Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elul 7. Singing Avinu Malkeynu and how it made me a Cantor

I grew up in a Reform congregation in Northern California. My favorite prayer at the High Holy Days was when the Choir sang Avinu Malkeynu composed by Max Janowski. We were still using the old Union Prayer book in those days, and I would look ahead each service and count the pages until they sang Avinu Malkeyu. Later, when in high school, I joined the adult choir, and, since they did not have a Cantor, Avinu Malkeynu became my big solo. It spoke to me. It moved me. Every time before I would sing it, I would look at my mother, who never missed a service I sang, and we would look at each other and she would give me a special smile before I started. Through all my years as a student Cantor, and then Cantor, thru the 35 High Holy Day seasons I have sung, Avinu Malkeynu has been a spiritual moment for me.

One of the hardest things for me about the High Holy days, was 4 years ago, when my parents were unable to attend services anymore from California anymore due to health issues, my aunt died, my uncle went into a nursing home and my daughter went to college, all the same year, was to look out at the empty seats in the front row where they had all formerly sat, and not have my Mother to wink at before I sang the prayer.

I can honestly say this one prayer was what inspired me to become a Cantor. When I auditioned for Cantorial school, at the Hebrew Union College, I sang it. When I auditioned for my student pulpit in Long Island, I sang it. When I auditioned for my last job in Worcester I sang it. The Rabbi I worked with there said that when I sang Avinu Malkeynu he could see my soul. And then, when I auditioned for B’nai Israel, I sang it.

Music is very powerful. When we hear the special melodies from the High Holy Days, it makes us feel that the holidays are here. The music is special, the holidays are special. What is hard is when we are unable to be with our families anymore at holidays. Luckily, we are all part of the B’nai Israel family, the most wonderful group of people. I hope that all of us receive the comfort from the holidays we seek, renew ourselves and put us in a positive frame of mind for the next upcoming year. And, I hope that the music we sing will inspire all of us.
Cantor Sheri Blum

Share your stories with us - What music moves you? What associations and reflections do some of the High Holyday prayers and melodies have for you?  Let us know by clicking on 'comments' directly below this post, or by mailing to

1 comment:

  1. I will most certainly be hearing this prayer in a very different way this year. Thanks so much for sharing.