The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor
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The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor


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205 pages

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Modernity and tradition in the training of American Jewish cantors

The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor provides an unprecedented look into the meaning of attaining musical authority among American Reform Jews at the turn of the 21st century. How do aspiring cantors adapt traditional musical forms to the practices of contemporary American congregations? What is the cantor's role in American Jewish religious life today? Cohen follows cantorial students at the School of Sacred Music, Hebrew Union College, over the course of their training, as they prepare to become modern Jewish musical leaders. Opening a window on the practical, social, and cultural aspects of aspiring to musical authority, this book provides unusual insights into issues of musical tradition, identity, gender, community, and high and low musical culture.

Acknowledgments and Attributions
Note on Transliteration
Introduction: A Moment of Transformation
1. To Fashion a Cantor
2. Seeking the Tradition
3. Constructing a Tradition
4. Through the Prism of the Practicum
5. A Prism of Cantorial Sound
6. A Prism of Cantorial Identity
Conclusion: Cantors in Israel and the Structure of Musical Authority
Appendix A: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Pronunciation Table
Appendix B: URJ Transliteration Guidelines and Master Word List
List of Selections on Compact Disc



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Date de parution 20 septembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253045485
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor
The Making
Reform Jewish Cantor
Musical Authority, Cultural Investment

Judah M. Cohen
Published with the generous support of the Helen B. Schwartz Fund for New Scholarship in Jewish Studies of The Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, Indiana University
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405 USA
First paperback edition 2019
2009 by Judah M. Cohen
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
The Library of Congress has catalogued the original edition as follows:
Cohen, Judah M.
The making of a Reform Jewish cantor : musical authority, cultural investment / Judah M. Cohen.
p. cm.-(A Helen B. Schwartz book in Jewish studies)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-253-35365-8 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. New York Campus. School of Sacred Music. 2. Cantillation-Instruction and study. 3. Cantors (Judaism)-Education. 4. Reform Judaism. I. Title. MT4.N5H439 2009 296.4 62-dc22
ISBN 978-0-253-04549-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-253-04547-8 (e-book)
1 2 3 4 5 24 23 22 21 20 19
For Rebecca, who has known the project from the start, and Rena (b. 2006), who witnessed its completion.
Acknowledgments and Attributions
Note on Transliteration and Transcription
INTRODUCTION : A Moment of Transformation
1. To Fashion a Cantor
2. Seeking the Tradition
3. Constructing a Tradition
4. Through the Prism of the Practicum
5. A Prism of Cantorial Sound
6. A Prism of Cantorial Identity
CONCLUSION : Cantors in Israel and the Structure of Musical Authority
Appendix A: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Pronunciation Table
Appendix B: Notes on Audiovisual Materials
Acknowledgments and Attributions
As with any major undertaking, a book never results solely from the work of a single person. What appears on these pages (and accompanying materials) resulted from a lucky and benevolent confluence of individuals, all of whom devoted time and effort to see this project through. Without them, this work would have remained merely an intellectual adventure.
Kay Kaufman Shelemay guided my years of research with a steady hand and unending support. Her constant, positive involvement over the past years has influenced every page of this work. Thomas F. Kelly and Richard K. Wolf provided valuable and detailed comments, giving me the pleasure of mulling over my topic in numerous thoughtful and interesting ways.
In the field, I found a mentor, colleague, research associate, site advisor and academic sibling in Mark Kligman, who enthusiastically took me under his wing as I started exploring ideas about Jewish music in New York City. His insights, as a fellow Jewish music scholar, and as Hebrew Union College s resident ethnomusicologist, have been invaluable to my understanding of the School of Sacred Music and its environment. He has opened many doors for me, both in my research and in the professional academic world.
I am grateful to Cantor Bruce Ruben, the current director of the School of Sacred Music, for generously sharing of his own researches and resources on the School of Sacred Music s history. Dr. Gary Zola and Eleanor Lawhorn, at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, also provided enthusiastic assistance in helping me locate and access material on this and several other fronts.
For facilitating my fieldwork in Israel, I owe much gratitude to Cantor Eliyahu Schleifer and Rabbis Michael Marmur and Shaul Feinberg. They graciously granted my requests to spend time at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Jerusalem, and let me sit in on classes, record religious events, and take part in every facet of campus life. Eliezer and Chava Shaykevitz, distant relatives but close friends, opened their home and offered to serve as my embassy as I learned to function within a new environment.
In New York, Cantor Israel Goldstein, director of the School of Sacred Music during my research, looked kindly on my project and took a chance by allowing a stranger into School life with little introduction. Thank you also to Cantors Robert Abelson, Richard Botton, Andrew Edison, Martha Novick, David Lefkowitz, Jacob Mendelson, Noah Schall, Benjie Ellen Schiller and Faith Steinsnyder-all master cantors and first rate mentors, who became my teachers in more ways than they know. Joyce Rosenzweig and Allen Sever, both extraordinary musicians, were equally helpful in their interest and assistance with my research.
My wife Rebecca has been a fellow traveler on this journey, constantly serving as a model of efficiency for me to follow. Thank you for your love, your companionship, your welcome distractions and your encouragement-not to mention your patience and insight into my theoretical rantings. Our daughter Rena, born in 2006, napped diligently as I worked on completing this book, and was probably keenly aware of my attempts to puzzle out another phrase or paragraph in my head as we played in the park or watched Sesame Street together.
My parents, Richard and Treasure Cohen cultivated in me the inquisitive, enthusiastic and deep-thinking spirit that led me to this pursuit, and continued to challenge me all the way through the process. Their support and love over the years instilled in me the confidence to strike out on my own path, even in the face of difficult times and long odds. Thank you also to Stanley and Edna Nash, who not only had enough faith in me to let me marry their daughter, but also have been supportive and caring in-laws, rejoicing in my successes and counseling me in times of hardship.
For helping to fund my research and travel, I am grateful to have received a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, a John Knowles Paine Travelling Fellowship, and an Edward H. Kavinoky Summer Fellowship. Early in the writing stage, fellowships from the Whiting Foundation and Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture offered important support, allowing me to pursue my endeavors full time; and summer faculty fellowships from Indiana University allowed me to concentrate on completing my manuscript. At the publication stage, I received generous assistance from the Helen B. Schwartz Fund for New Scholarship in Jewish Studies and the Faculty Fund of the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program.
I am also grateful to my music and Jewish studies colleagues at New York University and Indiana University, including my compatriots in NYU s Working Group on Jews and Media (especially its conveners, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Jeffrey Shandler). They all have given me the gift of a rich intellectual environment in which I could continue my work over the past six years. Both directly and indirectly, their conversations have helped shape my ideas for this and many future projects.
Janet Rabinowitch, my editor at the Indiana University Press, has been a steady force in moving this project along. Thank you also to Katherine Baber and Brian Herrmann, whose able hands and organizational prowess helped this manuscript (and this author) negotiate the complex publication process. Ruth Stone and Alan Burdette, moreover, have been instrumental in encouraging me to extend this project beyond the written word; as part of a connected initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, I have been able to deposit and notate video relating to this book in the Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis Digital Archive (EVIADA). I am grateful to Indiana University Press for its support of this new direction, which has rich implications for the future; users can access my material via a link on the IU Press website.
Most importantly, I wish to thank the School of Sacred Music graduating classes of 2000-2003, whose members graciously included me in so many of their activities, somehow managed to fit long interviews into their insanely busy schedules, and generously allowed me to record and observe their every move throughout the educational process: David, Margaret, Jonathan, Brad, Ilana, Amy, David, Daniel, Sergei, Diane, Michel, Susan, Rosalie, Lisa, Rebecca, Hollis, Wendy, Kari, Jeff, Seth, Alison, Jason, Jill, Larisa, Adina, Kim, Regina, Erin, Miriam, Sally, Galina, Tanya, Gabi, Mark, David, Jeff, Tracey, Kerith, Rosalie, Irena, and Leon. Their voices serve as the heart of this work, and their active engagement with this project as students, and later as established professionals, has been the greatest gift a researcher could have. Throughout, they trusted me with their personal opinions, aspirations, and concerns about the cantorial training process, and allowed me to be a part of their lives. I can only hope that I have given their words, and their experiences of cantorial training, justice.
Writing about the lives of developing musical figures holds significant challenge, particularly when, years later, those same people become prominent public authorities and representatives of their art. Few people are comfortable having others chronicle their formative experiences. I therefore offer my gratitude to a community that has endowed me with the generosity and trust to do just that. At the same time, in order to honor that trust, I have given my research associates the option to be quoted anonymously. This approach, I feel, still allows the reader an intimate view into the communal musical training experience, while acknowledging that opening such a window entails a great deal of sensitivity. In addition, I hasten to remind the reader that the personal quotations I include in this book represent a community s thoughts during a formative time period, in a specific (often insular) environment, and at an early stage of professional development. They appear in the rough : as transcribed speech, with minimal embellishment, in order to remain as true as possible to the moment and circumstances in which they were expressed. I take full responsibility for any inaccurate or misleading contexts in which they appear.
Note on Transliteration and Transcription
The Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music exists within the world of American Reform Judaism. Thus, with the exception of citations from other works, I will transliterate Hebrew terms according to the Union for Reform Judaism s own style sheet, the URJ Transliteration Guidelines and Master Word List (Corman and Person, 2005). This approach reflects the practices of the URJ Press (the publications arm of the Union for Reform Judaism), and consequently serves as the normative means by which the School of Sacred Music community represents Hebrew in English characters.
The written musical examples in this book appear in the same spirit. As an ethnomusicologist, I recognize the challenges inherent in giving sound a written form. Scholars who study music in other communities often shy away from using standard Western notation, since such an approach too often disregards the significance of local musical thinking processes. The cantor s world has similar considerations: cantorial practice has long been seen as a phenomenon that entered the Western sphere with the modern era, and eventually translated itself onto the Western musical staff. Students and instructors at the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music have come to this legacy by relying heavily on oral transmission, while simultaneously valuing Western notation as a common currency for learning, distributing, and analyzing musical phenomena. I have attempted to follow a similar path in this book. Nearly all the musical examples I discuss appear on the accompanying compact disc. In addition, however, I have transcribed several selections in Western notation for closer analysis and consideration in a way that reflects the community s musical thought processes. In a few cases I also use notation to reproduce abstract musical concepts developed within the Jewish musical world itself. By taking this approach, I hope to provide both a representation of the sounds produced within the American cantorate, and a sensitized consideration of what it means for cantors and cantorial students to make those sounds.
