Soloist in the key of coronavirus in Jerusalem

I’m not a natural pick for a solo. While wide-ranging and reliably on-key, my voice is not rich, textured or sweet.

'Instead of joyfully losing myself in the music, I know worried about messing up my part.' (photo credit: MAX PIXEL)
'Instead of joyfully losing myself in the music, I know worried about messing up my part.'
(photo credit: MAX PIXEL)
Just before COVID-19 shut down the world, a tiny dream of mine came true – I became a soloist for my choir, the Jerusalem Women’s Singing Ensemble. Most erstwhile singers share this dream. The surprise was that it actually happened to me.
I’m not a natural pick for a solo. While wide-ranging and reliably on-key, my voice is not rich, textured or sweet. All through my school years I never sang alone. I never got picked. Back then in the 1970s before self-esteem became a thing, my school valued excellence above all else and I was overlooked. It stung. Today psychologists refer to this as “early artistic wounding.”
I resigned myself to having a backup voice. Often I’d joke about being a Pip, not a Gladys Knight, a reference to the now defunct R&B quartet, but alone under the shower or in the car my inner diva still lived on so much so that when our choir leader Yael appointed me solo caller in a gospel-inspired call-and-response number, I was both thrilled and petrified.
Why me? Any of the others would have done better, but Yael stuck to her guns.
“Everyone should have a solo,” she declared.
For her this was a matter of principle, her tiny attempt to free music from the grips of the elitism that had hurt my younger self.
The song, a Leah Shabbat ballad called “Tamid Yechaku Lecha” (We’ll Always Wait for You), is a mother’s ode to a son who ventured far from home, and it spoke to my heart. My own sons had trekked far from home – I knew that pain. My heart was in the music, but my voice wasn’t.
When it was my turn to call out my lines, the sound was wobbly and thin.
Even worse were the thoughts bubbling through my head – all my old insecurities hitting me like a mental tsunami: I sounded terrible. Everyone must realize I am terrible. Worst of all, they’re probably all laughing.
And yet the laughter, if there even was laughter, was so muffled I couldn’t hear it. What I do remember was hearing my choirmates generously assuring me that my singing was just fine. I wouldn’t or couldn’t believe them.
“I stink,” I stated with determination, but alone at home I kept striving to do better.
Whenever I could, I practiced with an audio clip layering my voice on top of Yael’s, but at rehearsal my efforts failed to bear fruit – and even worse, choir practice now felt like something to be gotten through.
Instead of joyfully losing myself in the music, I now worried about messing up my part. Though I had been among the first and most enthusiastic members of the choir, I thought of quitting. But my love for Yael and the other members kept me in.
Then one day I listened on YouTube to “Tamid Yehaku Lecha” performed by a man, an odd choice for a song about motherhood – yet Liran Danino’s thin trembling execution, similar to mine, freed me to take ownership of this song.
For the first time in weeks I looked forward to choir practice – yet it wasn’t to be. COVID-19 had come to our town. After a flurry of nervous WhatsApp messages, our group disbanded. With experts insisting that singing sprays infected droplets far and wide, we’re not likely to start up again until the vaccine comes our way.
My soloist career is on ice. And yet I’m hopeful.
Tamid Yehaku Lecha – we will always wait for you.
Might these words be an omen for better days to come? I’m waiting to see.
The writer is a grandmother, author, journalist, writing teacher and former Jerusalem Post reporter. She is currently teaching memoir writing on Zoom. For details: [email protected]