Cantoring at a worship service is no easy task. Like anything, it becomes easier the more you do it, but for those who have never done it before, it can be intimidating and scary. So here are five cantoring tips to keep in mind if you have plans to give it a whirl:
Confidence – The people in the pews are impressed with you even before you open your mouth. That’s because you’re doing something admirable – putting yourself out there for your community to see. And no matter how good or bad of a voice you think you might have, remember that it’s likely better than most of your fellow parishioners. So carry yourself with a bit of confidence and know that your ministry will be well received. A confident song leader can go a long way toward encouraging members of the congregation to sing.
Collected (or Calm or Composed) – When do I go up for the Psalm? How many verses of the Alleluia? Which songs do I announce? It’s not unusual for these types of questions to pop into your head immediately before or during a liturgy. Be as prepared as you can be heading into the service. New cantors are highly encouraged to make a cheat sheet so that they can follow each step of the Mass. Even seasoned church-goers are surprised at things they suddenly forget when they’re in the new position of leading the music. And if you panic during the liturgy and draw a blank, try to discreetly ask your accompanist for help. If all else fails, stay confident and rely on your instincts.
Contact - Make eye contact! Don’t bury your head in a hymnal. Don’t stare at the microphone. Don’t spend the entire Mass looking at the back of the church. The words you sing will have a powerful effect on those who hear them. You can further bring them into the presence of God by making eye contact and giving them a split second of personal connection. I know you have music to read, too. But practice looking up and down from your music. Know the parts of a particular piece where you don’t have to rely on music and tell yourself to look at the congregation during those few bars. A little eye contact will go a long way.
Congregation - The most important thing you can remember as a cantor is that you are there to help lead the service, not to become a part of the service. Your primary role is to facilitate participation among the congregation. You are serving them. When the cantor is the only one singing, your job is to lead the congregation in prayer. When leading Psalm verses, it’s important to make the words you sing the focal point (not how well you’re singing them). When soloing a meditation piece, it’s important to let your words and the music become almost a backdrop to the silent prayers of your parishioners. You may be leading the congregation in song, but ultimately you have to see your role for what it truly is – as that of a servant.
Courteous - While it’s important to have confidence (as mentioned above), it’s also important to not let that confidence turn into arrogance. The latter has no place at a worship service. Always remember that your gifts come from God and that your role as a cantor is to proclaim God’s word. It is not unusual for a cantor to receive compliments after a service (or sometimes a spontaneous round of applause). The praise of others will certainly motivate you and make you feel very proud. Just be sure to remain humble, too. Acknowledge any praise with a simple and courteous smile, wave or “thank you.”
Those are my C’s. Do you have any others to add??