The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor
Introduction: A Moment of Transformation
[W]hen my turn came, standing in front of [the President of Hebrew Union College] and lookin in [his] eyes, and when he said [ Are you up to the task of this? ] to me, and I just kept nodding like: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I felt certain about it.
There was something transcendent about the whole experience I think it will really stay with me. I mean I was thinking: Not everybody can be clergy. You are privileged. This is a real honor. And I remember thinking: Yeah, graduate and undergraduate graduation was special. But this, this is something different. This is a transformation.
-D. Yomtov, May 22, 2000
Sunday morning, May 21, 2000. The huge expanse of the sanctuary at Temple Emanu-El of the City of New York provided a grand resonating space for the pipe organ that signaled the start of the academic procession. From a curtained loft hidden high above the pulpit, a choir of students and faculty from the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music began to sing. And then, on cue, the graduating class of rabbinic and cantorial students from the New York campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion processed in from the back of the sanctuary. Baruch HaBa B Shem Adonai, the choir intoned in a setting by British composer Stephen Glass: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God! Families and friends of the graduates stood in the pews on either side of the processional aisle, watching as the black-robed graduates strode toward the pulpit. Instructors and honored guests followed, several in full academic regalia. As they marched, the organist progressed through a succession of majestic compositions by both Jewish and non-Jewish composers. 1 Those officiating at the ceremony took their spots on the pulpit, while the graduates found seats in the front pews. When the procession finished, the organist found an appropriate place in the music to end, and slowed to a satisfying conclusion. The echoes trailed off.
From my place in the side balcony, I could differentiate between the degree candidates in each program with relative ease. Nearly all the twenty-eight rabbinic candidates had prayer shawls ( tallitot ) draped over their graduation robes, presumably to denote the spiritual gravity of their anticipated leadership positions. Of the ten cantorial candidates, in contrast, only three wore tallitot; the rest, to signify their completion of the Master of Sacred Music degree, wore pink master s cowls. 2 Such attire offered a symbolic window upon the students expectations as together they commenced a Service of Ordination and Investiture, the ritual by which they would gain official status as religious leaders in American Reform Judaism (Service 2000).
The service, led by rabbinic and cantorial faculty from Hebrew Union College, differed significantly from the standard Jewish prayer ritual. Instead of moving through the normative parts of the Jewish liturgy, those gathered progressed through a series of readings, addresses and musical selections, all based around the ceremony s chosen theme of Light. Written specifically for the occasion by a designated committee from the graduating class, and issued in booklet form to the graduates and attendees, the service outlined an emotional ascent, leading the congregation on a spiritual journey that would broadcast and reinforce Hebrew Union College s values while adding meaning to the graduates impending titles. Participants recited lines emphasizing their devotion to Jewish history and teachings, heard cantorial and choral music setting key religious texts, and listened to warm greetings from Reform Judaism s national leadership.
Once the preliminary prayers ended, the graduates rose, turned around to face the congregation, and intoned a responsive reading thanking family, friends and teachers for their roles in helping them reach this day. The faculty of the Hebrew Union College, seated right behind the graduating candidates, symbolically accepted their students imminent transitions into colleagues by completing the reading, as they declared together: Arise, shine, for your light has come (Service 2000: 6). With all but the final step completed, the graduates resumed their seats in the pews, silent in anticipation. The President and spiritual leader of Hebrew Union College rose from his place on the pulpit, came to the front of the raised platform, briefly addressed the assembly on the meaning of the graduates new responsibilities, and then commenced the annual ritual of Investiture and Ordination.
The President, alone, walked toward the back of the pulpit, climbing several steps to reach an imposing and majestic holy ark-the holding place for the synagogue s Torahs, and the spiritual center of the sanctuary. He slid open the doors to reveal a number of ornately dressed Torah scrolls in a brightly lit vertical compartment. He bowed his head in silence for about a minute. Then he turned and descended the steps, ready to commence.
The cantorial students received their spiritual sanction first. Rising from their seats as a group, the graduates prepared for investiture, a process titled intentionally to express both similarity to and difference from rabbinic ordination. 3
Cantor Israel Goldstein, Director of the School of Sacred Music, came to the reader s desk at the front of the pulpit. Using a formal and tradition-laden term for cantor, he ceremoniously presented to the President the members of the graduating cantorial class, who are to be invested as chazanim in Israel. 4 Goldstein called the candidates up by name, one by one-first in Hebrew, then in English. As each mounted the steps on the right side of the pulpit, the organist began playing music specifically requested by the student. Their choices ranged from Franz Schubert s An die Musik (1817) to a selection from Ernest Bloch s Sacred Service (1930-1933), to a setting of Czech composer Ilse Weber s Holocaust-era song Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt. Wafting softly throughout the entire sanctuary, the music reflected an intensely personal sonic environment. Only the cantorial students, their teachers, and their close friends and relatives could understand the meaning of what might otherwise have been construed as generic background sound.
Once on the pulpit, each student walked over to the President, who in turn led him or her by the hand up the steps to face the open ark. When they arrived, the two turned to each other, and the President placed his hands on the student s shoulders. A larger than life and deeply intimate moment unfolded: even with the entire congregation witnessing the proceedings, students recalled the moment afterward with little memory beyond their immediate surroundings. Standing as if in tableau, the President spoke softly to the candidate, his words masked by the organ music.
For about forty-five seconds, the President and student maintained their silhouetted pose; perhaps during this time the candidate would nod his or her head minutely. Then the President turned his hands upward, firmly but tenderly holding the base of the student s head. After around half a minute, he leaned forward, touching foreheads with the candidate. About fifteen seconds later they broke the tableau and embraced. The President led the newly invested cantor back down the stairs, where Goldstein, waiting, gave the graduate a diploma and a warm handshake. The new cantor would cross to the left side of the pulpit and descend back down to the floor level as the next candidate came up.
Several students returned to their seats in tears. Others openly showed a mix of gravitas and revelation, dwelling in the spiritual moment. Several hugged each other upon returning to the pew, having reached the final stage of a long journey.
All had been transformed. Culminating at least four years of intense study, they had gained the right to call themselves invested cantors, with all the responsibilities the title entailed. Together they had been embraced by the College-and, by extension, the Reform movement-as official representatives of the musical traditions of the Jewish people.
At a reception held afterward in the basement of an Upper East Side synagogue, family, friends, former instructors and current cantorial students congratulated the new School of Sacred Music graduates, proudly calling them by their long-awaited title of Cantor. It was a sign of respect, admiration, and accomplishment.
In the following years, these new cantors would explore the meaning of their spiritual labors. They would use their training to lead religious services, instruct congregants, and perform pastoral duties at the synagogues and other organizations that employed them. They would also build reputations as authorities on Jewish music through local concert appearances, special synagogue presentations, and performances of original, Jewish-themed works. Throughout, they would address questions first introduced during their years at the School of Sacred Music: What did it mean to be a vessel of Jewish music, particularly in a society that, they frequently found, held different ideas about the sounds of Judaism than what they had learned? How did their training prepare them for careers as pastoral leaders within liberal Jewish life? And perhaps most significantly, What had they become after their time at the School of Sacred Music?
In this book, I intend to explore that musical becoming-the process by which students learned, internalized, and then assumed the knowledge and abilities necessary to become communal, recognized, musical authorities.
Ethnomusicologists have long looked to musical authorities as crucial sources for understanding musical cultures: they have studied with them, marking musical growth under their tutelage as key parts of the participant observation process; and they have often used the knowledge and opinions obtained from these authorities as lenses for evaluating broader questions of musical style, structure, and social activity. Yet despite their centrality to the concerns of ethnomusicology, musical authorities have received relatively little critical scrutiny as figures who themselves had to undergo their own forms of musical transformation. Fieldworkers treated them as idols of sorts: the faces of musical practice, active symbols of musical tradition (often in opposition to modernity, external political and financial influence, or commercialism), and gatekeepers of musical knowledge. Ethnomusicology s major figures included them prominently in their conceptions of the field: Alan Merriam devoted an entire chapter of his seminal 1964 book The Anthropology of Music to establishing these authorities as specialists (1964: 123-144), and Mantle Hood, in his textbook The Ethnomusicologist , emphasized finding and working intensively with teachers as a first priority for fieldworkers (1982[1971]: 212, 230-246). Important as such interactions became to fostering cultural and musical understanding, however, they also created spaces of ethical ambivalence, particularly if the musical authority s status came to be seen a cultural variable in itself. After all, according to what standards did a musical authority come into being in the first place? Questions of how such authorities gained their stature all too frequently fell outside a research project s analytical frame, receiving at best anecdotal treatment, and taking a necessary back seat to inquiries about less sensitive (and potentially less self-undermining) areas of musical tradition and style.
In this book I aim to take a deeper look into the creation of musical authority by scrutinizing the process by which one such figure, the Reform Jewish cantor, gains identity and prestige. Musical leaders do not simply come into the world-they must undergo extensive periods of training and transformation to develop specialized skills, gain a social network, and fall in line with a sense of historical expectation, all while displaying the ability, the spiritual resolve, the personal tenacity, and the talent (or a similar intangible factor) to achieve some form of success. The process often requires those who seek authority to dwell in a state of vulnerability, where they can change their habits, their beliefs, their techniques and their philosophies on the whim of a comment in order to satisfy an instructor. Yet they must also make their own choices throughout, and take on challenges of increasing complexity. From the first identification of potential, to the opening stages of initiation, to entrance into an accepted educational framework, to rigorous and complex negotiations of identity, to successive tiers of achievement and skill, and finally to the completion of the training process, students enter into relationships with one or many instructors under the presumption that after sufficient time and practice, they will cross the threshold from disciples to colleagues. The path toward musical authority therefore involves not just a reciprocal commitment from other authorities, but also the students investment in an uncertain but hoped-for future.
The training process toward musical leadership thus outlines a broad spectrum of variables. Becoming a musical leader requires an individual to adopt some notion of a longstanding tradition; but it also requires student and teacher to mediate, refine, redefine, and challenge that tradition throughout a prolonged process of transformation. The centralized and esoteric nature of the training process keeps much of the tradition insulated from broader cultural activity and public opinion; musical leadership, however, also relies on a public trust built by meaningfully presenting that tradition to the broader community. Any changes to repertoire, technique, and style happen under the watch of accepted practitioners, and hold greater meaning than the practices of musical outsiders; yet musical outsiders have often compelled musical authorities to reconsider their aesthetic values to maintain relevance in their communities. As understandings of the tradition inevitably shift over time, the learning process and its associated collective of practitioners become key factors in keeping it specialized, distinct, and intact; and yet the learning process also brings new people, new ideas, and new forms of flexibility into the tradition.
