Once upon a time I played guitar. Self-taught, mostly, though I took a handful of lessons in fifth grade. In high school I wrote corny songs about the rainforest, and about unrequited love, and played my share of Simon & Garfunkel and Indigo Girls tunes. I did some of that in college, too -- I have fond memories of hanging out in my dorm room with the two first friends I made, singing "Scarborough Fair" in three-part harmony -- but other things came to occupy my attention, and I stopped playing.
This summer I'll be starting DLTI (the Davvenen' Leadership Training Program), a two-year training program in liturgical leadership offered by Aleph at Elat Chayyim. Last summer I was at Elat Chayyim during one of DLTI's training weeks, and the students led all the services: shacharit, mincha, and ma'ariv every day. What they did was awesome (both in the sense of being really cool, and in the sense that means living up to their standards is vaguely terrifying.) Several of them mentioned to me that if one plays an instrument, one should bring it to DLTI and use it in leading services.
Tonight I picked up my guitar again, just for kicks. Once it was in-tune, I found myself playing chords to go with a niggun I learned at Elat Chayyim. And then I thought, you know, if I'm going to try to use this thing at DLTI, maybe I should use it sometime before then. Get myself accustomed to playing in front of a crowd. I wonder if I could use my guitar in shul?
So I went and fetched BeKol Rinah ("With a Joyful Voice", CBI's Shabbat siddur). Mirabile dictu, I can play the chords for almost everything we sing on Shabbat morning! A few prayers seem to me intended to be davvened a cappella. And a few of the things we sing (like the "tzaddik katamar yifrach" section of psalm 92) are tricky for me to play in the range I can sing in. (It's possible I should invest in a capo before I try this. And a guitar strap. And a guitar stand.) But most of the melodies we use work fine with the handful of relatively simple chords I remember.
My shul is perfectly comfortable with instruments -- we have a basket of little tambourines and rattles that we typically use during "Mi Chamocha" and Psalm 150, and the cantorial soloiost we hire during the Days of Awe played guitar last year to great acclaim. I like davvening in a guitar-led service. Leading one would certainly stretch me out of my comfort zone. And it might help prepare me a little bit for DLTI.
Of course, part of me is terrified by the prospect. I'm not sure I can do it, faced with a congregation (even a really small one) and the need to play the right chords quickly enough. But practice would help with that, wouldn't it? And putting the chord changes on post-it notes in my siddur. And it's good to keep growing as a shaliach tzibbur, right?
No promises, mind. But I'm leading services next on the Shabbat of May 6th. Who knows; maybe I'll give it a go...