I layned this morning at the early minyan. As part of my “continuing improvement program,” I’ve made a commitment to keep up my layning skills and read a parsha whenever feasible. This has to do with the “being useful to the community” or the “use it before I lose it” or the “I can therefore I should” philosophy that I seemed to have picked up when I approached 40. (They say 40 is the new 25. Kreplach! 25 was much better!)
This isn’t as impressive as it sounds, by the way. I volunteered to layn this one because I had layned it in the past. About 27 years in the past, but it was still up there in the recesses of my brain waiting to be reactivated. On Shabbos I went over it 5 or 6 times and felt pretty confident that I had it memorized. And then, when I got up to layn this morning, I got a sudden case of stage-fright.
My pulse quickened, my palms got sweaty, and my voice began to quiver. And with the accompanying nervousness I forgot the trop about halfway through the middle aliyah. Fortunately I was able to fake my way past a few words until I caught the rhythm again and I managed to make it to the end of the reading correctly.
This may seems surprising to you. I know it surprises me. After all, I can get up in front of thousands of people and play bass and sing and I don’t break a sweat. And I can lead the congregation in the normal davening without feeling self conscious or nervous. In fact, I had just done the entire service up until the layning without any difficulty. I didn’t panic until the Torah was rolled open in front of me.
I can’t be sure, but I think it has something to do with being up there on my own, working without a net, as it were. When I’m playing with the band, I’m never alone. I always have my mates up there. So I don’t obsess over making a mistake, forgetting a line of verse, blowing a chord. I know someone will be there to pick up the slack. And when I’m leading the minyan, I have the siddur in front of me, and everything is there, and there’s nothing I need to juggle in my mind. In fact, when I’m leading the service, my mind is totally clear. Unlike when I daven on my own, where my mind is constantly wandering, when I’m up there, I focus only on the words on the page, so as not to get distracted and lose my place.
But with layning…I don’t know. The words are there, but I have to memorize the melody and punctuation and I have this constant fear that I will forget it in the middle, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy as I actually get more and more nervous about it. I realize it’s silly because the guys in the minyan don’t care, and it’s rare that I get totally screwed up, but still….I want to do a good job and I’m finding myself a little lacking here.
This is making me even more determined to keep doing this. I see this as a personal mountain for me, and I know I am capable of climbing it. I’m not talking so much about the layning now. It’s the stage fright. I know I can get over it.