Several scholars have addressed the complex subject of musical training and the attainment of musical authority. Benjamin Brinner, for instance, described the idea of attaining what he called musical competence as:
individualized mastery of the array of interrelated skills and knowledge that is required of musicians within a particular tradition or musical community and is acquired and developed in response to and in accordance with the demands and possibilities of general and specific cultural, social and musical conditions. (Brinner 1995: 28; italics inverse of original)
Brinner, in exploring the components of musical authority, detailed a model for knowing music, denoting domains such as sound quality and symbolic representation as skills that required specific attention (40-41); he suggested ways by which musicians within a specialized culture achieved individual competence within a varied system (74-86); and he proposed a theory for acquiring competence that incorporated a wide range of skills based on age, education, and association, the latter of which he described as the many forms of interpersonal contact that initially shape and continue to alter a musician s knowledge (110, 113). Brinner s complex, comprehensive, and thought-provoking system combined accounts combed from other ethnomusicological studies with his own observations and interviews, while also recognizing the significant body of scholarship on music education (110-132). Yet the literature and his experience among Javanese gamelan musicians still led to a necessarily unfinished view of the process. Attaining musical competence, Brinner noted, required a great deal of time; and the varied ages of those who pursue it, and the multi-sited and multi-systemed nature of the learning process, made a truly comprehensive account difficult to document firsthand. Brinner s caveats spoke to the limitations of ethnomusicological fieldwork, where projects tended more toward months-long snapshots of musical systems, and where extended, multi-year narratives often depend upon oral histories rather than continuous observation (110-111ff.). From within these limitations, however, Brinner extracted a textured, cross-cultural framework for understanding how musical specialists acquired their skills. His focus on the progression and pace, processes and methods, agents, context, and means of acquisition in musical training (115) offered an important structure for considering the sonic and social conditions by which people assumed musical roles in society.
Complementing Brinner s ideas, Kay Kaufman Shelemay s briefer study of Ethiopian Christian prayer leaders ( d bt ras ) offered perspectives on musical figures through a religious lens (Shelemay 1992). As Shelemay noted, d bt ras roles included musical ability as a defining skill, and local descriptions often pegged them as musical leaders; but d bt ras also served as examples of how [t]he world and praxis of musicians often extend beyond musical performance into other realms (1992: 256). Trained in churches and monasteries through repetitive memorization of text and chant patterns, d bt ras produced sound predominantly within a religious context. The d bt ra s status as religious musical authority, however, also allowed him to be a general officiant, and opened up additional spiritual opportunities such as healing ceremonies that went beyond purely musical training (254-56). Shelemay s descriptions thus highlighted key issues about the way religious musical leaders integrated their sonic and spiritual responsibilities, particularly when seen from outside a strictly musical perspective.
Brinner and Shelemay moved the framework for understanding musical becoming from a predominantly socio-mechanical one to a more self-determined (or emic ) transformational one, bringing technical and social development together with personal investment and phenomenology. Ethnomusicology has much to offer on this topic; but many of the most vibrant examples come from accounts of how researchers themselves became transformed through their musical experiences. Early ethnographers prided themselves in their efforts to see through the eyes of the people they studied, partly as way to reinforce an authoritarian point of view. 5 By the 1950s, as ethnomusicology began to establish itself as an academic field in the United States, Mantle Hood and others promoted a somewhat less presumptuous version of this approach. Understanding a musical culture, in their eyes, meant encouraging students to experience a community s music from within, often before embarking upon any other form of social research. Hood s approach gave young fieldworkers the opportunity to acquire musical competence firsthand, while promoting facility in a second musical language as a form of currency within the discipline (1960). Students time with local instructors helped them understand more authentic forms of musical transmission; and upon their return from the field, the relationships they forged, combined with their musical experiences, would be so deep as to render them potential teachers of the tradition themselves. Institutions of higher education, perhaps inspired by Hood s world music ensemble activities at UCLA, increasingly began hiring ethnomusicologists to lead performing groups in their specialty areas, likely as a way to enhance the international flavor of campus and community life (Trimillos 2004: 24-25). 6 These activities positioned ethnomusicologists, at least in the public eye, as ambassadors (or at least local consuls) for cultures to which they only equivocally belong (Sol s 2004: 12) and practitioners of the musical traditions they studied.
As musical ethnography began to shift in the 1970s and 1980s from a method based on objective reportage to a more reflexive form of expression, ethnomusicologists increasingly began to add personal thoughts and feelings about the fieldwork process into their publications. 7 First person accounts would reinforce the subjectivity of the fieldworker s gaze in portraying cultural activities. Ethnomusicologists, as a result, could no longer appear as a neutral presence in the communities they studied. Instead, increasing numbers of researchers portrayed themselves as actors in a more complex model of cultural interaction. Acquiring musical skill, in this light, became a site of ambivalence, striking directly at the ethnomusicologist s sense of legitimacy as a representative of an Other s musical culture. 8
One of the most dramatic and effective attempts to document this ambivalence appeared in Michael Bakan s stirring, nearly novelistic account of his own experiences as a student of Balinese gamelan beleganjur drumming (Bakan 1999: 279-333). In an extended narrative, Bakan described in detail his several month relationship with his drumming teacher, the educational models he and his teacher employed in imparting musical information, and the issues he faced as an American trying to internalize an art form far more commonly taught to other Balinese. What distinguished Bakan s narrative from other similar descriptions of music learning in the literature (see, for example, Berliner 1979) was the intense scrutiny he placed upon the phenomenological process of becoming a beleganjur drummer. Amid all his ruminations and discussions of educational and cultural difference between himself and the Balinese, Bakan described continually improving at his craft-in fits and starts, and by working through several setbacks. The most substantial moments of realization, which he framed as tuning-in experiences (316), somehow stemmed from his practice and study, yet went beyond rational explanation. After a significant amount of build-up, Bakan s narrative climaxed in a triumphant drumming session, which he called A Transformative Moment (323). [F]or one brief moment, at least, he noted,
I have been able to move to some deeper place; into the experience of a more profound musical awareness than I had known or known existed; to a musical realm where the technical, the precise, the well-wrought, the beautiful, have become something other than what they seemed: reflections and embodiments not of themselves, but of a deep commitment and trust, of a transformation into a communion where we do not remain what we were before. (328)
Just as with the cantorial students at the start of this chapter, Bakan had experienced his own moment of becoming. His transcendent moment provided an important turning point for him musically, socially, and academically, and could be seen as a key prerequisite for progress into professional life. 9 Moreover, like the cantorial graduates, Bakan went on to assume several positions of leadership and creativity within his chosen musical culture-directing ensembles, writing compositions, and performing with other recognized musicians mainly in the United States-while also achieving recognition as a scholarly authority.
Bakan s intimate insight into his own strivings for understanding and respect within a musical culture opens a valuable window into ethnomusicologists quests to explore and perhaps acquire a musical identity. Even more to the point, however, his account allows us to question how closely an ethnomusicologist s project to comprehend a musical culture might parallel the musical journeys of the people they frame as cultural insiders. It is tempting, after reading Bakan s account, to put up a mirror and ask how insiders themselves might experience musical training as a form of rigorous acculturation. Might they similarly approach the musical training process as a foreign one, but with the hopes of gaining a cultural intimacy they already see as their own? And to what end?
I bring these thoughts to my study of American Reform Jewish cantorial training, where those who aspire to enter the cantorate can be seen on different levels as both insiders and outsiders. In fashioning a project to achieve ethnographic depth in situ among a range of musical aspirants, however, I faced a challenge. Brinner (1995), Shelemay (1992), Berliner (1994), Scott DeVeaux (1997) and others based much of their detailed accounts of the musical learning process on interviews taken significantly after the actual time of professional training. While their resulting analyses offer important insights, they nonetheless allowed informants to embed their paths to competence within post-facto frameworks, using cursory images and fleeting descriptions. 10 In what way, then, could I, a researcher with similar aims, create a more systematic and in-depth environment for exploring both personal and technical transformation as it happens-satisfactorily, without resorting to self-analysis?
My attempted solution involved conducting fieldwork where musical learning had become institutionalized-sites often described as schools. Brinner and others treat these sites as places of modernization or nationalization that complemented and postdated more traditional forms of musical learning (1995: 17, 20, 105-106). While conceding this point to a certain extent (I believe institutions symbolize modernity far better than they actually represent historical progress ), I also found institutional frameworks to provide students with a heightened site for cultural transmission-a central, well-defined, and multi-layered space for exploring musical transformation both individually and collectively. 11 The communal nature of institutionalized programs, which combined standardized courses of study with less rigorously programmed spaces for personal growth and discussion, created a rich, enduring site for exploring musical tradition-one that carried with it its own vocabulary, cultural referents, and group experiences. This kind of structure also offered opportunities for enculturation into a larger fellowship of practitioners, thus promoting continuous insider musical discussions well beyond the institution itself.
The institution as fieldsite may seem mundane to fieldworkers destined to spend their professional careers in similarly conceived academic environments (thus the oft-discussed issue of the fieldsite as a journey away [Amit 2000: 8]). Yet the institution s deceptively conservative nature encompassed the very criteria Brinner found to be necessary in achieving a substantive study on attaining musical competence: a clearly bounded community, the perception of a consistent training process, and well-defined centers of activity. Bruno Nettl and Henry Kingsbury laid the foundation for this kind of study in their analyses of Western Classical music conservatories (Nettl 1995; Kingsbury 2001[1988]). Kingsbury, who situated his ethnography at the pseudonymous Eastern Metropolitan Conservatory of Music, offered an impassioned argument justifying the conservatory as a legitimate ethnographic fieldsite, an extension of classical anthropological fieldwork in the spirit of Claude L vi-Strauss and Margaret Mead. Though not necessarily as exotic a locale as other fieldsites, he asserted, the conservatory nonetheless housed its own cultural system, rife with disputes and negotiations about aesthetic and social values (Kingsbury 2001[1988]: 9-13). Within this system, Kingsbury explored the importance of talent as a concept often used to predict the progress and eventual success of students. Nettl, who based his observations on fifty years experience with college music programs, expanded Kingsbury s frame to explore other significant cultural practices of conservatory and college music department life-from the canonization of great figures in the tradition, to the tensions inherent among advocates of different music value systems, to questions of repertoire choice. Both studies detailed important aspects of the musical becoming process within an institutional setting. In doing so, however, they also focused primarily on cultural models defined predominantly by instructors and administrations. Student voices sounded occasionally throughout their discussions, but more in support of the institutional superculture than in trying to come to terms with their own personal transitions as musicians and people.
