I was pleased to see cantorial music, and Jewish sacred music in general, highlighted in your last issue in Sheila Wilensky’s article on cantorial soloists in Tucson. It was gratifying in particular to see that at Temple Emanu-El we have employed all but one of the individuals you profiled in our extensive music program, whether in our choirs or as soloists. I might add that in addition to our cantorial soloist Marjorie Hochberg and our own protégé, Bryce Megdal, you also missed two additional Jewish female soloists who regularly sing for Temple Emanu-El: Rachel Dajches, the soloist who helps Rabbi Holtz lead our Northwest Friday night services, and Julie Zorn, who sings for our Tot Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services as well as for our Tot Kabbalat Shabbat services. They are talented soloists in their own right, and in keeping with your theme they are also women.
On a professional level, as a hazzan (“ordained cantor,” as you put it), and a member of the Conservative movement’s Cantors Assembly since 1987, a former chair of the Western Region of the Cantors Assembly, and a Jewish music professional since 1977, I must comment on your use of the term “cantorial soloist.” While the phrase is used broadly and has no fully accepted meaning in all movements, comparing the full-time work of Marjorie Hochberg at Temple Emanu-El the past 27 years (14 full-time), to the work that the others do is essentially unfair to Marjorie.
Cantorial soloist Marjorie Hochberg co-officiates every Shabbat evening and morning and throughout the High Holy Days, instructs B’nai Mitzvah in trope and service leadership, chants Torah and Haftarah, teaches Hebrew school, leads services in her own right, assists in conducting our teen and adult choirs on Shabbat and the High Holy Days, participates in choosing, preparing, and performing musical programs for Shabbat Shirah and concerts, teaches liturgy and Hebrew to adults, runs our Hebrew Marathon program, co-officiates at many life-cycle events, and is a full member of our clergy staff. She is a cantorial soloist. In general, the term used for what most of the other musical professionals you profiled do is simply soloist.
On a personal level, you note that there are two other professional cantors who work in Tucson. As I am the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, and consequently the large body of cantorial work that I perform for our congregation and throughout the community and region is performed on a voluntary basis, I can understand your omission of my work in this area. But it might be of interest to your readers to know that much of the quality Jewish music that takes place in Tucson, from our extensive music (and recording) at Temple Emanu-El on the High Holy Days, all festivals and Shabbat, our Avanim Rock Band (now in its 11th year) as well as performances like the Bloch Sacred Service or the Tucson Chamber Artists Jewish Music series, the Mimuna Festival, our Temple Youth Choir, etc., all include my cantorial work. I invite you to attend our congregation, the largest in Tucson, so that you might experience the rich range of Jewish music available here and see how it is created.
As a lover of sacred song, I certainly look forward to more extensive coverage of Jewish music in Tucson in the future.
—Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon