Happy almost-Chanukah, blogosphere! I don’t really know if anybody is still reading this, but if you are, could you maybe give me a sign? Anything?
“Oh, great. A dog wants me to go to St. Petersburg.”
Anyway. This morning as soon as I opened my eyes–no, wait, that’s not quite accurate. This morning, after I had woken up and promptly gone back to sleep for an hour, I opened my eyes and thought, “Eek! Chanukah starts tomorrow night and I have no Chanukah candles!” So I hopped in my car and went to Target…because from 10 AM to 4 PM (sundown in Chicago, these days) tomorrow I will be rehearsing Christmas music.
Ironic, no? (Though thanks to Alanis Morrissette, I am now very wary of invoking irony in case what I’m referring to is not actually ironic and people are going to rag on me for it every time my song comes on the radio.)
And then I thought about it a little more, and I am fairly certain (though not positive) that I am the only Jewish singer in the professional chorus I’m singing with right now. I always joke about how I learn new Christmas carols every year because I didn’t grow up with them (this year it’s “Riù, Riù, Chiù,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and “In dulci jubilo,” which I always used to confuse with “Giovani liete” from Le Nozze di Figaro).
It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Not really. It’s a job, and if I’m going to go where the work is for singers, I’m going to be singing a huge amount of Christian music. In fact, I’m going to be singing entirely Christian music unless I get a singing gig on the High Holy Days, and since that’s pretty much the only time I go to temple these days, I don’t want to be working. I want to be able to enjoy the service as part of my own observance of Judaism instead of getting paid to be there. But I am perfectly happy to enrich somebody else’s Christmas or Advent or Easter with my talent. Not to mention that there isn’t a whole lot of good Jewish choral music that anybody wants to listen to, especially not for Chanukah (which, let’s face it, is not an important holiday–lovely and special, but not important in the grand scheme of things).
Sometimes I wonder if it should bother me more that I spend so much time singing about Jesus and Mary and the Holy Spirit and everything. Should I feel awkward? Should I feel like a fish out of water? I’m not really sure. After all, do Christian singers feel uncomfortable singing Jewish music? (That is, if Jewish music is actually programmed outside of a synagogue…) When I went back to New York for my grandmother’s funeral a couple years ago, I found myself defending my church job to a lot of my relatives who just couldn’t fathom that a good Jewish girl like me should be in the employ of a church. Nobody ever questions why a Christian singer would want to sing on the High Holy Days (or do they? Enlighten me, friends!).
Maybe one day I’ll decide that I don’t want to sing about Jesus anymore…but that would mean excising some of the most glorious music ever written from my life. It would mean no more Bach, no Christmas Oratorio or St. John Passion, it would mean no Messiah, no Christmas carols, no “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.” And that would be a big loss for me. (P.S. interesting factoid, the Nazis very nearly banned Handel’s Messiah for using texts from the Old Testament, alongside any music by Jewish composers or on Jewish themes. Food for thought.)
It’s an interesting conflict, between music that is stunning beyond all reason and music that celebrates something I don’t believe in. Is it odd that I’ve never wanted to be a cantor (though I did entertain the notion briefly, a few years ago), but I would jump at the chance to sing Bach’s Passions and Handel’s Messiah? Is making money as a singer more important than religious principles? Should I refuse to rehearse or perform on Friday nights and Saturday mornings because I’m Jewish? I think that would be a very swift path to unemployment.
I can’t write off Judaism. But if given a choice between practicing Judaism and working as a singer, I would choose the latter.
But like…this is the most famous Chanukah song out there.
(Which isn’t to say that I don’t know all the words…)
P.S. O.J. Simpson. Not a Jew. But guess who is? Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew. (He converted.)