I cannot remember a time when singing was not a major theme in my life. As a child, I could repeat every jingle and theme song that played on our small black-and-white TV set. My parents were proud of my talent and decided that I should be given piano lessons to expand my musical horizons. Sadly, my six-year-old self was more interested in succeeding Willie Mays as the center fielder of the New York Giants than he was in becoming the next Mozart. After a few months of seeing me practice only on the day of my lesson (and grudgingly at that), my parents stopped the lessons; singing Chevrolet ads with Dinah Shore would have to suffice. In school I joined the chorus as soon as I could (fourth grade) and relished belting out such classics as “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal”. In junior high and high school, the music became more sophisticated, and chorus was my favorite period of the day. I was in the glee club throughout my college years, and even earned $5 a week for singing in the university’s chapel choir on Sundays. I took a one-year hiatus when I started my teaching career, but then returned as a second tenor in the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia (of which I have been a member for fifty-one glorious seasons).
This season has been one like no other, however. Last spring I was having trouble swallowing, and after many tests the ENT diagnosed my condition as an enlarged thyroid gland. In late July I was scheduled to have the right lobe removed; however, when my doctor began the procedure, she saw something that she didn’t like. A pathologist who was called in to consult confirmed that there was a problem and took some tissue samples; later that day, I found out that the samples were malignant. Fortunately, my type of lymphoma is quite common and has responded well to treatment. Some nine months and six infusions later, my oncologist has declared me “basically in remission” and almost all of the side effects from chemo have subsided. I was cleared to return to my synagogue choir a month ago, since all were required to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask during rehearsals. I began singing with my Philadelphia chorus two weeks ago, and plan to sing the final concert of the year in mid-May.
How do I sound after not having sung for many months? It’s difficult to know, since my voice is coming through an NK95 mask. Some of the high notes which had abandoned me during my fight against cancer have come back, although their tone quality may not be as lovely as I would like. My vocal stamina will need to improve and my sightreading could use some work, but both concerns pale in significance to the fact that I am with my friends of several decades, singing my heart out in praise and gratitude. Since my college days I have seldom felt closer to God than when I am singing great music in the company of like-minded friends. Even when the music is less than inspiring, I remind myself that I am fortunate merely to be at rehearsal and participate. In my mind I can hear the Shehechianu: “Blessed is Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this glorious day”. May the tune and message stay with me until I can sing no more.
Mark Pinzur taught math in both Cherry Hill high schools for 35 years before moving to teaching positions at LEAP Academy in Camden, Burlington County College, and Doane Academy. He has also taught “Mental Aerobics”, crossword classes, and music appreciation at the JCC for several years. He is currently President of the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia (with which he has sung for 51 seasons) and Board Chairman of the Moorestown Theater Company, as well as a singer in the choir of M’kor Shalom. He lives with his wife Maxine in Cherry Hill, and is very proud of his children, Emily, a social worker and end-of-life doula, and David, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics.