This past Shabbos, the Wolfish family attended a Bar Mitzvah. It was a very nice simcha and we had a good time. Going to a different shul for shabbos actually gave me an rare opportunity to listen to someone else lain the entire parsha.
The ba'al kriah at the shul we went to was a fifteen year old kid (the bar mitzvah boy didn't lain the parsha). He had poise and wasn't afraid to be loud enough to be heard -- a common failing of young ba'alei kriah. One thing he didn't have going for him, however, was experience.
As a ba'al kriah, I've often found that the hardest portions to lain were those that had repeating passages, but with minor variations in each iteration. For example, consider the Nesi'im in Parshas Naso. There, the same set of verses is lained over 12 times, with the only changes being the names of the tribes and the leaders. Otherwise, they're all identical* in terms of wording and trup. That makes it fairly easy for a ba'al kirah.
However, in Pinchas, there are two sets of parshiyos where there are multiple iterations of a similar theme, but with enough difference between each iteration that, if you're not very careful, you can easily get mixed up. That, sadly, is what happened to this ba'al kriah this past Shabbos. He made a fair number of mistakes that would likely not have been made in a straight narrative portion.
As he was struggling his way through the parsha, I understood very well what he was going through. After all, I was him twenty-five years ago. When I was his age, I made the very same types of mistakes. I had similarly disastrous readings. So, I knew very well what he was going through. Listening to him was, in some ways, kind of like listening to myself lain many years ago.
Of course, over the years, I've gotten somewhat better at laining. Thank God, I no longer have weeks like he did. That's not to say that I never make mistakes -- of course I do -- but I haven't made as many as he did in one week in a loooong time.
After davening, I took some time to talk to the kid. I told him that I thought he did pretty well but that he could clearly use some improvement. But I also told him that I'm fairly good at it now and that, at one time, I was at his level of skill (and had weeks like he just had) and that, with hard work, perseverance and experience, he would get much, much better. I think the kid has a future in the field.
* Yes, I'm aware the first two are *slightly* different.