Seeking Cantors for Full-Time/Limited Service Positions
A. Preparation/Initial Set-Up
1. The first order of business is to ensure that all members of the search committee are familiar with their job description as members of the search committee, and with the contents of the Joint Cantorial Placement Commission’s Placement Procedures document. Here is a sample Cantorial Search Committee Member Job Description.
2. Be sure your search committee reflects the diversity of your congregational community in terms of age, gender, and other key demographics.
3. Take attendance at meetings.
4. Rotate among the committee members the delivery of appropriate Div’rei Torah at the start of each meeting. It sets the tone of seriousness and a Jewish focus for your task at hand.
5. Stress confidentiality. This cannot be overemphasized.
6. Commit to using e-mail only for non-confidential messages.
7. Ask committee members to turn cell phones off during meetings, out of respect for one another and the importance of the group process.
8. Make it a priority to keep your congregation informed of the committee’s progress via the Temple bulletin. No names or other identifying information of Cantors should be mentioned until the moment a contract is signed and sealed. A member of the committee, or its chair, should serve as a liaison to the Temple Board of Trustees.
9. Remember that every message, letter, phone call, and conversation -- whether between congregants or to candidates -- reflects on your congregation.
10. The chairperson of the search committee should be familiar with Guidelines for Cantorial-Congregational Relationships. This is a (very old) booklet put out jointly by the URJ and the ACC, and is available on the ACC website.
11. As soon as you receive a Cantor’s resume, it is very important either to call or e-mail her/him to say that you have received the information. Indicate a time frame that candidate can expect to hear further from you. A form letter or a form e-mail is less appealing to a recipient than a personalized communication.
12. We strongly suggest that you not ask for a candidate's sound files until after an initial phone/web conference interview. The greatest mistake that Search Committees make is to fall in love with a Cantor's voice or presentation and then fail to listen critically during an interview. The Cantor is question may be a great Cantor, but s/he may not be your great Cantor.
13. In general it is a good idea to stay in touch with all candidates either via phone or email on a bi-weekly basis. The most common complaint we hear from candidates is that they “feel as though they are left dangling” when weeks go by without any contact.
14. Please feel free to consult about individual candidates with the Director of Placement. She will be able to discuss what makes a good shidduch and how to ascertain the potential for such a shidduch in the particular context of your congregation’s search.
15. It is always a good idea to maintain contact with your URJ Transition and Consulting Rabbis. They will often have insights into the search process.
16. It is a good idea to ask candidates for their input on the search process that your committee has defined. This shows mutuality and respect for the candidates and for their input.
17. Please keep in mind that the Director of Placement is more of a go-between than a matchmaker. She can, in some cases, provide background material about individual candidates, but will know some candidates better than others. Please feel free to discuss with the Director of Placement any questions or concerns about candidates, their resumes, sound files, interviews, etc. Although she will not recommend one Cantor over another or point your committee in a particular direction, she is available to guide and inform you as you conduct your search in accordance with your congregation’s goals and values.
B. The Phone or Web Conference Interview
1. We do not recommend speed interviewing for the purpose of screening Cantorial candidates. It may conserve time for busy committee members, but it is unnecessarily stressful for candidates and may leave a skewed impression. We suggest that a more dignified format, albeit more time-consuming, is a traditional phone or web conference interview of approximately 45 minutes.
2. Phone/Web Conference interviews can be stressful for the candidate. Pitch the first few questions lightly and with some humor, if possible. The result will be that you will get a clearer impression of the real person.
3. Steer clear of the really tough questions in a phone/web conference interview. The purpose of this interview is to get a sense of the Cantor as a professional and as a human being. There will be plenty of time for tough questions should you elect to bring the Cantor to your congregation for an in-person interview. If, nonetheless, there is an issue or a concern regarding a particular candidate, address it first in a one-on-one phone conversation rather than in a group interview situation.
4. In a phone/web conference interview, address the topic of the candidate’s personal time (time with family, time for study). Indicate that she/he can, in fact, expect to have free personal time for refreshment of spirit.
5. The goal of a phone/web conference interview is to see whether or not there is a potential for chemistry. Devise your questions accordingly.
6. Be creative. For example, ask the Cantor about a favorite Bat/Bar Mitzvah student or to relate a favorite pulpit anecdote or to describe an ideal worship moment.
7. Give the candidate a clear idea about when he/she will be hearing back from you.
8. Never pursue references (even casually) until you have received written permission from the Cantor. The Cantor is required to inform her/his current congregation that he/she is “in Placement” only when a second in-person interview is scheduled.
9. Caution your search committee members that confidentiality must be strictly maintained. It is a small Jewish world, and every candidate’s privacy must be respected.
10. If you reject a candidate at whatever point, inform him/her right away, preferably by phone or letter. (In this particular situation, email is not a good option.) As difficult as it is, it will be helpful to the Cantor if you make this contact and take the time to explain to him/her why the committee has chosen not to continue.
1. Many search committees request that the candidates send recordings for consideration. This step can be helpful in narrowing your search. As noted above, it is considered best practice to request recordings after a preliminary phone/web conference interview has been conducted.
2. A caution: recorded sound is only so accurate. A Cantor on the bimah conveys liturgical meaning with more than voice. Presence, kavanah (religious focus), ahavat elohim (love of God), and chemistry cannot be conveyed electronically.
3. The ACC Office does not store or send recordings. Candidates are instructed to send their recordings directly to congregations, at the request of the search chair, after the phone interviews. If you do request a recording, be sure to inquire about when it was recorded.
4. Please note that many Cantors have the ability to sing in more than one style, but may not have recordings that showcases the total variety of their vocal talents.
Guidelines for Interview Expense Sharing by Congregations
• If a Cantorial candidate is approached about piggy-backing one interview trip to a searching congregation upon another, the candidate should refer the requesting search chair to the Placement Director to discuss the question. Likewise, if the candidate believes that two searching congregations might benefit from sharing travel expenses, the candidate should bring this to the attention of the Director of Placement to pursue on the candidate's and congregations' behalf. The candidate should not respond directly to any search chair about a combined trip.
• The Director of Placement will respond to the requesting search chair, or will initiate contact with a search chair suggested by the candidate, and put him/her in touch with the other congregation if appropriate.
• If both search chairs can coordinate the schedules, flights, costs, etc and can agree that both congregations’ interests are being served and if the candidate agrees that the arrangement is in his/her best interests, the plan should be submitted to the Director of Placement for approval.
• If the Director of Placement approves of the plan, it may go forward.
The responsibility to make good on any reimbursements lies with the search chairs.
• The candidate should not be involved in the process of collecting monies on behalf of either congregation. S/he should submit receipts for expenses as directed by both search chairs separately.
• It is not a good idea for three or more congregations to coordinate interviews. It becomes too cumbersome and too onerous for the candidate.
One More Important Travel Note:
It is strongly recommended that you purchase refundable air tickets. These tickets do cost more. If, however, a candidate takes another position before he/she interviews with your congregation, purchasing refundable tickets will have ensured that your congregation will not be out the cost of the airfare for his/her travel to you. Please keep in mind the fact that if a candidate finds his/her congregational shidduch before he/she interviews with you, it would be disingenuous for him/her to continue interviewing with other congregations, including yours. Since finding the right Cantor really is very much like finding the right spouse, chances are if a candidate decided on another position that he/she was not the right match for your congregation. Try not to be too disappointed, and prepare yourselves to move on.
1. Consult with the Cantor and with temple staff before finalizing arrangements and meetings, meals and tours for the visit. Do not run your Cantorial candidate ragged. Note: Hotels are always better than home hospitality, as heimish as the latter may seem. Please see the sample visit schedule on the ACC website.
2. When you schedule an on-site interview, allow plenty of downtime for the candidate before the audition.
3. It is very important to arrange for a competent accompanist. An unskilled instrumentalist will put the Cantor at a disadvantage and will distort the audition. Provide all candidates with the accompanist’s phone number, email address and mailing address so that conversations may take place and sheet music may be exchanged in advance of the audition. Schedule ample, pre-arranged rehearsal time with the accompanist.
4. Provide water.
5. Interviews should take place AFTER auditions!
6. For the audition, ask the candidate to prepare representative pieces of music including but not limited to compositions from High Holidays, Shabbat, life-cycle, and children’s music, but refrain from requesting too many specific composers. One mistake made by many well-intentioned congregations is to script the entire audition, listing specific texts by specific composers. This does not allow a Cantor to demonstrate what is meaningful to her/him. What the Cantor chooses will also teach you about him or her.
7. An additional note: Kol Nidrei is not an audition piece. One cannot replicate the somber atmosphere of Erev Yom Kippur during an audition. If there is one audition no-no, it is to ask a candidate to sing Kol Nidrei.
8. Please consider giving a prospective candidate advance notice for classroom teaching, Torah chanting and the like. Details such as class size, age, and topic will be helpful for preparation.
9. The single most important factor in job satisfaction for Cantors is the Rabbinic-Cantorial relationship. Your committee needs to spend time devising a means of determining if a good, collegial relationship is possible. Details of a lengthy meeting between Cantorial candidate and Rabbi(s) should be mapped out in advance.