My study of the community associated with the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music-the official cantorial training institution of American Reform Judaism-also retains some interest in the structure of musical transmission. I attempt to use that structure, however, to address specific questions about the ways both the School and its students relate to history, ethnic and religious identity, and the relationship between music and spirituality. Students who entered the school did not face or participate in the same kind of internal competition inherent in Kingsbury s conservatory. The direct relationship the School of Sacred Music held with its alumni, other Jewish religious leadership, and Reform Judaism s religious constituents, created a significantly less contentious dynamic, as well as a sense of community different from the conservatory s often scattered personal relationships and reputations. 12 Cantorial students more often valued themselves based on what kind of cantor each would become, and how their personal choices during training would help or hinder their roles when facing the pragmatic musical tastes of a religious lay-population. The School of Sacred Music, following Shelemay s example (1992), thus manifested qualities as a site of religious learning and transmission, as well as a place for acquiring knowledge of Jewish music-aspects not highlighted in the Western music narrative dominating studies of more secular music schools. Most importantly, however, the institutional structure served as a backdrop for meaningful interaction through which students, teachers, and administrators negotiated their own paths to musical competence.
At the heart of this study, then, lies identity in transition. What does it mean to become a cantor? What does it mean to see one s self as a sacred vessel of Jewish music? The most recent edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , despite its twenty-nine volumes, includes no entry for sacred music ; likewise, the New Grove s Jewish music entry (Seroussi et al. 2001) backs away from Curt Sachs s elegant but highly problematic 1957 definition of Jewish music as music by Jews, for Jews, as Jews (Bayer et al. 2007: 637). 13 Emanuel Rubin and John Baron attempted to provide a working definition of Jewish music in 2006 as music that serves Jewish purposes (Rubin and Baron 2006: xxvi), carefully acknowledging the evasive, ever-changing nature of Jewish sound. From an academic perspective, these careful assessments implied, the idea of Jewish music resists imposed boundaries. Yet to cantors and others who see sacred music and Jewish music as forms of spiritual and cultural capital (including, to a surprising extent, the above scholars-who depend upon these boundaries for their livelihood), these concepts have become the basis of countless discussions, articles of communal scholarship, editorials, political conversations, and religious policies. The need to define the Jewish and the sacred in music provided a significant impetus for the School of Sacred Music s existence in the first place, and remained a crucial element of its continued mission into the twenty-first century. Understanding the stakes in fostering, enforcing, and describing boundaries to music s sacredness and Jewishness, as well as the methods by which cantorial students, teachers and administrators internalized those boundaries, will become central concerns of mine as I examine the process of attaining musical competence and cantorial investiture.
Tradition in Change
As matriculants into a Reform Jewish institution, cantorial students at the School of Sacred Music obtain their credentials, and represent Jewish musical tradition, within a religious movement predicated on change. In May 1999, a few months before I started my fieldwork, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)-Reform Judaism s rabbinic organization-ratified the movement s fourth document of collective self-definition since 1885. Entitled A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, the document asserted in its preamble: The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship ( A Statement of Principles 2000: 3). When the movement s rabbinic journal officially published the Principles the following year, moreover, it supplemented the five-page document with ten essays outlining various levels of support or opposition, illustrating the intensely dialogic nature inherent in Reform Jewish identity. As Mark Bloom, one of the contributors to this issue, noted, the Principles seemed both to address and inspire the next round of Reform Judaism s endless quest to define itself (Bloom 2000: 52). 14
Cantors, who had no official role in crafting this document, 15 nonetheless could relate to the conditions described therein. In line with a world perceived to be changing ever more rapidly, and as part of a movement that defined itself based on that change, cantors felt constant pressure to claim a collective place as the movement s vessels of sacred sound. Yet even as the movement s President (a rabbi) emphasized the importance of music to Reform Judaism s twenty-first century worship initiatives (Kaplan 2003: 71), and movement publications highlighted the cantor s changing roles (Schwartzman and Shochet 2000) or spoke of the emergence of a new cantor (Robinson 2003), cantors struggled to fulfill their self-defined charge in ways that met the movement s expectations. 16 Reform Jewish leadership increasingly supported the cantor s status by using pluralistic phrases such as rabbis, cantors, and educators in their official addresses. Cantorial students and teachers, however, often saw in this support a pressure to compromise their own full sense of cantorial identity and conform to a more democratic perception of religious sound. While Reform Judaism tried to define itself, in other words, its cantors often felt the need to address their own concerns and ideas about what constituted tradition and innovation in order to preserve their own history and mission.
Maintaining a cantorial tradition while serving a modern (or even, in some views, postmodern) Jewish population presented important questions about the relationship of music to personal identity, particularly if those congregations represented their own distinct line of religious musical discourse. Mark Slobin s assertion that, the existence of the cantorate has helped anchor American Jewry by providing a highly traditional institution that could act as a shock absorber for social and cultural change certainly reflected values instilled in cantorial training (1989: 283). Yet laypeople, rabbinic leadership, and much of the scholarly community implicitly challenged that position by bundling music into their attempts to characterize recent shifts within American Jewish identity (Cohen and Eisen 2000: 169-170), belief, and religious/ritual practice (Hoffman 1999, Ochs 2007). Reform synagogues at the turn of the twenty-first century actively engaged in well-funded national initiatives such as Synagogue 2000 17 and Synagogue Transformation and Renewal (STAR), which claimed grounding in social science, placed great rhetorical value on music, and openly invited cantors as important participants-but not ultimate authorities-in congregation-wide conversations about musical transformation. For cantors, these developments demonstrated the complexity of their responsibilities: remaining true to the past and to repertoire that served as their legacy; remaining true to their self-described roles as synagogue musical leaders; keeping their value as musical authorities to their congregants; and all while addressing vocabularies of prayer and music that emerged from outside their inherited ideas of Jewish tradition. The taught reality of the cantor as the musical representative of Judaism thus remained constantly vulnerable and in flux.
The cantorial school, in this view, served as a strategic site for assessing and reconsidering the meaning of musical authority. Christopher Waterman, in addressing questions of musical tradition, has noted that the temptation to read contemporary categories into the past, especially when authoritative scholarly sources and informants do it as a matter of course , is strong (Waterman 1990: 369, emphasis in original). Cantors, a well-constructed category within organized liberal Judaism s religious consciousness, benefited from that temptation: both as the communal voice of tradition, and as recognized members of what Reform Judaism described as the clergy team. Yet that category needed constant reconstruction based on contemporary ideologies of Jewish sound. In this respect, cantorial training existed as one side of a dialogue: What did a cantor need to have-and what skills and repertoire did the cantor need to acquire-to remain a voice of tradition to Reform Jews? This question would resonate throughout my fieldwork, in various sites across the movement, and most intensely among the developing cantorial students themselves.
Mapping the Cantorate
Cantorial training starts with the premise of travel: to become spiritual representatives of the Jewish people, cantors must first experience a sense of Jewish geography and history. The setting of Hebrew Union College s School of Sacred Music therefore offers a fascinating interpretation of both the spirit and intention of George Marcus and Michael Fischer s call for multilocale (or multi-site) ethnography (Marcus and Fischer 1986: 91). Existing primarily in two locations (at the Hebrew Union College campuses in Jerusalem and New York) the School integrates its activities through an overall organizational schema that assigns each location a role in the cantorial enculturation process. Students applied to the School with an understanding that they would spend their first year of study in Jerusalem, and then complete their training in New York. By linking these sites as intimate components of the educational process, the School of Sacred Music cultivated a dual appearance as both a small, enclosed, centralized community and as a spiritual approximation of the Jewish diaspora. These complementary visions provided an elegant and bounded institutional model that benefited from postmodern theoretical interpretations of transnationalism and compressed space and time.
During approximately three years of fieldwork in these two sites, the bulk of which took place between August 1999 and May 2002, I found myself conducting a form of cognitive multi-site ethnography as well. While I explored each physical location, I found my interactions with members of the community falling along four general modes of perception, depending upon the situation.
I made efforts first and foremost to establish myself as a graduate field researcher. Beginning with a letter of introduction to the School s director, which led to approval of my project, this role helped me fulfill my own needs as a student in pursuit of the Ph.D. As I continued my fieldwork, my perspective as a trainee took on additional dimensions. On one hand, my student status and compatible age caused many students to see me as a peer. At the same time, I would sometimes use my academic persona to maintain a sense of critical distance from the other students while in classes; and several would watch bemusedly as I hurriedly took down notes during discussions, set up audio equipment, and meticulously explained my motivations in response to their questions. Over time, some students even assisted me by recounting situations they found particularly relevant to my research. My research presence also offered students and faculty a deeper view of ethnomusicology, which the School openly embraced as part of its academic agenda: the School s ethnomusicologist on faculty (who also became a close friend and advisor during my fieldwork) initially introduced me to various instructors and students with a good-humored remark that there s more than one Jewish ethnomusicologist in the world. These kinds of situations provided me a position within the School that allowed me to conduct research as I had been trained to do without causing a stir. The relative compatibility of my identity with categories of knowledge propagated at the School evinced both the School s familiarity with the Western academic system, and the students comfort with that system s educational process.
By January 2000, due to my continual presence in cantorial classes and the concurrent lack of tenors enrolled at the School, students began to invite me to participate in School exercises and student musical projects. These instances, combined with my knowledge of Reform Jewish liturgy and similarities in age and financial situation, helped me gain an identity as a marginal student within the program. By the end of the year, students publicly told me, you really are one of us, and many expressed to me their hope that I would apply to the School formally. After participating in several public choral concerts with the School s students and faculty, moreover, some audience members unfamiliar with my status occasionally came up to me afterward to ask what year of the program I was in. This context allowed me to gain insight into the everyday issues students faced, including frustrations with the program and personal concerns that arose with faculty and other students. Interestingly, my marginal student status also allowed me to build trusting friendships with the students that, I believe, allowed them to understand me better as I shifted between my roles as participant and academic observer.
