About my father and the synagogue choir
Mon, 08 Dec 2014
I realise now that the strongest emotional connection I had with my father came through music. It's something I've often known but not accepted outright.
It must be normal for sons to dismiss their fathers' abilities and I felt we were often competing, so perhaps that's why I've tended to dismiss the things that I got from him, the things I took on board and secretly loved.
I was just listening to the 7th movement of Brahms' Requiem. When I hear some of the more exposed tenor parts of the piece, I have an automatic breakdown and something unites me with him, or at least his memory. The union is between the parts of both of us that defy those entrenched and often pernicious relationship dynamics. These parts transcend the roles we played.
The words play a key role too:
'Ja der Geist spricht, dass sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit, denn ihre Werke folgen Ihnen nach.' Meaning, I think: 'The spirit says they can be at peace, since the fruit of their labour succeeds them.'
And so it just struck me how impressed I always was, and had been, with his singing voice, even when I was 8. Not just impressed but I really loved to hear it. All these years after, I can admit to myself that I thought he had the best voice in the choir, and when he sang his tenor line to one of the litanies of praise we used to sing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur called Hallelujah, either on his own or with another man who I remember was called Ben Camissar, I experienced an early instance of that transportation that comes when music gets to you, when it curdles your spine. What I feel when I listen to the 7th movement of the Brahms. He had that sought-after high register that very few men have. His F's and F#'s came out with a clarity and precision; they had that almost shrill piercing quality which cleaved through the dull mass of the other voices, the contraltos and the basses, with ease. It was almost pure and special. But beyond all the clichés, here was a reserved and diffident man exposing something of himself to a large group of people. I remember I both revelled in and feared those soaring cadenzas, because in those moments, my father was exposed and I felt a tinge of embarrassment for him. It was really my embarrassment because I don't think I wanted to face anyone or anything that could possibly draw attention to me. I was so shy. I was the only small person in that Synagogue choirloft. I couldn't see over the netting down into the main hall that it looked out onto. I couldn't see anything apart from the other men's bulky legs. I was out of place and obligated, far away from the seats downstairs, from the amorphousness of the main congregation. But at least until my father sang out those high notes, I retained my anonymity.