ACC Spotlight: Cantor Lori Frank

Cantor Lori Frank is Cantor of Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, CA.

Tell us about your Jewish upbringing in Rochester, NY.

Our family started in the Conservative movement then switched affiliation to the large Reform congregation, Temple B'rith Kodesh, when I was in fourth grade. I was very involved in temple life from a young age. My mother was the bookkeeper for our temple and also taught in the religious school so I was always hanging around. I was involved with youth group and B'nai B'rith, and also worked as a receptionist in the temple office during school breaks. When I was 12, I sang in the adult choir under the direction of Michael Isaacson (then a student at Eastman School of Music) and bonded with my cantors, David Unterman and Stephen Richards, who saw something special in me.

At my Bat Mitzvah I realized I was good at chanting and singing the prayers, and noticed that people responded positively. I believe my parents planted the seeds for me to consider becoming a cantor. The temple's Associate Rabbi, Rosalyn Gold, was a wonderful role model. Another mentor there was Rabbi Ron Shapiro, who encouraged me to pursue the cantorate by teaching me liturgy and advanced prayer book Hebrew through independent study in high school. The temple was very progressive in the early 1970s, and my parents were very encouraging and supportive. It never occurred to me that a woman could not be a cantor.

Were singing and music a part of your childhood? How did you end up performing in musical theater and opera? What is your favorite memory from this time in your life?

I was singing and performing from a very young age. While in first grade, I was a featured act in a high school concert billed as, "The little girl with the big voice." I also performed in and won awards in many talent shows. I was a mainstay of the theater department in both middle and high schools, performing in all the plays and musicals. Despite never learning to play guitar, I was a great youth group song leader.

I loved musical theater. Being able to combine my ability to sing, act, and dance was heaven for me. I also performed opera and musicals in college as a part of my voice performance degree. Favorite roles were Pamina in a full-scale production of "The Magic Flute," the Mother in "Amahl and the Night Visitors," Golda in "Fiddler on the Roof," Ado Annie in "Oklahoma," Susanna in "Don Giovanni," and Lucy in "The Telephone."

What led you to become a cantor?

Combining my love of Judaism and my love of music seemed natural for me. I received my BA in Judaic Studies and Voice Performance/Opera in 1980 from SUNY Albany. I worked as cantorial soloist and religious school music teacher at B'nai Sholom, the small Reform Congregation in Albany, my junior and senior years, while taking independent study courses with Cantor Howard Stahl.

The next step was cantorial school. Although I applied to Hebrew Union College, School of Sacred Music during my junior year, there were too many obstacles to overcome for me to go there after graduation. Instead, I went to San Diego after being accepted into the San Diego Civic Light Opera Company. I performed with them while working a day job and also acted with the Rossman Jewish Repertory Theater.

You've been the cantor at Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, Calif., since 1982. That's a long tenure! How did you begin at the Temple and tell us more about your accomplishments there.

I was "discovered" when the temple bought out an evening of theater as a fundraiser. I was starring in "Two By Two" and had mentioned my experience as a cantorial soloist in my program bio. The Rabbi at the time came backstage and introduced himself. He said the temple was looking for a cantorial soloist and that the members in the audience thought I was terrific. We set up an interview the following week and the rest is history.

I began part-time as cantorial soloist, music teacher in the religious school, and B'nai Mitzvah tutor. The next year the temple offered me a full-time position, which also included serving as youth group director. I continued my cantorial studies, eventually receiving my certification and investiture.

I am very proud of my accomplishments during my tenure. I strive to involve as many congregants as possible in all of our music groups and programs. When I started, there was only an adult High Holy Day choir. I established Junior and Youth choirs, a year-round Adult Choir, the multi-generational Simchat Shabbat Tefillah/Klezmer Band, a Young Artists Concert, and a Teen Band.

Every year we produce spectacular Purim shows that congregants write and participate in. We also feature a Hebrew and holiday-based music curriculum for our school, a rotation of special services and a contemporary High Holy Day service. Many congregants chant Torah regularly as a result of my cantillation classes. I am also very proud of the B'nai Mitzvah program that I established and supervise. We have an active interfaith community and I have served as music director for the area's annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service for more than 25 years. I was also the first female cantorial soloist in San Diego.

My greatest accomplishment as cantor is inspiring a generation of students to be involved in synagogue music. Many of my former students have gone on to professional singing careers. Several are cantorial soloists, worship leaders in college, and/or religious-school teachers. They all keep in touch and ask me for music and advice. I am their Cantor Lori, their Jewish musical memory and foundation as they become adults. This is my greatest joy.

In 2001, after 20 years of working as a cantor, you received cantorial certification from Hebrew Union College, School of Sacred Music in NYC. What led to this decision? How did you feel about the experience of being a student again?

I knew that after many years in my pulpit, I merited being a fully invested cantor. I also knew that as a woman in the field that to receive reasonable compensation, I needed to be fully invested. Taking on the certification process was daunting, especially doing it in tandem with my full-time job.

Just as I began the process, my husband was diagnosed with a very aggressive and deadly cancer. At that point, it was clear that I needed to have job and salary security. Together we endured -- defeating the cancer and overcoming the challenges of the study and testing process -- and we both emerged triumphant. Though the certification process was extremely hard, it was my most self-empowering experience. It demonstrated that what I was doing in my cantorate was quality work, and that I was worthy of the mantle of full clergy.

What are your goals moving forward?

My goals are consistent: to engage as many congregants of all ages in our temple worship, programs, and activities; to continue to find creative and innovative experiences that reflect the needs of today yet balance with tradition; to create connections and relationships and to tend to the needs of our congregation; and to be the best cantor I can be.

As I move closer to retirement, I reflect with pride on the musical legacy that I have created. I will continue to work to preserve its quality and expand it. I look forward to becoming cantor emerita and to continue to be of service to my temple family for as long as I am able.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to move! I work out, dance, take spin classes, do strength training and take power walks. I truly believe that being a better athlete makes me a better singer. My husband and I love to travel, to socialize with our friends and enjoy theater, wine tastings and social events. We also eat out a lot because I don't like to cook!