10. Do not short-change the time the Cantor spends with the educator and Administrator. Getting a grasp of the congregation’s educational programming is a primary goal for any candidate. The relationship between senior staff members and Cantor is also of great importance.
11. When initiating that all-important discussion of worship style, be clear about how you define “congregational participation.” Your committee should have worked this through in advance of interviews, as that phrase can mean many different things to different people. Ask the Cantor about her/his preferred definition.
12. Do not equivocate if your committee has concerns about a particular Cantor. Express these, and challenge the resulting answer. A well-prepared candidate will not be thrown by this and should welcome the chance to respond.
13. Do not cover up any congregational problems you are experiencing. This will not shock the candidate. If you expect a Cantor to be upfront with your committee, that Cantor needs to be able to expect the same from you. Of course, you will also want to discuss how the problems are being addressed.
14. Be prepared to describe the current Cantor, his voice, her skills, work style, etc. If there are issues with the current Cantor, these should be addressed privately, at an appropriate time, between search chair and candidate. This procedure should be applied as well to the current Rabbi, Educator and Administrator or Executive Director.
15. Don’t leave out details of your congregation’s social action program. All Cantors will be interested in how your community expresses its Jewish values.
16. Do not hesitate to praise a candidate for whatever reason. She/he will not automatically assume that this signals a job offer is imminent. The Cantor’s reaction to praise will inform your process and will warm the atmosphere. In addition, if eventually rejected, the Cantor can look back upon something positive from which to build.
17. It is your search chairperson’s responsibility to ask each interviewee some version of this question: Is there anything in your record that would give a congregational search committee pause when considering your candidacy? As with any interview, the asking and answering of such questions – and manner in which the committee handles the candidate’s response – should be done in accordance with national and local law, as well as Temple policy.
18. An expert on your area’s attractions should be prepared to meet with the candidate so that he/she can begin to imagine a rewarding life-style in your community.
19. A committee member with a grasp of the budget should meet briefly with the Cantor so as to discuss proposed salary, benefits, etc. This should in no way resemble a negotiation. Rather, it should be only an orientation to the congregation’s pertinent budget lines.
20. Be clear about the search committee’s timetable. Send the Cantorial candidates home with some idea of when a decision will be made.
21. It is sometimes a good idea to visit a Cantor in his/her current pulpit (Note: this can be costly). Although there will be differences between that congregation and yours, much can be learned about a Cantor by watching pulpit style, and the interaction between Cantor and Rabbi and between Cantor and congregation. These things are not apparent in an audition. If it is at all possible, send a delegation (at least three committee members, preferably not friends!) to see each finalist prior to making a final decision. Please do not send such a delegation without the Cantor's knowledge, as the Cantor may want to let you know of special circumstances (e.g., the congregation prefers a Classical Reform musical style, but the Cantor would prefer a more mixed style of music.) If the Cantor's congregation does not know that s/he is in placement, your visit may need to be "incognito." If, on the other hand, the synagogue leadership is aware that the Cantor is considering your position, an introduction to the Rabbi and some of the synagogue lay leadership may be appropriate (following services).
22. Ideally, when the search committee’s recommendation comes to the Temple board, it should be a unanimous one. The members of the search committee may differ as much as they like during meetings, but once a decision is reached, each member should embrace it wholeheartedly. No one should leave the final committee meeting without the intention of getting 100% behind the new Cantor.
23. Negotiations should take place with only one candidate at a time!
24. All offers should be made in writing.
25. If a candidate turns down your offer, ask him/her why. Share the reasons with your committee.
26. In preparing a contract, the Guidelines for Cantorial-Congregational Relationships will be helpful to you. You may download a copy from the ACC's website.
1. At a final meeting of your search committee, as well as your transition team, craft a paragraph or two summarizing the placement process. How did it work in your congregation? Were there glitches? Were these successfully repaired? Which aspects of the process went well? What suggestions would you make to the ACC’s Director of Placement? To Cantorial candidates? To other search committees?
2. Be sure to complete the search process survey that will be sent to you after your search is completed. It is tremendously useful to us to learn about how the process went for you and to hear of your overall suggestions for the process and for our candidates.
3. The URJ has materials designed to help congregations with many kinds of clergy transitions. Contact your URJ District or Network Rabbi in order to obtain these materials.
4. If you have questions about a farewell service for an outgoing Cantor or about an installation service for your new Cantor, the URJ Transition and Consulting Rabbis will also have materials to guide you in planning these important congregational milestones.
5. If you have questions about conferring emeritus status upon your retiring Cantor, the Guidelines for Cantorial Congregational Relationships and the ACC’s Code of Ethics will be helpful to you.