Just as Cantors and cantorial soloists need to hone their skills at nusach (liturgical chant), leading prayer and chanting from the Torah, Songleaders also need to practice their craft regularly.
Songleaders do not perform, although it may look like that a lot of the time.
What we do is facilitate a communal experience for others through the uniting power of song.
We get people to sing together, for fun and pleasure and healing and spirit.
Is that performance? Maybe. And also no. Because when everyone in the room is singing together, we become both singers and the audience all at once.
The planners of Northwest Folklife made community singing their cultural focus at this year's festival, and with good reason.
There is something magical about singing in community.
And when a songleader can convince a roomful of children that their voices lifted in song have the power to move the human spirit to action, that is positively golden.
So yeah, there's a performance aspect to it, I suppose. But what's really happening is less like performance and a lot more like prayer.
And when a roomful of kids sing together, I am in my happy place as a musician and educator.
I've got two more days of this songleading thing here at camp. Each day has brought new and lovely surprises. And while I'll be glad to pack it in and go home after nearly a month away, I'll also miss this happy place -- until the next time I can help to make it happen again.
(Audio clip from MJ Camp 2014: vocal music chug singing the camp song for that year. We still sing it, and the kids still love it.)