Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Applying a new approach & the Youth Minyan

So the davening in the NF's local yokel shul got so bad over the past few months that "J", "YS" and the NF decided to take over as gabbaim. In the 5 weeks since taking over, we have prevented small children (alvins) from leading kabblat shabbat and focused on getting the best quality baalei tefilla up there for every tefilla. So far so good ---- but not so much for the Nusachfreak blog. As J pointed out to me, if the NF puts a guy up there and he sucks or does some monkey business leading to a severe gonging, the NF is just as responsible as the Gongee.

So what got so bad and what are we changing?
There are lots of "philosophies/approaches" regarding how to run a shul.
1. There is the perfomance approach --- there is usually a chazzan (and maybe a choir), a professional shamash. Members of this kind of shul, may lead psukei dezimra (and nothing else) and generally don't sing along while the chazzan belts out something long and boring. this works because most members are approaching 90 and can't hear the chazzan without turning their hearing aids way up. Examples: the Great Synagogue (Jerusalem).
2. The all inclusive "Barney" shul. I love you, you love me, we are all part of a damn annoying shul family. We want everyone to feel confortable in our warm and fuzzy shul so we try to get as many people involved in the davening as possible. Serving as a chazzan is kind of like the old "Yo Mama" Joke ---- Yo Mama be like a merry go round, everyone gets a turn.  While in theory the NF is not opposed to this approach, in practice when expanding a sampling of baalei tefilla which includes lots of unknowns, you will end up with davening that, in the best case situation, lacks any umph and in the worst case situation sounds like a bunch of dying cats. It is very hard for a shul to develop a particular style or quality because every week there is something different --- sometimes good sometimes bad and the really good, compentant baalei tephilla only get to daven once in a blue moon because as noted above, everybody needs to have a turn. More often than not, a sub par guy will get up there and run through the davening as fast as possible.
3. Selective participation. In every shul there are those that can, those that can't and those that think they can but can't.  In order to set a tone/style for the shul, the gabbaim create a rota where only those than "can" daven. Of course, one risk insulting the two other groups and particularly those that think they can but can't.

Last year saw the gonging gabbai try to implement more of a Barney shul. However, the real trouble started when the gonging gabbai stepped down and caretaker gabbaim stepped in. Kids davened kabbalat shabbat every friday night ruining any sense of "avirah". "whoever" davened on shabbat morning --- usually off key and thankfully superfast --- and week by week the davening got worse and worse. It was at that point, J, YS and the NF had enough...

We have informally defined a rota of about 13 guys (which akwardly includes, J YS and the NF) and using the selective participation appraoch, the davening has become a lot more enjoyable in the last few weeks. So far the pushback has been limited....

Youth minyan

the concept of the youth minyan is a chutznik concept. For some reason Israelis have this idea that their sons should sit next to them in shul. This, in theory, allows the sons to absorb their fathers' (authentic) nusach. In  practice, if they actaully make it to shul, the teenagers wander the halls rather than sit with their father and if we want to talk about nusach....a) their fathers' nusach is usually awful and b) the kids almost never get a chance to hone their davening skills as chazanim.

A group of teenagers in our shul took it upon themselves to start a youth minyan that starts about an hour after the main far so good. More and more kids are coming and I've heard from a number of parents that their kids are actaully excited to come to shul.  The NF has gone up to the classroom where the kids are davening to fetch the sefer torah and put it back in the aron in the main minyan...suprisingly, its a pretty serious minyan. no fart jokes. very little talking, and generally good decorum (another sign they have not learned anyhting from sitting with their fathers). Of course, given that the teenagers in our shul are all tone deaf, the davening sounds like a group of sea otters begging for herring but I guess you can't have it all.

the NF's question: For those of you that went to youth minyanim growing up, how did you learn to daven? by hearing the guy next to you? Or were you taught by the minyan madrich (or from tapes)?


ChadashAsur said...

Enter the long dark gentrification of your minyan. When the A's are older you can tell them how much fun it used to be before the Brave New World scientific approach.

Joshua Josephs said...

Dear Nusach Freak,
I am a self taught Baal Tefillah and the founder of the teen minyan at my shul Beth Tfiloh of Baltimore. We have in the main Minyan an excellent Chazzan Avi Albrecht.
The way I learned was as follows.

1) Obtain tapes of the davening without any tune but with the best Hebrew pronunciation one can including proper notation of where commas and periods are. A good readable siddur helps in this regard.

2) Obtain tapes or CDs of the basic nusach modes for Shabbos and Yom Tov which are the easiest to master. Work on mastery of the nusach.

3) Obtain tapes of the classic tunes used for certain special songs such as Be Ana Rachetz, Atah VChartanu, Vshamru etc.

4) Practice as much as possible, preferably being listened to by someone who is better or at least as skilled in Hebrew. This is necessary since of course the first consideration is accuracy, then tunes.

Joshua Josephs

Zvika said...

I was an active member of the Youth Minyan in Atlanta and later ran it for a couple of years.

I was taught by an Israeli Chazzan/Ba'al Tefillah. I recognize I have a lousy singing voice so I don't daven, although I do know the Nusach quite well. I am a Ba'al Koreh instead (and known to be a high caliber one as well, even though I insist otherwise).

I've taught both layning and davening and I think it's essential that the teacher have minimally a good grasp of Hebrew and not be tone deaf. For davening, I agree with Joshua, but add the caveat that the teacher can't be tone deaf. However, for layning it's better to teach the student how to layn and not just the parsha.

the NF said...

Thanks for your inputs Joshua and Zvika -
In Israel --- at least in thoery --- you don't have to teach the kids good dikduk. In practice, the kids mumble and race through slurring thier words. As for melodies, there seems to be this notion (used in all walks of life here in Israel) that everythign can be picked up (chafifnik style) along the way. Unfortunetly, that means the kids pick up mistakes along the way as well. At least one English guy told me that he learned to daven by hearing others (and he is an excellent baal tefilla). For some reason there is a loss of hesitance amongst the kid-chazzanim and their fathers to learn it from a teacher/cds/tapes etc.
personally, I learned off of tapes and from teh chazzan of our shul.