For more than four decades Cantor Raymond Smolover was a leading figure within the musical circles of the Reform movement in America, a respected pedagogue, and a driving force behind the creation, production, and promotion of new artistic music of Jewish experience beyond the synagogue. Following the receipt of his bachelor of arts degree from Carnegie Institute of Technology/Carnegie Mellon University 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 a doctoral degree (Ed.D.) from Columbia University. In 1950, even before he was formally invested by HUC, he began his forty-four-year tenure as the cantor and music director of the Jewish Community Center/Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, New York. On his retirement, in 1994, Kol Ami awarded him the title of Cantor Emeritus. For more than thirty years he was the executive vice president and placement director of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform cantorial association.
In the 1950s Cantor Smolover founded and directed the Opera Theatre of Westchester (Westchester County, New York), which commissioned and produced six Jewish operas—all with his own libretti: Isaac Levi by Frederick Piket; Chelm by Robert Strassburg (recorded by the Milken Archive and included in Volume 16); The Golem by Lazar Weiner; The Sons of Aaron by Siegfried Landau; and The Last Sabbath and David Son of Jesse, both by Charles Davidson. Cantor Smolover also sang leading tenor roles with the New York City Opera, the New England Opera Theatre (at Tanglewood), and at the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival. And he taught voice privately for many years, in connection with which he published several books and manuals—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).
In addition to Edge of Freedom and Gates of Freedom, which are included in the Milken Archive, Cantor Smolover wrote Proclaim Liberty, a work for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra that was presented 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 Canisius College, the American Jewish Committee, and the Council of Churches of Buffalo, New York, and premiered in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He is also the composer of art songs and liturgical settings, and his recordings include The Sound of the Shofar, comprising music for the High Holydays; Yiddish-IsraeliDuets; Chassidic Sabbath;and Chassidic Gems. His The Legacy of Haggadah was published in 2012.
Cantor Smolover passed away on September 11, 2015.
By: Neil W. Levin