In April 2000, in an unrelated development, the School s ethnomusicologist invited me to teach a cantorial school course on American Jewish Music during his sabbatical. I agreed, with my dissertation advisor s consent, in part because it corresponded with my own already established academic status in the School. This third role introduced me to an administrative perspective of the School I otherwise would have never seen. In practice, it occasionally proved surreal: the lessons I learned organizing and teaching my first graduate-level class served both as professional development and as research material; and the students I taught and graded also served as my research associates (and a couple of these openly told me they decided to take the course because they liked me). Moreover, after a year and a half of viewing myself from the perspective of a student and an outsider, I found myself treated by the administration as a junior faculty member. Those whose graces I had depended upon for permission to conduct research at the School in the first place, and whom I had learned to revere through the my experiences as a marginal student, would sit around the table at faculty meetings addressing me as a (rather unnerved) colleague and including me in their conversations and administrative decisions. 18
My relationship with the School also existed in a fourth, more personal dimension. In March 1999, five months before I began field research at the School of Sacred Music and just after my dissertation proposal received its approval, I became engaged to the daughter of a well-regarded Hebrew Union College professor who taught at the New York campus. Through this association, I also gained a familial connection to the institution I intended to study. One of the cantorial faculty joked with me later that my engagement serendipitously granted me and my work a degree of protektsia (a Hebrew term denoting fortuitous political connections). This relationship became even more pronounced when a number of students and administrators began to identify me as this professor s son-in-law. While I do not know for certain the effects of this relationship on my research, I often suspected its precipitous timing smoothed my entry into the community somewhat, and perhaps set certain suspicions at bay regarding my sincerity and the nature of my project.
Thus, in a very short time, I gained perspectives in my research as an academic outsider, a marginal student, an adjunct faculty member, and a faculty relative-in essence, conducting research from four different and equally rich points of view. Though I constantly needed to negotiate my shifting identity carefully while in the field, I found that adopting a modicum of open flexibility allowed me to experience a much more vibrant and textured understanding of the School s policies, values and practices than had I maintained only one role. Fieldwork, in my view, benefits from cultivating honest relationships in a mutual spirit of open inquiry. It is by its nature a messy process, but one that in its messiness opens up important realms of understanding.
* * *
I proceed, then, by exploring the meaning and process of becoming a musical authority through the lens of Reform Jewish cantorial training at the turn of the twenty-first century. In order to set the stage and create a historical structure within which the ethnographic account can take place, I offer in chapter 1 some background on the role of the cantor, as well as a chronicle of the historical forces that led to the rise of Jewish cantorial schools after World War II. While my trajectory will highlight the establishment of the School of Sacred Music, the people, ideas, and organizations I mention also served important roles in creating the Conservative movement s Cantors Institute and Yeshiva University s Belz School of Music. Later cantorial programs, such as those established at the Academy for Jewish Religion (in Riverdale, N.Y. [1992]), the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (Philadelphia [1998]), and Hebrew College (Newton, MA [2005]), have also followed in this mold.
Embarking on cantorial studies requires more than just interest: it also requires readiness and an interest in being taught. In chapter 2 I draw from students own accounts to discuss the process by which they decided to pursue the cantorate as a career choice. As with musical figures in other cultures, those wishing to attain musical leadership must satisfy certain criteria imposed by established practitioners in order to gain admittance to training. In the case of Hebrew Union College s School of Sacred Music, such criteria appear in published admissions requirements that themselves reflect the School s value system. The School s faculty consequently admit or deny applicants based not only on musical ability, but also on the students perceived potential to adhere successfully to the most crucial cultural, musical and religious norms of the Reform cantorate. 19
Students accepted into the School then commence an intense and rigorous training program, in this case via a systematic and progressive multi-year curriculum. In chapter 3 I provide a wide-ranging overview of this program in the form of a roadmap toward investiture: introducing the method and taxonomy by which students internalized relevant issues of professional musical competence. As cantorial students, aspirants had to learn how to chant from biblical texts, evaluate and learn repertoire, and understand the meaning of becoming Reform Jewish clergy among many other things. By successfully completing the curriculum, they earn the opportunity to explore their roles within the larger religious ecology of Reform Judaism.
Chapter 4 begins the heart of the study by introducing and describing the phenomenon of the synagogue practicum. An activity required of all second- and third-year students that generally entailed presenting assigned sections of religious rituals, the Practicum officially exists outside the regular classroom curriculum. Nonetheless, it holds great significance to both students and faculty, and serves as a platform for airing many of the major aesthetic, theoretical and practical issues faced by the cantorial students throughout their program. Using the Practicum as a lens, then, I will continue into chapters 5 and 6 by delineating several of these issues: how cantors define and classify their repertoire; how they clarify the production of cantorial sound ; how the School of Sacred Music serves as a site for preserving and propagating cantorial memory; and how gender, and especially women s voices, factors into perceptions about cantorial repertoire and technique. Through the discussions in these chapters, I hope to offer insight into the ways aesthetics and aural practices come to be understood as cantorial through the values propagated at the School, as well as explore how the School has dealt with change over the past decades to update the cantorate while maintaining its continuity with tradition.
I conclude by returning to my starting point: the cantorial investment ceremony. At each cantorial student s moment of transformation, he or she becomes the full embodiment of cantorial history, sound, and knowledge, emerging as a public representative of a cantorial culture. Investment, I thus intend to show, signifies a multi-layered shift in identity. Through an analysis of these layers, I illustrate the depth to which investment/investiture recontextualizes a cantorial student-turned-cantor within the cultural world of Reform Judaism, and subsequently paves the way for a continued, and continually negotiated, embodiment of the cantorial figure. This last discussion revisits broad questions about the dynamic between identity formation, authority, and musical practice, in order to address discourses on the meaning of religious music, musical change, the relationship between music, modernity, institutionalization, and the meaning of becoming a musical leader from both inside and out.
The process of achieving musical competence, I suggest here, plays a crucial role in examining how a society negotiates its own musical values. Not merely the reception of a monolithic, unchanging tradition, the process comprises a nexus of social, musical, and personal pressures, all of which both reinforce and threaten to destabilize a constructed status quo-a sense of tradition. Leaders-in-training, to become a part of that tradition, must negotiate between their own needs, the authority of their teachers, and the boundaries of the social and organizational entities they strive to join. These musical religious figures, and their deeply complex pathways and decisions en route to musical authority, provide the voices by which their cantorate, and this book, have come to exist.
A Note on Nusach
Over the course of this study, the term nusach will appear in a number of different contexts. A variable concept, nusach roughly describes a relationship between music or melody and liturgical text.
Etymologies of the word change drastically based on setting and intended usage. In 1933, for example, German Cantor Reuben Moses Eschwege derived nusach from Biblical usages that, he argued, described something removed [i.e., written down] from what has existed [presumably in oral tradition]. Eschwege reinforced his etymology by linking the word to an analogous Aramaic term ( nus cha ) that, he claimed, meant copy (Eschwege 1996-97 [1933]: 42). At the School of Sacred Music, meanwhile, I heard two other etymologies: the first, derived from the modern Hebrew word for formula or pattern, corresponded to an idea of nusach as a series of idiomatic melodic fragments sewn into a single musical fabric ; and the second etymology framed nusach as emerging from the Hebrew word for fixed, emphasizing the consistent and idiomatic nature of the aforementioned fragments.
Jewish music scholars have found the term similarly slippery. Hanoch Avenary s attempts at distilling a definition for the Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) offered merely a starting point for understanding the phenomenon: distinguishing between general usage, and more technical usage denoting the specific musical mode to which a certain part of the liturgy is sung. While well-mapped, however, Avenary lacked bibliographic support, and relied in part on anecdotal evidence (especially for general usage).
Eric Werner avoided using the term nusach altogether, preferring instead to approach the relationship between sound and text in Central and Eastern European Jewish prayer though the concept of Minhag Ashkenaz (the Central [and later Eastern] European practice ) (Werner 1976: 1). Even in the absence of the term, however, cantors have interpreted Werner s concept as an equivalent to nusach , and used his ideas accordingly. Werner closely related Minhag Ashkenaz to liturgical developments over the history of Ashkenazic Jewry (which he dates back to the Middle Ages), and structured his book to deal with what he considered a taxonomy of the style s distinct components. In ascending order of complexity, he recognized: Plain Psalmody, Ornate Psalmody, Plain Response, Refrain, Antiphony, Free melismatic recitative, Missinai Tunes and Chants, Pure melismatic chant, Cantillation of scriptural texts and Cantorial fantasia. Taking an approach that combined anecdote and assumption with historical research, Werner explored this system primarily with an eye toward fleshing out a grand narrative of the tradition. His discussions, however, based on an overall conception of stylistic authenticity, often led Werner to criticize current practice for its lack of historical awareness. This agenda led the book to become an insider discourse in itself, more a prescriptive device for understanding nusach than a descriptive one.
More recent ethnomusicology studies have made inroads into exploring the insider understandings of nusach . Mark Slobin also found nusach to be a vague term that served well as a point of cantorial discussion, yet eluded musicological analysis (Slobin 1989: 256-279). After producing several quotes on the subject of nusach , Slobin wrote:
the foregoing quotations suggest nusach is involved in everything from hiring through youth relations, viewed as anything from a discipline gracefully accepted to a hindrance proudly rejected. Nusach is simultaneously musical and political. It is learned, but it might be absorbed. Nusach should automatically tell you what season it is, yet performing traditional nusach can mean cleaning up and reducing a famous teacher s approach, as long as the soul is kept. Meanwhile, the real master of nusach may not even be the hazzan-the artist-but the ordinary ba al tefillah, perhaps just a volunteer prayer leader. Finally, as background it is very much worth noting that nusach originated as a textual , not a musical term, and that it might imply much more than either text or tune: way of life.
The only point of agreement is that nusach is the emblem of tradition and that it somehow specifies, stipulates, or situates a musical moment, perhaps in a particular locale (Slobin 1989: 260).
Slobin attempted to investigate nusach quasi-historically by analyzing collected variants on two chant selections. While suggesting that the process of chanting nusach reflected a historical core concept in Eastern-European cantorial tradition, he also noted the lack of historical material for comparison, and ended up framing his analysis as representing truly a cross section of today s [cantorial] professionals (272; emphasis added).
Jeffrey Summit followed Slobin by exploring nusach as an indicator of religious identity in five contrasting contemporary Jewish communities throughout the Boston area (Summit 2000: 105-127, see also Summit 2006). Through interviews with both congregants and religious leaders, he portrayed nusach as a decentered folk term of sorts, used by individuals as an entry point into numerous dimensions of Jewish identity. Summit suggested: contemporary conceptions of nusach are bound up in these Jews struggles with modernity and efforts to clarify and assert their religious and cultural identity (127). His approach, like Slobin s, effectively mapped out the term s varied landscape among a wide range of Jewish communities within a single location.
