Become a Cantor
Thank you for your interest in applying to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music Cantorial Certification Program. Here's what's involved:
- Employment: You must have at least five years of experience as a Cantorial Soloist, and currently be serving a congregation in that capacity.
- Musical Competence: You must possess a trained singing voice and competence in sight reading, ear training, keyboard harmony, music theory, and some competence in piano. Folk guitar is desirable but not essential.
- Academic Competence: As a prospective applicant to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, you must have a Bachelor’s Degree and be able to demonstrate the potential for high-level graduate studies.
Hebrew Requirements: The Rabbinical School, The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and Schools of Education require a Hebrew language proficiency equivalent to two years of college-level Modern Hebrew, as demonstrated by performance on the Hebrew Proficiency Examination. The Hebrew Proficiency Examination is taken at the time of your interview. The admissions decision reached is independent of the results of this exam. Admitted applicants who do not demonstrate sufficient proficiency in Modern Hebrew may be required to defer enrollment to improve their language skill.
The test comprises three sections: reading comprehension, writing, and Modern Hebrew grammar. There is also an optional biblical text section for applicants whose proficiency exceeds the minimum requirements. Prospective students regularly ask us for suggestions on how to prepare for the Proficiency Exam. To answer this, we provide these general guidelines.
Applicants need to demonstrate that they can:
Below are a few resources to help you prepare for this Hebrew requirement: For an in depth evaluation of your abilities, download the Sample Hebrew Proficiency Examination (the answer sheet excludes the essay). This Examination is of a similar difficultly level to the actual exam but only a quarter of the length. In addition, check out these resources to improve your Hebrew.
- Read with comprehension texts (with and without vowels) that discuss daily life, describe people and places, narrate past events, and project to the future;
- Recognize and use pronouns with or without pronominal endings;
- Recognize and use nouns in various contexts (in construct forms/smichut, with adjectives, definite and indefinite, singular and plural);
- Recognize and use (with and without vowels) active and reflexive verbs (Pa'al, Pi'el, Hif'il, Hit'pael and Nif'al) to describe past, present and future events;
- Recognize and use subordinate clauses (e.g., because, in spite of, if, then, etc.);
- Demonstrate facility with linguistic elements such as, definite article (Hey), prepositions, prepositional phrases, smichut; and
- Write a simple composition of approximately 200 words on a particular topic.
- Personal Characteristics: As a potential member of the clergy, you are expected to be inspired by the prospect of dedicating your life to service: artfully leading congregants in worship; teaching both adults and children; developing interpersonal skills; counseling families through, and officiating at various life cycle rituals; and creating and presenting cultural and educational programs appropriate to Jewish life. As a singer, you should enjoy using your skills to bring others to a deeper understanding of and identification with their Judaism. You must be dedicated to a life of learning and discovery, personal spiritual growth, the pursuit of excellence, and commitment to Judaism and the values implicit in a Jewish way of life.
Prospective candidates should begin by completing the preliminary interview form. Upon submission of this form to Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, we will schedule a preliminary phone interview.
Simultaneously, candidates will be asked to submit a brief video sample of vocal ability via a private website (click this link for instructions as to how to upload a video). These steps are intended to better prepare you for the actual application process, and to answer any questions that you might have about the program.
Once eligibility has been established, you will be given a link to the formal application. Applications are due January 15, 2014, and include:
- Admissions Essays and Personal Statement: Admissions essays help us get to know you as an individual, a student, a Jew, and a Jewish musician.
- Personal Statement:
- Why have you chosen to apply to become a cantor? Discuss your intellectual, musical, religious and spiritual development as well as the life experiences that have led you to make this decision.
- Either the evolution of your current Jewish practice, or your conception of and relationship to God.
- Short Essays:
- Reflect on a Torah portion, prayer, or a piece of sacred music that you have found meaningful or challenging. You may include classical or contemporary commentary that has been helpful to you in understanding the text or musical selection.
- What do you find most compelling and what do you find most challenging about Reform Judaism? In your opinion, what are the most significant issues facing the Movement today, and what is the role of the cantor and the Movement in addressing these?
- Transcripts: We will request one copy of an official transcript from:
- The college from which you graduated as well as any other colleges you attended. (This includes any school at which you took a college-level class.)
- Any graduate schools where you have been enrolled as well as schools where you have taken graduate-level classes.
Transcripts from the above institutions should be mailed directly to:
National Office of Admissions and Recruitment
Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Jack H. Skirball Campus
3077 University Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90007
- A letter of Congregational Support: One clergy member, as well as the president of your current congregation, will need to sign this letter in support of your candidacy. The letter demonstrates an understanding on the part of your congregation of the time that you will need to devote to your studies, as well as the various aspects of the cantorate which you will be asked to develop, refine or take on as a part of the Certification Program. These may include Adult Education, Religious School teaching, Committee facilitation, as well as Life Cycle counseling and officiation at various life cycle rituals.
Formal Audition/Interview Process
Following the review of your written application, the Admissions office will contact you regarding a specific date for your formal audition and interview to qualify for admission.
Audition: You will be asked to present three pieces of music; a classical Jewish liturgical piece, a contemporary Reform liturgical selection, and a popular, operatic, or musical theatre selection that highlights dramatic interpretation or stylistic variety. In addition, you will be asked to sight sing a simple tune and to sight read a simple piece on either piano or guitar.
Interview: This is an opportunity for the committee to discuss your application and to find out more about you as a person. The committee will do its best to assess your potential for the cantorate.
Cantillation: Each candidate will need to demonstrate proficiency in Shabbat trope by: chanting a prepared passage directly from the Torah scroll (assigned in advance), sight-chanting a passage of Torah from a Tikkun, and sight-chanting a brief passage from the prophets.
A Hebrew exam, as well as a Music Theory Exam is administered on the day of the interview.
A psychological exam is required of all students and will be scheduled within a day of your interview/audition.
There are three possible outcomes:
- Acceptance: The committee decision is that you are qualified to begin the cantorial certification program, assuming you pass the Hebrew and musical competency exams.
- Not at this time: The committee feels that you have many strengths and could be a successful candidate for certification, but there are areas that you need to work on prior to reapplying to the program.
- Rejection: The committee has decided that the program is not a good fit for you..
The next application deadline is January 15, 2014. Auditions will be held the week of February 24, 2014, and the program will begin in Jerusalem with our six-week ulpan in the summer of 2014.