“Things happen in life. It was all ordained in a special way,” said Philippe, 48, of becoming a cantor.
After obtaining a master’s in flute, chamber music and conducting from the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, he started touring as a musician. Then an audition came up for Jewish liturgical music soloists and he tried it.
“As I was singing with that, I thought ‘This is pretty neat’,” said Philippe, of Miami Beach.
He now serves in his third year as the cantor of Miami Beach Temple Emanu-El of Greater Miami, where he has used his musical background to organize an arrangement by a string quartet for the Kol Nidre evening service on Yom Kippur.
He was invested in to become a cantor at the Consistoire Israelite de Paris and studied to become a rabbi at Yeshiva Toras Mishe in Israel.
He originally sang as a tenor, but as a cantor he tries to sing in the baritone range so that congregants may join in the prayer songs.
“I try to encourage people to join in,” said Philippe.
Young at heart
At 8-years-old, Jodi Rozental was the youngest vocalist in the Temple Sinai youth choir – usually children were not allowed to join until the age of 9.
At 13-years-old, she was perhaps the youngest congregation member to step behind the bimah and lead entire services for three months when the official cantor was away. First she led services by singing a cappella. Later on she started playing the guitar.
“It was for me as if the music was in my blood,” said Rozental, now 46 and the cantorial soloist at Coral Gables Temple Judea. “It called to my soul. I learned every song. Ever word. It was almost like I was reliving it.”
Rozental’s life training as a cantorial soloist started at a young age and continued throughout the years. As a University of Florida student she was one of the founders of the Reform Jewish Student Organization and led High Holy Days services for students. Now, as cantorial soloist at Temple Judea she sings as a mezzo-soprano during services, directs the all-volunteer-adult choir Kol Malachim, or Voice of the Angels, and the temple’s The Rhythm & Jews Band. She composed her own music to a traditional Shabbat prayer, L’Chah Dodi.
Recently, leaders of services like Rozental and the rabbis clad themselves in sparkly black outfits and treated their congregation to a Glee-inspired Broadway show, The Temple Judea Episode, for their annual fundraiser.
“We get down and dirty,” said Rozental, of Fort Lauderdale. “We show our human side. It was different for our congregants to see us because they always see us in a more serious role.”
Like many other modern-day cantors, Rozental was not officially ordained as she did not go to school to become a cantor.
“I have something that can’t be taught in school,” she said of her voice and connection to the music she felt ever since she started attending Temple Sinai as a child.
“I was just immersed,” said Rozental. “If I wasn’t at home, my parents knew they could find me at temple.”
A team effort
Michael Henry may be the one standing on the bimah, a raised platform at the front of the temple. He may be the one leading the prayers sung at Temple Beth Or’s services. And he may be the one who sings the tenor parts of prayer songs.