So, on Friday, about 11:00 a.m, I got a call from the Religious School Director at my shul (That's Yiddish for synagogue.) He knows I'm the original kosher ham, so I'm guessing he knew I'd say yes when he told me we had a laryngytic cantor, and would I please fill in for her at the Family Service that night?
This erev Shabbat (Sabbath evening) was to be the debut of the new family choir and the first graders were to be singing a special song about Creation. The cantor, despite being deathly ill, insisted on attending to play guitar, but would I please sing? I made sure this commitment didn't extend to the grown-ups' service later in the evening and said yes.
At about three that afternoon, I got a call from the Executive Director. Would I be able to stand in for the cantor at services? Happy I could tell him the problem was already solved, I told him of the arrangements that were made earlier in the day. I would sing while the cantor played, then we'd both leave and a professional singer, who'd led our soprano section in the High Holidays choir, would work with the Rabbi that night.
But he knew all that. He was calling to ask about Saturday morning. My knees started to knock. The Friday night family service is one thing. But Saturday morning is an entirely different matter. Especially with a bar mitzvah scheduled that would draw nearly a hundred friends and relatives, and a baby-naming.
With a mixture of pride at being asked and certainty I couldn't pull it off, I said yes.
I pulled it off.
The rabbi smoothed out the rough edges and missed cues on Friday night, and the first graders were adorable. They sang a song about the creation of the world that came complete with hand gestures and pantomime. They were the sun and the moon and lions and tigers and bears. (Oh my!)
The chorus was the phrase "This is very good" repeated a number of times. The kids each put out two thumbs up for this lyric and looked like a bunch of pint-sized Arthur Fonzarellis. It was great.
The cantor played guitar and I played Charlie McCarthy to her Edgar Bergen. I'd give my performance a C- but the whole service a solid A anyway.
I was determined to do better on Saturday morning.
I arrived at shul an hour early on Saturday morning and my friend the cantor, who ought to have been home sleeping and drinking chicken soup, silently coached me through a dry run of everything I would have to sing. She transposed the chords to a number of tunes and prayers to better accommodate my more limited vocal range. She assured me it would be all right.
With her beside me strumming out the tunes, it was. At the reception afterward the lox and bagels tasted as good as they ever have. The family of the young man who celebrated his bar mitzvah were appreciative and some of my fellow congregants were unduly lavish in their praise.
I'm looking forward to next Saturday morning and the relative anonymity of the pews.