Went to synagogue tonight with the family for the first evening of Yom Kippur.  A couple of years ago they ditched the old cantor, and when I say old, I don’t mean in years.  But he had been hired by the shul for the past, I don’t know, decade.  And boy could this guy belt out the prayers.  He had such a beautiful voice, and he knew all these traditional melodies, that even though we didn’t know all of the tunes at first, we quickly learned them.  I mean, imagine this: you only hear these songs once a year during the holidays, and yet somehow the tunes stay with you.  That was the power this guy wielded.

Cut to a couple of years ago.  Due to a silly dispute (the circumstances of which seem absurd to me, but which I’d rather not mention here), the cantor was not hired back to sing at the High Holidays.  And so we have a new guy.  Yeah, he can sing.  He’s not as operatic as the old guy.  His range isn’t as good.  But, you know, he’s doing a workman’s job of it. But what bothers me most of all is his melodies.  I would say of the approximately twenty different melodies we sung with the old cantor, this new guy sings maybe three that use the same tunes.  And they are shortened versions that only a fraction of the people know.  When he sings the tunes that no one knows, I can still hear the old cantor’s voice ringing in my head, and I find myself longing for those old songs, frustrated when reality does not meet my expectations. 

And even before the old cantor, when I was a restless kid in Hebrew school, waiting for the service to end so I could go home and play with my TRS-80, I remember the choir, the sound of the women’s voices, and I can still hear those songs echoing through the giant sanctuary that was sold a few years ago, that I will never set foot in again.

As any music lover knows, songs do not evoke emotion.  They are emotion.  Even while the new cantor sings his unknown melodies, the old ones echo through me.  The past is not gone, it’s just yearning to express itself again.