For the past 18 years, Cantor Lynn Torgove, ’12, has been integral to the Hebrew College community—first as a cantorial and master’s student, and then as a faculty member, artistic director, and, most recently, director of the College’s Cantorial Program. She shared her extensive knowledge and mastery of nusach, vocal technique, Yiddish and cantorial repertoire, world Jewish music, Jewish history—and Broadway and contemporary Jewish composers—with her students, always with her characteristic intellect, warmth, and dedication.
Perhaps rabbinical and cantorial dean Rabbi Dan Judson expresses it best: “’Wow’ to the incredible care Lynn has for the cantorial students and alumni who have come through the program. ‘Wow’ to the graciousness and humor with which she has led the program these past years, her love of Jewish choral music and Jewish music in general, and her passion for hazzanut itself.”
We spoke to Lynn about her years at Hebrew College as she prepares to start her next chapter as a full-time Ph.D. student at Tufts University.
You have been at Hebrew College for 18 years (“chai” is a significant number for Jews!). Reflecting back, what are your fondest memories, first as a student and later as a faculty member?
One of the first memories I have of my first year as a student in the cantorial program was when I heard a student chanting with traditional nusach during the weekday mincha service. Growing up in a Reform congregation, I had never heard such a thing! I was moved to my core by the magic of the chant and how it created sacred space. I was overwhelmed with awe. That first year, I also remember sitting in my first weekday nusach class, casually reading The New York Times, waiting for class to start. I had no idea how the power of Jewish music was about to change my life!
How has your time at Hebrew College shaped you professionally as a cantor and educator?
All of my years at Hebrew College transformed me in ways I could not have foreseen. As a student, I was deeply inspired by my teachers: Rav-Hazzan Dr. Scott Sokol, Cantor Louise Treitman, Cantor Dr. Brian Mayer, Dr. Joshua Jacobson—they all inspired me to go beyond what I thought I could possibly achieve.
What I came to understand is the way that chant, both cantillation and nusach, could express the deep meaning of the text. How Jewish music, in all its variety and languages, could express the soul of the people. And how the richness, power and poetry of Jewish liturgy and sacred text could inspire my imagination and feed my soul. And then, as a teacher, I could pass on that legacy to my students, who could pass it on to their congregations.
As a teacher, I grew as my students grew, encouraging their questions and accompanying them through their trials of confidence, skill, and learning. My students’ bravery and determination, insights, and struggles inspired me to continue to grow and learn myself.
What is your proudest accomplishment as an educator in the cantorial program?
My proudest moments happened every year, every semester! I was inspired every time a student began to hear and express their true voice, discovering it through practice and determination. Every time they allowed themselves to be vulnerable and open up to mastering the art of nusach, chanting, hearing, and feeling how they could express the text and discover for themselves what they didn’t imagine they could do. It just about wiped me out every semester!
Their questions, probing, and curiosity always moved me. That I was able to provide the scaffolding for these moments of discovery is deeply gratifying. I felt the same way about teaching voice to both cantorial and rabbinical students. Having the opportunity to help them to find their true voices, so that they express themselves through music is one of the greatest gifts I experienced here.
You started Hebrew College’s choir-in-residence, Kol Arev. How has that evolved over the years?
When I was asked to start a choir by the previous dean of the School of Jewish Music, Cantor Dr. Brian Mayer, I realized I could never do it alone. I needed a partner. I needed a music director and conductor whose artistry and skill I admired, whom I could trust as an empathetic and encouraging teacher, and whose high musical standards were impeccable. There was only one person I would ask—and that was Amy Lieberman, a graduate of Prozdor! She said yes, and the two of us started on a journey of discovery and creation that outpaced all of my expectations!
Our goal was to create a choir that would act as a “musical ambassador of Hebrew College.” Kol Arev sang with and made lasting connections with interfaith choirs and seminaries. We collaborated and sang at the Byzantine Music Festival with the Hellenic College Holy Cross, Andover Newton Theological School, performed at the Boston Theological Institute’s yearly CHOIRFEST, and collaborated on performances with the St. John’s Seminary and Boston College choirs . With Hebrew College cantorial alumna Cantor Becky Khitrik, Lieberman created our signature “Klezmer Kabbalat Shabbat Service,” which we have led as part of the Boston Jewish Music Festival and for many congregations in the Greater Boston area.
We also brought our mission inward, singing yearly concerts of Jewish choral and solo music from different eras, styles, and languages for the Hebrew College community. One of our most meaningful projects was hosting the Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society from Johannesburg, South Africa, for a workshop and joint concert of Jewish and South African music at Hebrew College. And then there was the Bernstein Birthday Bash, where Hebrew College’s marketing director, Wendy Linden, performed her show- stopping rendition of “I Can Cook Too” from “On the Town”!
The music that we brought to life and the student musicians, singers, and conductors whom Lieberman nurtured, supported, and taught are some of the greatest achievements of our work together.
What’s next for you?
This coming fall, I will be starting a Ph.D. program at Tufts University, my undergraduate alma mater, in its interdisciplinary doctoral program. My doctoral thesis and subsequent performance project will be an extension of work that I began at Hebrew College for my master’s degree in Jewish studies under the direction of Dr. Barry Mesch on the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for women. I am excited and honored to finish the work I began, with deeper, broader study and research in the areas of theater/performance, music, ethnomusicology, Jewish studies, anthropology, and women’s and gender studies.
I have loved my years at Hebrew College. I am grateful to my teachers and colleagues—including Rabbi Dan Judson, Marcia Spellman, Wendy Linden, Rosa Franck, Rabbi Gita Karasov, and Laurena Rosenberg and so many others—my incredible students, and the atmosphere of inquiry and curiosity more than I can possibly express.
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