Richard Lawrence ’14
What was your motivation for pursuing cantorial training?
I always knew that I wanted to do something musical, but I wanted to incorporate music into creating personal relationships with people, into getting out and serving a community. The idea of becoming a cantor took hold when I was participating in a conference on Star Island, NH, and was asked to provide music for a worship service. After the service, a woman came up to me and said, “I really enjoyed the service. When you started singing the music, your entire face lit up.” Those words became a call to action that I could not ignore, and they irrevocably changed my life for the better. As a cantor, I see myself as a source to help others find ways to bring meaning to their lives, whether through our received tradition or through a brand-new creation. In communities I’ve served, I’ve seen the music that they make create stronger bonds between them, which in turn give those communities [HF6] the chance to better serve others.
What do you hope to bring from your cantorial education to your professional life?
I feel the most valuable piece of wisdom I’ve received from my education is the ever-present and important tension that exists in our liturgy between keva(that which is fixed/set) and kavanah(intention). To me, this pull between kevaand kavanahis understanding how we can honor, cherish and utilize our vast received tradition while at the same time ensuring that what we do with our tradition is infused with meaning in today’s world. I believe that both kevaand kavannahhave contributed, and continue to contribute, to Jewish continuity.
To your personal life?
I hope to continue to explore, to keep open to people and ideas, and to keep listening. I have learned that when I grow spiritually myself, I am better able to guide others along their own spiritual paths as well.
From whom, or from what, do you draw inspiration?
I like to leave myself open to inspiration, since I’ve found that sometimes it comes at the most unexpected times. I feel it is important to see every person I meet and every piece of music I hear as a potential source of inspiration.
Can you reflect on one internship or student work experience that was particularly moving?
There have been so many moving moments in my time here, so I’ll reflect on two. For the past couple of years, I have led High Holy Day services for the joint communities of Temple Israel of Nantasket and Temple Beth Sholom in Hull. AfterKol Nidrethis past year, a congregant came up to me and thanked me, telling me that he had gotten chills, and felt a deep connection during the recitation of Kol Nidre. That is precisely the impact I’d like to continue to have on my synagogue community. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to sing Max Janowski’s Avinu Malkeinu. A high-school senior came up to me with watery eyes and told me it was the most powerful spiritual experience she had ever felt, and that others in the congregation had been similarly moved. That moment made me feel truly blessed.
What parts of the Hebrew College SJM experience were most valuable in preparing you for your new pulpit?
The SJM structure encourages students to take the learning that they get in the classroom and go into communities to apply it. Whether through High Holy Day pulpits, or through supervised internships, students are able to use their education and skills and then return to campus to process the experience with teachers and advisers.
What was it like to incorporate a master’s degree into your course of study?
The coursework flowed very nicely, and the education studies were invaluable for someone going into the clergy. Clergy are all teachers, whether they recognize it or not. It was also great to move between the varied types of study; it kept my mind limber.
What advantages of being in Boston, whether in the Jewish community or the Boston music scene, did you value?
Boston is a great city, both musically and Jewishly. I love the character of the city and would love to move back here in the future. The Jewish community is strong and diverse. The music scene is similarly varied, with opportunities to become involved in early music, classical, concert series and more. The character of Boston is vibrant but not hectic. Plus, it has a great public-transit system.
What advice would you offer students just starting out studying cantorial arts?
I think what was most important for me was keeping an open mind and heart. I came to school with a particular Jewish background, and was introduced to text study and prayer settings that were not a part of my prior communal experience. By keeping an open mind, I was able to find what resonated with me and took those elements as a part of my own practice. My experience at Hebrew College has enabled me to feel not as a particular type of Jew, but rather as a Jew in the worldwide Jewish community.