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Career Overview: Leads prayers in a synagogue or temple, teaches music, pastoral duties.
Career Salary Range: $25,000 to $80,000
Become a Cantor
The Cantor’s main responsibility is to present liturgical music that assists in clarifying prayers and studies in a temple or synagogue. This music enhances the religious experience of the worshippers, as the Cantor leads the congregation in prayer during services. The Cantor must have a melodic voice that can be clearly heard above everyone else’s. In addition to presenting music, the Cantor may teach music in the synagogue’s school, and might even teach various courses in the synagogue’s adult education classes. A main teaching responsibility of the Cantor is to prepare children for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah events, teaching them how to sing and chant properly. If the temple has a choir, the Cantor will lead the choir and supervise rehearsals, etc.
For the Cantor, special attention is given to the Jewish holiday services. Any musical activity that occurs in the synagogue becomes the Cantor’s responsibility. Essentially, the Cantor is the minister of his or her faith, and while their job is structured by Sabbath worship services, Cantors maintain schedules that will also give them time for additional religion and music study. The Cantor works closely with the congregation’s Rabbi, and at times, the Cantor will be involved in pastoral duties. These duties include visiting sick congregation members, and comforting those members who are in mourning. He or she might also preside over weddings and funerals, along with regular weekly services and holidays.
Before officially becoming a Cantor, individuals may select certain branches of Judaism, like the Reform branch, the Conservative branch, or the Orthodox branch. Depending on which branch one chooses, training varies slightly. Regardless of the size of the congregation, Cantors are public figures in the community, and will be asked to serve on community boards and speak at functions.
An option for a Cantor as they progress in their career is to become a Concert Artist, where they would sing liturgical music at local functions or even full-scale concerts.
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Cantors earn different amounts, based on synagogue location and size. All things considered, salaries usually range from $25,000 to $80,000 or more per year. It is also common for Cantors to receive living allowances, and they may have an opportunity to earn additional income from concert performances.
Employment prospects for Cantors can be described as excellent, due to the shortage of qualified individuals to fill these types of positions. As mentioned, Cantors may work with various branches, including Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox congregations.
Those Cantors who have experience can move into positions with larger synagogues or temples. Those who are great singers can guest Cantor for special services or perform Jewish music concerts.
Education and Training
In order to become a trained Cantor, one must attend one of a limited number of schools and music colleges (music colleges list here) available to prepare aspiring Cantors. Schools might offer the chance to become a Cantor in the Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox branch of the religion – typical length of study ranges from 3 to 5 years. Upon finishing their coursework, individuals receive diplomas certifying them as a Cantor or Hazan.
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Experience, Skills, and Personality
As mentioned, aspiring Cantors must possess a cultured, loud voice, while maintaining knowledge of Hebrew and all Hebraic disciplines. They need to be able to accurately read the Torah, and must have a deep musical knowledge – the ability to play an instrument is a plus. Aspiring Cantors usually participate in a variety of functions at the synagogue, while taking part in different Jewish youth groups and junior congregational services.
Unions and Associations
The Cantor may belong to different organizations, including the Jewish Ministers Cantors’ Association of America (JMCA), the American Conference of Cantors, Cantors Assembly, OHALAH, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Figure out what branch of Judaism you want to study and talk to a Cantor, asking questions you have about the occupation.
- The B’nai B’rith Vocational Service can counsel you for a career as a Cantor.
- Check out the college of your choice for financial assistance, scholarships, etc. if you need help financially. Additionally, there are local community groups and synagogues that might extend financial help. Music Universities can also be helpful.
- Cantorial students can look for part-time Cantorial positions in synagogues, temples, or schools.