeting for our church. Besides his part-time paid job, he puts in up to 40+ hours every week getting it ready. (I am not a happy camper about this.) One of the tough things is always the choral singing. Of course, they aren’t doing it like your synagogue does. They get together with masks and social distancing and sing. (I am sure none of them are reading this, so I can say it sounds pretty bad.)
    Anyhow, Miss Potato Head (he, he), I am sure you sound AND look good!

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  19. Singing is good for the soul no matter the venue and method. I hope you can continue to get used to seeing yourself on the screen and enjoy the process and experience. I too am uneasy looking at myself. A marketing consultant (I’m a realtor) was describing me and others attending one of his workshops that video clips are effective for social media. He was encouraging us to do short clips describing our services, listings, etc. someone said they didn’t like how they looked and his response was something like, you look like you look so get over it. It helped me to hear that because he’s right, we are who we are and look like we look; in person and on video.

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  20. In the interest of the mental and emotional well being of everybody, I won’t be singing to my computer and recording it for posterity. That’d be more like the insidious act of a Bond villain.

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  21. Hmmm…must have missed it…I didn’t see the link we can click on to watch you sing. Probably an oversight…please add. 😈

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  22. We are often far more critical of ourselves than anyone else is of us. ❤

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  23. I wonder why so many of us don’t like how we look on Zoom or Face Time? One afternoon I heard a click as I was doing Face Time with a friend across the country and bemoaning to myself how awful I looked. I asked her what she was doing. “Taking a picture of your lovely face,” she replied! We are all so stupidly self critical!

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  24. That sounds like quite the challenge. I’m looking forward to getting back together with my choir. I could mention this idea to our choir director, but I do not think she would like the idea! You have a lot of patience. I hope all goes well!!

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  25. I can’t carry a tune to save my butt – seriously, even Maverick leaves the room. I should send you a video of me singing and then you’ll feel much better about yourself! I’m sure you did an amazing job!

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  26. As someone who has zero desire to be seen on Zoom, I think you are very brave!

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  27. My goodness, well done. It’s sounds daunting but really worth it to provide a wonderful experience for the other members of your synagogue. I also hate hate hate, the camera image that appears in the corner of the screen. I become simpering idiot, and while I don’t consider myself particularly vain, I find it very distracting to see me looking – like I look! Hair isn’t right, need to sit up more, stop talking so much and for goodness sake, smile! It’s a trial, so tend to switch my camera off in order to enable me to provide any meaningful contribution. I am so shallow – I know!

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  28. I don’t like looking at myself either, but we would love to see you singing! Post a clip of you singing.

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  29. Maybe you could just put your icon up in Zoom instead of a live picture? Once upon a time, I figured out how to do that, but age and infirmity…

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  30. Good afternoon! I nominated you for The Liebster Award. Should you accept, here are the “rules.” (For the official rule language, visit the Liebster Award site, https://theglobalaussie.com/the-liebster-award/ — Thank the person who nominated you, and include a link to that site. Write an acceptance post including the Liebster logo. Answer the questions posed in the nomination. Nominate as many others as you’d like for the Liebster Award, ask them questions, and let them know you’ve nominated them. And, if you wish, write a comment on the Liebster Award page that you’ve accepted. That’s it! Thank you for all your good work, Rachel.

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  31. Singing can be such an important part of human connection. I’m sure there are many people who will very much appreciate your effort (even if they don’t know how much time and effort actually went into it!)
    Why is it that looking at ourselves on camera feels so much more uncomfortable (at least to me) than looking in a mirror? I often like how I look in a mirror, but a picture of my on the same day at the same time I feel turns out looking like a cross-eyed funhouse version of myself, ha. At least I know we’re not alone: I know some people have actually practiced taking selfies to make themselves more comfortable with how they look on camera and find the angles they like best.

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    • I think some of it is about the quality of the camera: the resolution and number of pixels or something like that. And then there’s the lighting. Ideally we’d all Zoom in front of a bathroom mirror. On American Idol each of the performers got special circle lamp thingy to get the best possible lighting on their faces. Clearly we all needed a lot more money and technology before we turned to Zoom living.

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  32. Good work on getting to your approved singing video! That sounds like me and my attempts at making Youtube videos. I may have 2 hours of video clips I delete in order to compile enough good stuff for 10 min. But perhaps you and I as HSPs are sensitive to what we think others might critique, so we just veto the imperfection ourselves?

    I do love how our pets are unconditionally accepting…no judgment there!

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  33. I think Cricket and Ellie should be your avatar while you are zooming 😉 Mouths open, eyes sparkly…it would be wonderful.

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  34. My synagogue is zooming, as well, and will do so for the High Holy Days. We have a congregation with many elderly individuals. It will be a different look, for sure, but a safe one. We have been zooming services since March.

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  35. Oh be joyful, for life in the times of COVID. Dogs know best. (Ding!)

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  36. Be kind to yourself! I have the same problem when I see myself on video or in pics. But you know what? Life is not a beauty contest. Perfection is overrated. Sing away like an angel and share your gift:).

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  37. You are a trooper! Hopefully we will all be able to sing again soon – freely. And I’m sure your voice and your singing are both beautiful.

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  38. Does hand-signing the words help you?
    I had to learn trope (as an adult) simply because I cannot learn by listening without seeing or understanding what I am seeing and hearing. For me, a kinesthetic and visual learner, I found using hand signs for Torah Trope chanting made a huge difference (as long as I remember not to sign as I chant on the bimah).
    G’mar Tovah,
    Shira

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  39. I’m impressed! Recording all those individual voices then compiling together into a group video sounds like an insane amount of work. My brother’s a cappella group is doing something like this. I miss choral singing, harmonizing with the congregation during davening, and even karaoke, but I haven’t found a way to make any of this workable in a COVID world. This is an amazing gift that your choir is giving your congregation!

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