Nusach , these studies show, holds a meaning and emphasis that shifts depending upon the context. I therefore will focus on presenting the concept as it came up in situ at the School of Sacred Music, usually in relation to other closely associated concepts (such as modes and Traditional repertoire ), rather than try to isolate these instances into a chapter of their own. By presenting the idea in its many forms, I hope to emphasize the richness of nusach as an insider term: a hovering presence within the cantorial program that helps bring together imperfectly corresponding musical concepts under a common, if ambivalent, rubric.
The issues of nusach in this environment provide a classic illustration of the nexus between insider and mainstream academic discourses. Although students strived to become vessels of Jewish musical tradition, they also expected to become music scholars in the Jewish world, learning research and analysis techniques analogous to those used by Slobin, Summit, and myself. Invested in nusach for professional purposes, they had to discern how nusach fit within the cantorial culture; and they experienced nusach through a number of means, including articulated Western musical analyses, practical, imitation-based methods, performance, and less easily rationalized ideological discussions. The School thus became both a site for exploring nusach , and, through its students and curriculum, an extension of the academic studies already undertaken in this field.

To Fashion a Cantor
For 2000 years, the cantor has served as the Jewish people s prayer leader before God, as composer of liturgical poetry and song, and as educator and communal leader. Today, the cantor is part of a professional synagogue team working to enhance Jewish life. As a calling and a career, the cantorate continues to wed the worlds of spirit and art -the mission for which the School of Sacred Music prepares its students .
-Publicity Brochure for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music, c. 1999
As framed by the School of Sacred Music, the figure of the cantor at the start of the twenty-first century served as a force for maintaining Jewish religious musical traditions, and a powerful public symbol of Jewish religious continuity. This portrait, cultivated since the mid-late-nineteenth century, originally emerged as part of a trend toward scientific precision within Central and Eastern European Jewish scholarship. Cantors and other researchers, compiling over two millennia of written and spiritual sources, progressively distilled a cantorial figure from a wide array of titles, responsibilities, and musical concepts. Their work not only gave the cantor an identity, but also established a historical, social, musical, and religious space for discussing Jewish liturgical sound. At the twentieth century s end, therefore, cantors increasingly saw themselves as figures both in history and of history. Through both publicity and action, they claimed on one hand an age-old embodiment of artistic sound within Jewish worship, and on the other hand a means for preserving and propagating that sound within contemporary society.
Before delving into the meaning of becoming a cantor within Reform Judaism, I will chronicle the layers of communal knowledge and activity into which the cantor has come to dwell. When combined, these layers establish a platform for creating the modern cantor, ultimately supporting the intentions and ambitions of the School of Sacred Music s founders in the 1940s, and continuing to shape the meaning of the cantorate ever since. During the time of my research, these well-defined contours of cantorial scholarship provided an ethnohistorical and religious framework for anchoring emerging cantorial identity.
The idea of Jewish history, as David Biale has argued, implies a quest for a unified narrative-one that somehow threads together a varied and far-flung series of populations and cultural practices across space and time (Biale 2002: xxiii-xxiv). To consolidate these communities through a common set of religious beliefs, ideologies, experiences, or genetic traits requires a great deal of nuance and imagination. Yet people have sought a common Jewish past and sense of experience for scholarly, personal, political, communal, and religious purposes. The cantorial narrative offers one example of this process, and illustrates the tensions involved in bringing together Jewish identity and history. Recent scholarly accounts have linked the cantorial figure over time to several different occupations (both amateur and professional), numerous leadership responsibilities and activities (religious or otherwise), many forms of knowledge and talent (not always musical), broad interpretations of moral leadership, and several types of musical aesthetics and repertoire. Combined and recombined in different ways depending upon the author and context, these broad attributes created a variable narrative inscribing the cantor with historical depth and an intimate knowledge of a Jewish sonic essence. The School of Sacred Music s own publicity pamphlet, for example, began by promoting the figure it intended to produce as a link between ancient and modern Jewish life: at once a spiritual representative and a wage-earner, a member of the clergy and an artist, a figure for the ages and a figurehead for today. How and why the School brings these two thousand years of cantorial activity to the charge of the modern cantor offers insight into the ways a usable past (Roskies 1996) became the impetus for a useful, and perhaps forward-seeking, present.
Constructing the Cantor: The Pre-Modern Layers
Researchers trying to construct cantorial practices before the eighteenth century often had to conflate linguistic and cultural history, tracing words or concepts perceived as connected with the cantor across canonical Jewish texts. These texts, which largely comprised legal interpretive works written by religious authorities, claimed linear descent from the Torah (The Five Books of Moses): including the Mishnah (Judea, c. 200 CE ), the Talmud (Israel/Babylonia, c. 500 CE ), The Guide for the Perplexed (Cairo, Moses Maimonides, 1185-1190 CE ), the Shulchan Aruch (Venice, Joseph Caro, 1565) and numerous subsidiary writings. Using references from these sources led researchers to a unique, albeit slanted, composite narrative that gave a broad context for exploring cantorial religious norms, social roles, and cultural values. These sources status as a foundation for much contemporary Jewish religious life, moreover, gave them additional capital as definitive parts of the Jewish historical narrative.
Twentieth-century scholars wishing to describe the origins of the cantorate typically framed their discussion around two terms: chazan 1 and shaliach tzibbur . As Max Schlesinger noted in 1904, Talmudic references to these terms appeared to describe ambiguous communal officials (or servants ) who may have performed Jewish sacred rituals, but carried no explicitly musical responsibilities (Schlesinger 1904). Liturgist Ismar Elbogen later destabilized even these early mentions by suggesting they may have resulted from later modifications inserted by copyists (Elbogen 1941: 17-18). Regardless of the obscurity and variation such references presented, however, scholars seeking a cantorial lineage found the sheer presence of chazan and shaliach tzibbur in early canonical works enough to establish a retrospective linguistic anchor for a continuous cantorial history.
From these beginnings, scholars subsequently pieced together several versions of a rise of the cantor narrative. Abraham Z. Idelsohn, for example, devoted an entire chapter to the cantor s emergence in his landmark 1929 book Jewish Music in Its Historical Development . Idelsohn s interpretation of cantor-related terms started with the shaliach tzibbur as a non-musical maintenance worker whose title eventually changed to chazan; at that point, Idelsohn claimed, the chazan began to gain musical associations, and eventually developed into a musical precentor (Idelsohn 1992 [1929]b: 101-109). Hyman Kublin, in 1971, took a somewhat different tack by claiming that although the chazan and shaliach tzibbur described separate figures, chazanim (pl.) eventually became de facto occupiers of shaliach tzibbur positions by the Middle Ages (Kublin 1971); Hyman Sky, in a much more extensive study, came up with similar findings (1992). Mark Slobin, in the late 1980s, provided his own nuance to the discussion, supplementing Idelsohn s schema by outlining social and liturgical factors that might have led to the invention of the hazzan at the start of the seventh century. Emphasizing the philological tradition from which such approaches emerged, Slobin marked the convergence of function and title by suggesting that at that time, [t]he term hazzan itself was ready for specialization (Slobin 1989: 5).
Inscribing the cantor as a specifically musical figure also allowed scholars to link cantorial identity with specialized musical repertoires. Kublin, for example, used such logic to explain how a word characterizing the modern cantorial repertoire- chazanut -emerged from an early poetic form specifically associated with chazanim:
When piyyutim [paraliturgical poems/lyrics] began to take an important place in the liturgy of the synagogue [c. 6th century CE ], it was the hazzan who would recite them and provide suitable melodies. Some of the paytanim [liturgical poets] themselves were hazzanim [pl.]. The recitation of piyyutim was called hizana by the Arabic-speaking paytanim and the Hebrew equivalent hazzanut came to refer to the traditional form of chanting the whole service, and later to the profession of cantor also. (Kublin 1971: n.p.) 2
In other cases, scholars characterized the premodern cantor as a figure devoted to preserving and presenting musical repertoires with similarly long but ambiguous histories. To Gershon Appel, for example, the medieval cantor served as a defender against changes to the nusach tradition-an argument based on Appel s interpretation of the writings of fourteenth/fifteenth-century rabbinic sage Maharil (Jacob ben Moses Moelin, c. 1365-1427), who was himself a renowned hazzan (Appel 1979-1980: 7). Scholars attempts to bring musical, social, and intellectual processes into a coherent early history of the cantor thus relied on the careful arrangement of a fragmented and scattered series of canonical references. Their efforts gave the cantorate the historical and liturgical weight necessary for presaging its emergence into the modern world.
Layers of Modern Identity
In recounting cantorial history from the around the eighteenth century forward, scholarship relied on significantly different forms of evidence, due largely to political changes allowing Jews greater franchise in their respective governments and social environments (a process often called Emancipation; see for example J. Katz 1973). Descriptions of the cantor beginning in this period derived less from Jewish legal codes than from sources considered standard evidence to European musicologists: musical scores, letters, minute books, eyewitness accounts, and periodicals of both Jewish and non-Jewish interest. Nineteenth-century attempts among Jewish intellectuals to emulate more mainstream forms of scholarship, moreover, spurred Jewish music researchers in Central and Eastern Europe to fashion a methodology compatible with mainstream music research. Scholars changing approaches to Jewish musical discourse, coupled with the rising prestige of Western music literacy among Jewish composers and musicians, readjusted the parameters for describing and exploring the modern cantorial figure.
