Mosaic, Cantor Deborah Staiman’s first CD, is an eclectic collection of classical and Jewish sacred music that reflects significant milestones in her life. She pursued a career in opera before she became a cantor.
“I wanted to pull together the many pieces of my musical life journey,” she says. “This is music from my soul.”
Staiman will be performing sacred selections from the CD, along with musical theatre gems from Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Stephen Sondheim and others, at the launch on Nov. 28.
The Toronto-born cantor says she was hooked on opera from the age of 12, when she began singing in the children’s chorus of the Canadian Opera Company. After graduating with a music degree from the University of Toronto, she studied opera at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
The investiture of the world’s first female cantor, Barbara Ostfeld-Horowitz, took place in 1975, she recalls. “I was shocked. I had sung in many synagogue choirs, but who ever heard of a woman cantor?
“There were no women cantors to serve as role models even when I was in university. [ At the time] the thought of becoming a cantor never crossed my mind.”
After continuing her opera studies in Rome, Staiman moved to New York, where she taught voice. There she became very involved with her synagogue, she recounts. “I found myself drawn to cantorial music.”
She eventually went back to school to become a cantor. In 1991, she received her master’s of sacred music from Hebrew Union College/ Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and became a member of the American Conference of Cantors. She has since served in congregations in New Jersey and Florida.
She returned to Toronto in 2002 to live closer to her family. Here she officiates at weddings, baby-namings and other Jewish life-cycle events, and she has established her own private practice as a vocal coach and singing teacher.
Staiman says she thought of various names for her CD, a compilation of diverse musical works. “When I came up with Mosaic, I felt good about it, because Mosaic means putting pieces together.”
She says the word “mosaic” also has a second meaning, which connotes institutions and writings with a connection to Moses.
“I thought that was fortuitous… ‘Mosaic’ relates to Jewishness, and 11 out of the 16 songs on the CD are Jewish.”
The CD also features arias and art songs that reflect Staiman’s operatic career, she says.
The selection of Jewish music includes a couple of pieces with texts from the Song of Songs; Harvest, a musical setting to a poem by Hungarian Jewish partisan Hannah Senesh; a Yiddish classic, Oy Mame Bin Ich Farlibt (Oh Mama Am I in Love); such Shabbat liturgical pieces as a Sephardi Kiddush, Yism’Chu, Sholom Aleichem and Avinu Malkeinu, the prayer sung only on the High Holidays.
Staiman chants a traditional piece of a cappella chazzanut set to the Shema of the Shabbat Musaf service, while she chooses more contemporary renditions of Yism’Chu and Sholom Aleichem.
Cantors are always recording liturgical music, she says. “We have an incredibly vast and rich musical tradition. Much of it is fine music that deserves to be heard outside the synagogue.”
Mosaic will be launched on Nov. 28 at the Annex Live, 296 Brunswick Ave., in Toronto, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Call 416-483-9532 or visit jewishlifecycles.ca.