Cantors and soloists provide musical leadership in religious communities.

When a religious community gathers in song, there is usually one voice that rises above the rest: a trained singer resonating with passion and certainty. This singer is a congregation's cantor or soloist, who is responsible for the community's musical engagement and activities. As performers of spiritual music, they sing during services and religious ceremonies, contributing their voice to vital gatherings and community events such as holidays and funerals.

There are various contexts in which cantors and soloists appear. Those who hold the title of cantor tend to be religious officials who take part in spiritual leadership, while a soloist's duties are usually limited to musical programming. Regardless, both roles are deeply involved in their communities and may act as trusted advisors to members of a congregation.

Work as a cantor or soloist may include...

  • Planning or overseeing community musical activities
  • Singing during holidays and life events
  • Leading the congregation in song during services
  • Understanding and reading religious texts
  • Fulfilling religious duties

Cantors typically have a number of duties that can range from running educational music programs to advising congregants approaching major faith-based life events. While a cantor's public role is performing in a ceremonial context, they also perform plenty of behind the scenes work, working with religious leaders to make essential decisions or develop programming for the community.

It's common for cantors to have associate or assistant cantors who assist them with administrative work. Hours tend to be consistent, though working holidays is standard, and some preparation is required before performances. These positions are competitive, as each religious assembly tends to have a long-term employee in the role.

Becoming a cantor or soloist can require formal training depending on the context of one's work. The most important element is a pleasing voice that can be heard over accompaniment, as well as a good sense of pitch. Cantors must also be comfortable with public vocal performance and should be invested in the community. In Judaism, a cantor or hazzan is an ordained official with extensive knowledge of both music and prayer. Most aspiring cantors pursue Bachelor's degrees in Jewish studies or music and later attend special cantorial training programs that can take between three and five years. These Master's in sacred music programs involve intensive study in musical tradition, performance, language, and prayer, and students are expected to be comfortable with theory, instrumentation, and Hebrew speech. In certain Catholic and Orthodox traditions, a cantor may be a monk or a specialized member of the clergy who officiates music or chants during masses. It may help to know Latin, as well as any language a service may be conducted in. Monks and priests undergo specific training, either at divinity schools or monastic cloisters, where they may study church law, history, language, and prayer. Soloists in religious communities tend to be trained singers who, while devoted to musical worship, are not explicitly affiliated with a denomination or part of a religious order. They tend to be either trained musicians seeking employment and regular performance opportunities or members of a particular congregation who rise to the challenge of musical leadership.

For singers with devotional dreams, a career as a cantor or soloist in a religious institution might be an ideal match.

The Cantors Assembly promotes the profession of the Cantorate, serving members and their congregations through an ever-evolving musical and spiritual landscape.

The American Conference of Cantors supports and cultivates excellence among cantors and strengthens Reform Jewish life in North America.

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians fosters the art of musical liturgy in the Catholic church, and offers certification for cantors.

The Gospel Music Association promotes general interest in gospel and Christian music, building community among industry leadership.