Cantor Raymond Smolover
SMOLOVER: Cantor Raymond Smolover, esteemed clergyman, passed on at the age of 94 on September 11, 2015, at home, and surrounded by his family. In 1921, when he was an infant, Cantor Smolover was carried by his parents as they walked across Europe, escaping pogroms in Ukraine, to reach a ship bound for America. The family settled in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, where he started his musical journey at age 8 as a boy soprano soloist in Orthodox synagogues, and as a singer in gospel tents. These experiences planted the seeds for an extraordinary career as a leading cantor in the Reform Jewish movement, a progressive clergyman dedicated to interfaith collaboration, a world class operatic and concert tenor, and a magnificently talented composer, librettist, teacher, author and scholar. Cantor Smolover served as cantor and music director (from 1949 to 1994) and cantor emeritus (from 1994 – 2015) of Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, N.Y, and also served as founding director and executive vice president of the America Conference of Cantors from 1968 to 1992. For more than six decades, Cantor Raymond Smolover was a leading and transformative figure within the Reform Jewish movement. His initial composition, “Edge of Freedom,” the first folk-rock Friday night service, premiered at the Biennial of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1967 and changed the face of Jewish liturgical music forever. “Edge of Freedom” was followed by “Gates of Freedom,” a folk-rock Saturday morning service, “Proclaim Liberty,” a work for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra that was presented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, with Mayor Andrew Young narrating; and “Where the Rainbow Ends,” an interfaith folk-rock cantata and ceremony that was commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, the Council of Churches, and Canisius College of Buffalo, N.Y., and premiered in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and performed later at at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Interviews and a collection of some of Cantor Smolover’s compositions are available on the Milken Archives of Jewish Music website. Dr. Smolover was a classically trained tenor who was offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera after performing on the Metropolitan Opera Auditions on the Air (1952) and the Jewish Concert Bureau Competition (1948). His professional singing career included leading tenor roles with the New York City Opera, the New England Opera Theater, the Tanglewood Music Festival, and numerous concerts at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and on television. His recordings of art songs, liturgy, and original compositions, include: “The Sound of the Shofar: Music of the High Holy Days,” “Yiddish and Israeli Art Songs and Duets,” “Chassidic Sabbath,” “Chassidic Gems,” “Edge of Freedom,” “Gates of Freedom,” and “Where the Rainbow Ends.” Cantor Smolover was also an accomplished librettist. In the 1950s he founded and directed the Opera Theatre of Westchester and the Westchester Music Drama Theater, which commissioned and produced chamber operas of Jewish content — all with his own libretti: “Isaac Levi,” “Chelm,” “The Golem,” “The Sons of Aaron,” “The Last Sabbath,” and “David, Son of Jesse”. Cantor Smolover was actively engaged in voice research and education for seven decades. Cantor Smolover maintained a popular voice studio in Manhattan and taught voice privately in Manhattan and in Scarsdale, N.Y. for many years, in connection with which he published several books — including “The Vocal Essence,” a handbook for singers and actors (1971); “Vocal Behavior Analysis and Modification” (1983), which began as his doctoral dissertation; and “Sing Your Best: Seven Vocal Exercises That Really Work” (2006). As a leading teacher of voice in New York City, he taught a broad spectrum of opera, theater, and recording artists, including Richard Kiley, Tony Randall and Paul Dano, and worked with extensively with both young and mature voices. Cantor Smolover’s “Legacy Haggadah” was published in 2012. He is also the author of a screenplay “The Legacy,” and numerous children’s books, short stories, and books for families, including “How to be the Best Grandfather in the World.” Following the receipt of his bachelor of arts degree from Carnegie Institute of Technology/Carnegie Mellon University, where in addition to being a voice major he was the concert master of the orchestra, and his service as a chaplain in the United States Army, he earned a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, followed by a professional diploma in music education. He received his cantorial education and investiture from the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and then earned a doctoral degree (Ed.D.) from Columbia University. Cantor Smolover celebrated his 90th birthday in Washington, D.C., and was honored at Temple Sinai at a special Shabbat Shira service that drew a crowd of hundreds. Following the service he was personally congratulated by President Barack Obama, who asked Cantor Smolover what the secret was to his longevity. Cantor Smolover replied that he attributed it to three things: “a little luck, a lot of love, and the wisdom to feel and express gratitude.” Cantor Smolover was married to his junior high school sweetheart Evelyn Ada Goltz Smolover for 62 years. He is survived by his adoring family, his three children Maura Smolover (Peter Zsiba), David Smolover (Barbara Smolover) and Deborah Smolover (Eric Bord); and four grandchildren, Jesse Smolover, Alesandra Zsiba, Liana Eve Smolover-Bord and Aydin Isaac Smolover-Bord. He was predeceased by his brother and sister, Albert Smolover of Pittsburgh and Frances Smolover Davidson of Elkins Park, Pa. Funeral services were held at Congregation Kol Ami followed by burial at Sharon Gardens in Valhalla, N.Y. Memorial contributions can be made to Congregation Kol Ami, Smolover Music Fund, 252 Soundview Ave., White Plains, NY 10606.