Most significant in the shifting scholarly discussions about the cantorate was the narrowing focus on the cantor as an Ashkenazic (Central and Eastern European) Jewish figure-in no small part because the mainly Ashkenazic scholars, as well as much of the emancipated Jewish community, saw their liturgical music as an important means of connecting to Western classical and Christian liturgical music traditions. Twentieth-century chroniclers of the cantorate often took pains to separate the Ashkenazim and their cantorial practices from the liturgical music practices of the Sephardim ( Spanish or Oriental Jews), sometimes under the justification that Sephardic musicianship represented a less developed aesthetic of a people stalled in exotic pre-modernity. Both Idelsohn and later cantorial chronicler Leo Landman (1973), for example, offered substantive descriptions of the Sephardic cantorate through the sixteenth century in their historical reconstructions, yet shifted their attention almost exclusively to the Ashkenazic population from the seventeenth century onward. Idelsohn characterized this shift as the passing of an artistic mantle from a waning Sephardic culture to an increasingly vital Ashkenazic culture-an interpretation similar to other triumphalist Ashkenazic-centric interpretations of the day (Gerber 1995: 12). In the phlegmatic Orient, Idelsohn noted, the Synagogue song of the Sephardic-Oriental communities remained stagnant in the last three centuries. leaving their attempts to be continued by the youngest and strongest of all Jewish groups-the Ashkenazim (Idelsohn 1992[1929]a: 128; emphasis in original). In the 1970s, musicologist Eric Werner brought the Ashkenazic centrality of modern Jewish music history to a new height, devoting an entire book to the Ashkenazic synagogue song tradition under the premise that Ashkenazic chant, particularly as propagated by its cantorate, represented Judaism s greatest musical achievements (Werner 1976). By phasing non-European Jewish forms out of the modern cantorial trajectory, Ashkenazic scholars in a predominantly Ashkenazic world thus naturalized the figure into a reflection of their own worldviews and experiences.
Within the Ashkenazic realm of cantorial singing, however, a narrower dichotomy emerged, roughly distinguished between East and West (Idelsohn 1992[1929]a: 246-315; see also Bohlman 2005: esp. 17, 22-23). Adhering to contemporary theoretical constructs, late nineteenth and early twentieth century researchers viewed the East as a seat of purer traditional Jewish expression, dominated by a more fervent religiosity and a penchant for oral tradition (Isenberg 2005, esp. 97-104). In this environment, itinerant boy singers learned cantorial repertoire through multiple apprenticeships to other cantors, and from there embarked upon their own independent careers. Eastern cantors thus came to represent a more authentic musical style and way of life, made more powerful by the region s perceived inherent musicality. According to Geoffrey Goldberg, instructors at Central European cantorial academies in the mid-nineteenth century valued Eastern European-born cantorial students over others due to their more intimate knowledge base of Jewish liturgy and sound (Goldberg 2000: 32). Eastern cantors very presence in Central European Jewish musical society, it seems, comforted anxieties about the perceived attenuation of Jewish tradition in the West.
The Western sphere of the cantorate, influenced in part by Emancipation and in part by the newly emerging Reform movement, took upon itself the onus of bringing traditional music into a more mainstream socio-cultural milieu . While the East remained the source of tradition, Jewish music personnel in the West employed standardized modes of notation and instruction: they composed and harmonized in parallel with Western art music norms, presented their compositions in a modern synagogue setting that often included an organ and choir, and trained according to state-sanctioned rules for musical instruction. Viennese cantor/composer Salomon Sulzer-credited in many accounts as the first person to incorporate the title of Oberkantor into the Jewish world-became a paradigm for this approach (Dombrowski 1991). While reportedly criticized for his innovations to Viennese Jewish ritual (which included advocacy of the organ and the implementation of choral music [Fr hauf 2003: 77-82]), Sulzer nonetheless received historical approbation by Idelsohn and others for bringing the Jewish religious service into a new era and raising it to a high artistic state. Other cantors from large cities, such as Samuel Naumbourg (1817-1880, Paris), Hirsch Weintraub (1811-1882, K nigsberg), Israel Mombach (1813-1880, London), and Abraham J. Lichtenstein (1806-1880, Berlin), followed suit with their own compositions and/or collaborations with local composers. Although detractors initially resisted this musical as overly assimilatory, Idelsohn by the early twentieth century had accepted such music as part of the synagogue canon, asserting that it maintained a noticeable difference from other Western musical styles. Sulzer did not KNOW what Jewish music was, Idelsohn suggested, but he did instinctively feel or he deduced the fact from the general character of Jewish traditional tunes that the manner of Jewish musical expression was a different one from that of the German (Idelsohn 1992[1929]a: 254-255). Over the course of time, these cantor/composers would gain credit as translators of the Jewish musical tradition into the modern world, an effort preserved through their publications. 3
From the perspective of the cantorial narrative, Central and Western Europe gained its greatest fame as a transparent vessel for bringing an Eastern sense of tradition into a Western musical aesthetic (Bohlman 2008: 95-103). Central and Western European Jewish communities developed a series of cantorial training programs ( Lehrerseminare ) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that regularized the training of cantors according to a curriculum-based system. The proliferation of publications and teaching materials that came to accompany these academies documented the importance of notation in this environment, and illustrated continued interest in instructing cantorial students in Eastern European styles (often in relation to Western styles) (Goldberg 2000). Even while systematizing and modernizing the cantorate in the West, therefore, cantorial training continued to look to the East as a major aesthetic wellspring.
A massive migration of Eastern European Jews across the Atlantic starting in the 1880s brought both parts of the East/West dichotomy together in the United States. In this new frontier, where German Jewish communities had already established themselves, the figure of the cantor would retain its Eastern European image. As in Central and Western Europe, however, cantors would look to the trappings of the West to improve their musical and social prestige.
The American Cantorate
Scholars aiming to recount the history of the cantorate in the United States face a dilemma of conflicting narratives. The supposed constancy of the cantor in Jewish history applies pressure to construct an American cantorial history along accepted lines of American Jewish history (as chronicled, for example, by Jonathan Sarna [2004] and Hasia Diner [2004])-starting with the arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam in 1654. At the same time, however, the very images and sounds American Jews popularly associated with the cantor s presence in Jewish life at the turn of the twenty-first century derived from a largely different trajectory: one, as just described, based on cultural forms fostered in Eastern Europe that came with Eastern European immigrants to the United States. To reconcile these two narratives, scholars again appealed to etymological archeology: trying to find key terms, this time in American Jewish historical sources, that approximated Jewish religious musical activity. The resulting histories blunted contradictions between these narratives in order to recount the rise of a modern musical figure on American soil.
Idelsohn (1992[1929]a: 316-336) and (more completely) Slobin based their American cantorial narratives on occurrences of the term chazan. Before the 1840s, however-when Sephardim from Central and Western Europe comprised the best organized Jewish populations in the Americas-this lineage proved semantically questionable (see esp. Slobin 1989: 29-50). 4 While a figure called the chazan existed in America during this time, Jewish communities tended to treat him as a learned individual; other studies suggest that the figure s musical prowess held less importance than his abilities to deliver sermons, lead congregational prayer, and solemnize Jewish lifecycle events (Cohen 2004: 23, 58, 66). Slobin tacitly acknowledged the problems involved in tracing the nineteenth-century American cantor by bringing alternate titles into his narrative, including reader, Reverend, and minister (Slobin 1989: 32, 35, 37, inter alia ); and he justified his use of these terms by noting that each generation of Jewish-Americans has its own understanding of what we are calling the hazzan (Slobin 1989: 31). Nonetheless, Slobin s and others histories shaped a perspective on cantorial culture that retroactively reencoded the cantorial narrative into early American Judaism, and paralleled attempts by major cantorial organizations to assert the cantor s longstanding status in American Jewish life. 5
The Ashkenazic cultural hegemony of scholarly cantorial history comes into particular relief after 1880. The period spanning approximately 1880-1940, often viewed in recent literature as the Golden Age of the cantorate (see, for example, Pasternak Schall 1991), portrays the profession as reaching its artistic apex-and, just as importantly, coming almost exclusively from the Eastern European cantorate. Samuel Vigoda, in his account of the early part of this era, quietly pointed to New York as successor to the major eighteenth-to-twentieth century European cantorial centers such as Berditchev, Odessa, Kishniev, Vilna (Vilnius) and Warsaw (Vigoda 1981: 579-580). Even contemporary American accounts of this era, such as Idelsohn s, acknowledged the continuation and popularity of the style of the Eastern European chazzanuth in America as presented by immigrant cantors (Idelsohn, 1992[1929]a: 334-335). These cantorial figures, their cultural milieu, and the style of chazanut they practiced (seen contemporaneously as many different styles) would eventually establish the standards for cantorial training programs in the mid-twentieth century.
Several factors may have contributed to the codification of Eastern European practices as representative of chazanut in its totality. Most noticeable was the demographic factor: the roughly two million Jews who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1924 dwarfed existing Sephardic and German Jewish populations in America and ostensibly relandscaped American Judaism. As a result, Ashkenazic cultural practices became largely synonymous with American Jewish culture, most notably during attempts to revive Jewish forms of artistic expression in the 1960s and 1970s (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2002). The Eastern European immigrant cantor, meanwhile, already memorialized in the landmark 1927 film The Jazz Singer (and re-memorialized in remakes of the film in 1954 and 1980), came to represent Judaism by its very ubiquity within Jewish liturgical culture. And the centrality of New York City as a site where a number of regional cantorial styles homogenized into an overall Eastern European style due to competition and coexistence among the large number of cantors may have played an important role as well. 6
Perhaps the most important factor establishing this period as an artistic high point for the cantorate, however, was the creation of durable recordings and films that would serve as longstanding reminders of the period s star culture. The most prominent cantors, in addition to intoning services in the New York area s most illustrious synagogues, 7 be came the subject of considerable attention as arbiters of highbrow ethnic culture. Cantors such as Mordecai Hershman and Josef ( Yossele ) Rosenblatt gained great fame and fortune by concertizing in major venues around the world (see, for example, Rosenblatt 1954: 152-188, 234-251). No longer confined solely to the Jewish community, they began to emerge as Jewish analogs of opera stars such as Enrico Caruso; several even added opera arias to their programs (see Slobin 1989: 59-60; Rosenblatt 1954: 140-151). 8 A number of cantors also committed their vocal performances to recordings (and, less commonly, film) for mass distribution (Sapoznik 1994; Shandler 2009: 16-39); 9 as I will explain in a later chapter, transcriptions of these recorded concert-version pieces would eventually become a central part of the cantorial school repertoire. Together, these developments led to a well-documented scene that quickly grew into a repository of memory, and a touchstone of practice.
