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Leading Congregational Song

Beginning with Musicam Sacram, the document from Vatican II on music in the liturgy, the church has suggested that there be “at least one or two properly trained singers…[who] can lead and support the faithful as far as is needed.” (#21) As in the Jewish tradition, this trained singer and leader of congregational song is called a cantor. For many years at the Cathedral, Paula McCabe has fulfilled this role.

When I arrived at the Cathedral in Albany, the music director served as both organist and cantor. There was a microphone on a flexible arm attached to the organ console so that the music director could play and sing at the same time. While this might be an acceptable musical solution, it created a “voice from nowhere” because no one in the congregation could see the organist over the console. Part of the role of cantor is to be visible as a singer, offering gestures to encourage people to sing at the proper times. I set about recruiting cantors as soon as possible in Albany in order to get someone in front of the congregation, and so I wouldn’t feel like a lounge act.

Every congregation I have served since then has had several cantors, so I was surprised at my arrival here to discover only one. Paula is a very competent musician and has been a great help to me in understanding the history of the music program. As I look to the future and how I can grow the music program however, one of the obvious areas is to recruit more cantors. I’m looking for men and women, young and old who enjoy singing and wish to encourage others to sing. Qualifications include a modest ability to read music, a pleasant voice, and a desire to serve the congregation and the liturgy. Paula will continue to serve, but I hope to train 10-12 people to be cantors. Please let me know if you are interested, and join me in expressing your thanks to Paula for her many years of dedicated service to the Cathedral in this role.