image
Listeners were treated to ‘fabulous’ concerts by the Cantors Assembly. Jeff Karg

When you have a large numbers of cantors gathering in one place you are going to hear some songs, of course.

But there’s more to a cantor’s role than just singing, so last week when 227 cantors associated with the Conservative movement from across the United States and Canada met for the annual meeting of the Cantors Assembly, the focus included learning new skills, from theatrics to technology.

The convention ran from Sunday, May 19, through Thursday, May 23, mostly at the Sheraton Meadowlands in Secaucus.

There was music, which consisted of a “fabulous concert each night,” according to Cantor Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, one of the participants. There also were workshops touching on a variety of subjects vital to the cantor’s role.

The singing began on Sunday night, with a concert led by world-renowned choral conductor Matthew Lazar, which included a 100-voice contingent of the HaZamir International Jewish High School Choir.

Among Lazar’s credits are the creation of the HaZamir choir and Shirah, the community chorus at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, which he leads.

The cantors stayed in Secaucus on Monday night for a concert of Yiddish and cantorial selections. On Tuesday they marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of Israel as they “musically traveled the world,” Mamber said, with selections in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Russian, Polish, African, and more.

The cantors traveled to the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan on Wednesday for a concert performed by 70 women cantors to mark the role of women cantors in the Conservative movement. At the Wednesday session, Cantor Nancy Abramson, director of the cantorial program at the Jewish Theological Seminary, was installed as the group’s first woman president.

The session’s raison d’etre was education, said Cantor Sheldon Levin of Neve Shalom in Metuchen, one of the convention chairs. (The others were Abramson and Cantor Joanna Dulkin, who soon will begin her new job at the Princeton Jewish Center.)

Each day of the convention, the cantors took part in workshop sessions including technology, chaplaincy, song leading, homiletics, and spirituality. “Everybody learned new skills,” Levin said.

The sessions included a song-leader “boot camp,” teaching how to get everybody to clap along, Levin said. He sharpened his skill in using body language to connect with his listeners, he added.

As another example, Mamber recalled a session taught by singer-guitarist Ellen Allard about not only teaching songs to children, but also teaching the songs’ meaning. Another session dealt with using acting and directing techniques in worship services. “We are praying, of course, but we are also performing,” Mamber said.

The cantors chose among subjects such as writing software, producing Web pages, and using Twitter, for example, to publicize their activities.

On Wednesday, the gathering took on a somber tone as the cantors took time to board four buses and traveled to the 911 Memorial in lower Manhattan.

“It was a very moving experience for all of us,” Mamber recalled, explaining that a guide at the site, who had been a police officer at the scene of the of the 9/11 disaster, described the events of that tragic day.

Many tears were shed, Mamber said.