Idelsohn noted in a critical commentary that concerts and (especially) recordings appeared to solidify an idiomatic cantorial sound culture spanning from the synagogue to the public sphere:
[The most famous cantors] gained their reputation and popularity not only because of their achievements in the Synagogue, but also because of their vocal performances in the concert house, and notably because of their phonograph records. By the latter means, they have popularized (and at times also vulgarized) the Synagogue song. Their strength lies in their rendition of the Synagogue modes in unrhythmical improvised form, with accompaniment likewise improvised, on piano or string-instrument. With respect to improvisation, these Orthodox chazzanim are in this country the only protagonists of the traditional Jewish-Oriental song. However, none of them have thus far created music of any originality. They continue to sing in the style of the Eastern European chazzanuth , and some of them, in order to attract the public, do not hesitate to sing arias of opera and musical selections of dubious sources set to prayers, as was customary among the chazzanim in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Idelsohn 1992[1929]a: 334-335)
World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust emphatically closed the door on the Golden Age, and transformed these critiques; 10 the era s link to the recently obliterated Old World suddenly appeared to elevate its status to a nostalgic high point of Jewish creativity. 11 The cantorial figure embodied the connection to a lost culture for many American Jews, and consequently seemed to create its own argument for preservation. 12 Cantorial imagery and historical discourse thus became the basis for building a new cantorial culture in the United States. To continue the tradition, however, adherents of the cantorial culture needed to create a new sense of modernity to fit their trajectory of cantorial history. Their discussions would forge a path for adopting and installing the cantorial narrative into contemporary American Jewish culture.
The Rise of the American Cantorial School
The American cantorial school rose on the crest of both a revival and a reevaluation of the cantor in the postwar era. Placing standards of cantorial knowledge and ability within a curricular framework, these schools attempted to improve the cantor s religious standing, regularize the cantor s repertoire and training, and, most immediately, fill the gap left by the Nazi destruction of the European centers of Jewish sacred music (Blumenfeld 1951: 51). 13
As Geoffrey Goldberg has described, cantorial training institutions known as Lehrerseminare had existed in Central Europe from the nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century (2000). Created in reaction to newly imposed state-sponsored criteria for regulating teacher education (under which cantors qualified), the Lehrerseminare brought candidates through a multi-year, progressive series of classes culminating in the conferral of a recognized cantorial status. These earlier cantorial schools, Goldberg notes, maintained a philosophy and curriculum remarkably similar to what the School of Sacred Music would use decades later; they differed only in that their courses of study often emphasized practical skills over scholarship. Attrition eventually weakened these schools in the early part of the twentieth century, and the Nazis silenced whatever remained.
Nonetheless, when the first promising signs for creating a Jewish music institute dawned in the United States, the Lehrerseminar model appeared to enter the discussion in concept if not in precedent. Communal memories of the Lehrerseminare barely registered in American conversations. Yet the methodology associated with Central and Western European schooling remained, perhaps because many of the School s key founders themselves came from Central Europe. The tradition they aimed to preserve remained focused in Eastern Europe; the vessels by which the tradition would take root in America, however, maintained an academic (predominantly German) structure. And the whole operation, ultimately fueled by the upheavals of World War II and its consequent destruction of European Jewish culture, would carry the impression of a sudden newness with it.
Interest in establishing American institutions for cantorial instruction had existed decades before the initiative that led to the School of Sacred Music. In 1904 a segment of the Jewish Ministers Cantors Association-the most prominent consortium of cantors in the United States at the time-used the organization s annual gathering to call for the founding of a New York-based school for cantors (Moses 1904, cited in Levin 1997: 739). 14 Lacking satisfactory progress, the group renewed its call in 1924, decrying the dearth of standards and professional security for its members ( The history of hazanuth 1924: Foreword). This and other cantorial initiatives, however, never succeeded in realizing ambitions for a sustainable school, ultimately due to a lack of funds and interest (Levin 1997: 739-744). The actions that led to the School of Sacred Music instead emerged from a different sector: a consortium of Jewish music composers and scholars that included cantors but did not focus solely on their interests. Nurturing a plan from the late 1930s, these individuals mobilized less out of concern with the cantor s lot per se than what they saw as the decline of American Jewish music more generally.
What would become the School of Sacred Music started out as a relatively amorphous call for a school devoted to Jewish music, first from the Jewish music advocacy group Mailamm (The American-Israeli Institute for the Study of Music [1932-1939]; see Heskes 1997) and later from the Jewish Music Forum (1939-1944), the organization that replaced it. Both New York-based groups hoped an educational institution would restore prestige and intellectual prowess to the Jewish musical arts, particularly as Jewish communities in Europe increasingly lost their footing under the Nazi regime. On Tuesday evening, June 20, 1944, the Jewish Music Forum brought these concerns to the top of its agenda by holding a symposium entitled The Need for an Academy of Jewish Music. Prominent Jewish composer Isadore Freed began the meeting by bemoaning the European destruction of the most authentic centers of Jewish music, and called for a distinctly American institution devoted to cultivating what remained of these traditions (Freed 1944). Other presenters followed, offering plans for Training a Jewish Musicologist, creating a Curriculum for Jewish Composers and Performers, and theorizing The Academy s Place in Jewish Religious Life. Park Avenue Synagogue Cantor David Putterman, who delivered this last talk, spoke specifically to the future of cantorial culture. No profession, he said of the cantorate, has ever achieved stature and recognition until a duly established University, Academy or Seminary graduated qualified students with accredited degrees and titles (Putterman 1944: 23). 15 Putterman s vision of the school ensured that the United States could continue to turn out qualified Hazanim (22) at a time when the future of the Eastern European cantorate looked bleak. By evening s end, the participants appeared convinced of their charge, and unanimously adopted a resolution to create a commission devoted to realizing the academy.
Soon after the symposium, Hebrew Union College musicologist Eric Werner, who had sent a letter of support to the Jewish Music Forum symposium in absentia , apparently circulated a Memorandum Re Organization For Liturgical Music of Judaism to several influential individuals at his institution. 16 In the preliminary feeler, he outlined a plan for creating a Central Institute for the liturgical music of Judaism devoted to (a) familiariz[ing] the layman with the best traditions of the Synagogue in the realm of music; [and] (b) [maintaining] permanently the scientific study of our liturgical music. The Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College, he floated, would provide an ideal site to carry the drive for a renaissance of Jewish Music : located far away from the Jewish communal politics he found distracting in New York City, the campus also held the world s largest collection of European Jewish music manuscripts. 17 Werner s arguments seemed to impact positively upon the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College, for in early 1945 the body gave its sponsorship to an organization meeting for a proposed Society for the Advancement of Jewish Liturgical Music. 18 Representatives from across the American Jewish religious spectrum received invitations, including faculty from Hebrew Union College (Reform), the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative), and Yeshiva University (Modern Orthodox), as well as Cantor Putterman. 19 While many could not attend the December meeting in Cincinnati due to travel or weather issues, those present reinforced the points discussed at the earlier symposium. Traditional Jewish liturgical music had reached a corrupted, atomized state in contemporary America, and needed both standardization and improvement on all levels and in all religious denominations. Through a concerted effort on the part of major American Jewish organizations, a new American style of Jewish music could emerge that adhered to a deep sense of tradition and Jewish identity yet exhibited a high level of creativity and currency. Establishing a Jewish music academy, the attendees asserted, remained a crucial component of this plan.
The Society for the Advancement of Jewish Liturgical Music (SAJLM) began in earnest as a New York-based organization in early 1946. Though publicly professing the Jewish universalist ideals of k lal yisrael (the implication that Jews shared a sense of common responsibility), the group s support came largely from the Reform movement and Hebrew Union College, which contributed over three quarters of the Society s 1947 budget. 20 The latent denominationalism that accompanied this lopsided support created problems for most of the Society s activities, especially in the attempts to establish a Jewish music school. The Modern Orthodox movement, represented by Yeshiva University, seemed to reject the school plan immediately. Conservative Judaism, through the Jewish Theological Seminary, eventually begged off from the plan and publicly made alternate arrangements to start its own music school. 21 Even negotiations for a joint school with the New York Cantors Association appeared to fall through. 22 The Reform movement thus found itself poised to adopt the transdenominational project as its own, despite the SAJLM s increasing isolation within the Jewish communal world.
Sometime before 1948, Eric Werner appealed to Hebrew Union College to proceed with plans to authorize the founding of a music school unilaterally, under the confidence that every one of the well-known musicians of the SAJLM would be eager to cooperate with the HUC, especially Rabbi [Israel] Goldfarb, Prof. [Abraham Wolf] Binder, Prof. [Jacob] Weinberg, [and] Dr. [Isadore] Freed, from all of whom I have received written assurances indicating that they would be in favor of such an independent school. 23 After additional negotiation, Werner obtained a commitment from Hebrew Union College, and subsequently the permission of the SAJLM board, to accept the College as the School s sole sponsor. Werner then submitted a formal proposal for creating the school to the Hebrew Union College Board of Governors.
Werner s proposal unequivocally placed cantorial education at the center of the projected institute, though with a focus on a figure called the cantor-educator. A new figure for the Reform movement (which had relied heavily upon an organ/choir model for worship music until that point), the cantor-educator under Werner s plan received a new identity as a modern musical authority, and a vessel for enhancing synagogue music according to the ideals promoted by the SAJLM. Werner, in his proposal, argued for the definite need and demand for trained cantors, choirleaders, and organists which will sharply increase over the next five years. The cantor-educator role, furthermore, could solve synagogue personnel problems by filling music and religious education leadership needs at the same time. With a minimal financial risk, and an opportunity to engage some of the nation s most prominent Jewish synagogue musicians (before other denominations acted on their own plans), the school could become a revivifying force if HUC acted promptly. We certainly shall be blamed, Werner added, for not having foreseen that beginning shortage of personnel and having failed in doing our share in preserving the last remnants of the once glorious tradition of European Synagogue music. 24
On February 1, 1948, the Hebrew Union College Board of Governors approved Werner s proposal and officially began preparations for inaugurating a New York-based School of Sacred Music that fall. Werner followed his word and started to hire faculty from the SAJLM board, engaging them to teach a curriculum that included cantillation, Traditional Melodies, Harmony, and Nusach and Hazanut, Elementary Liturgy, Eastern European Folk Music, and Choral Singing and Coaching. Notably, only one of the new faculty, Gershon Ephros, identified as a bona fide cantor, suggesting a philosophy that placed the responsibility for Jewish musical renewal squarely into scholarly hands. These educators and their courses (plus a Choral Singing and Coaching Course taught by Binder) would constitute the course of study for the School s first year of instruction.
Werner and the prospective School s appointed Dean, Dr. Abraham Franzblau, acted further to legitimize the School s status on general religious, musical, and academic fronts. Franzblau began the process of obtaining an official charter for the School from the Board of Regents of the State of New York. 25 Werner, meanwhile, conducted negotiations with the music departments of the universities, colleges, and the most important music schools in the New York area concerning the reciprocity of credits ; according to his own reports, all agreed to accept credit for courses taken in the School of Sacred Music once it received its state charter.

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