Stephen Richards holds a bachelor’s degree in music from New York University and a master’s in composition from Columbia University, as well as cantorial investiture from the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (1969).
Prior to embarking on his cantorial studies, Richards was a composer-arranger for musical theater productions. While at the School of Sacred Music he began composing for the Hebrew liturgy, and he continued with increasing devotion to combine composition and arranging with pulpit service as a cantor at several Reform congregations in the United States—in Rochester, New York, in Indianapolis, in Phoenix, and in California. By the last decade of the 20th century many of his settings had become standard fare in Reform synagogues in Canada as well as in the United States; and he was in demand within Reform synagogue musical circles for his arrangements and orchestrations—not only for worship services, but for cantorial and other Jewish concert performances and recordings.
For a number of years he was the editor for Transcontinental Music Publications, the music publishing arm of the Reform movement, affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism); and he has been on the faculty of his alma mater, the School of Sacred Music, in New York. He has also served on the boards of the American Conference of Cantors, the national association of Reform cantors, as well as the Reform movement’s National Commission of Synagogue Music. And he was the project director and editor of Manginot, a music curriculum for Jewish schools published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Among Richards’s many liturgical and quasi-liturgical settings and compositions are Sim Shalom; Eilu D’varim; Sheva B’rakhot, the seven marriage benedictions; Sh’ma Adonai; Shalom Al Yisrael; a setting of Psalm 113, composed for the fiftieth anniversary of the School of Sacred Music; Eḥad, a through-composed Sabbath evening service commissioned by Central Synagogue in New York City; Variations on a Hanukka Song, written for the chorus and brass of the San Francisco Symphony; Niggun and Blessing, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the decision to admit women into the Reform cantorate; B’makom, based on sayings of the sage Hillel; Songs of a Survivor, a cycle that was the winner of the Arizona Mini-Concert Competition; and Prayer—A Suite for Oboe and Strings, composed for the Phoenix Symphony and subsequently recorded in Poland by the Krakow Symphony Orchestra. He has also written and published a series of Jewish educational songs and settings, in Hebrew and in English, for synagogue junior choirs.
Cantor Richards has directed and conducted Pro Cantione of Phoenix, Chorus Cappella of Northern California, Cantare Con Vivo, and the Bay Area Jewish Chorale in San Francisco; and he has directed the music for North Phoenix Corporate Ministry programs.
By: Neil W. Levin