The first half of the 20th century was considered the golden age of cantors, the musical liturgists in the Jewish faith. Scott Buckner, the cantor of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn., who is in Durango on sabbatical, was inspired by those musicians when he was studying to be ordained as a cantor.
"Many of them came from Europe and had such glorious voices that they were pursued by opera houses and opera companies," he said. "It's not a performance but a reaction to text, to liturgy, to words of scripture."
His studies, a four-year graduate program at the Jewish University of America, included liturgy, special musical modes of prayers and choral conducting. It took place after his graduation from Tufts University in Massachusetts. Cantors, who are ordained clergy just as rabbis are, are in charge of everything musical in Jewish congregations.
"The cantor is the heart and soul of services," Buckner said. "There is no parallel like it in other faiths. He performs in all life events, births, weddings, funerals, visiting hospitals and the sick. Training for bar and bat mitzvahs goes through the cantor instead of the rabbi, who is involved as the interpreter of liturgy."
Cantors enjoy singing and performing everything from opera to jazz in addition to liturgical singing, Buckner said, adding that he will be performing a wide variety of styles in four different languages at the concert he will give next week.
Some of the styles include the Spanish-Judaic Ladino, Middle Eastern and opera.
During Buckner's tenure at Adath Jeshurun, he has created a performing arts program, which has allowed him to work with Broadway talents Theodore Bickel and Marvin Hamlisch.
Buckner has a close connection to Durango's Congregation Har Shalom, where he is worshipping while here. His sister Lisa Smith often takes on the role of cantor or song leader, a role Buckner said she has partly learned from him.
"She does a great job for not being a professional cantor," said Martin Model, who plays the mandolin at Har Shalom.
Buckner has a goal while he is in Southwest Colorado.
"My overall vision is to bring 'ruach,' or a spirit of song and prayer that a cantor has," he said, "and to teach new music and enable their own lay leaders who normally do the singing with ideas and music that they can use the rest of the year. And of course, to strengthen my relationship with the community."