“The way I got this job was weird and wonderful,” David Fair said of his work in Canton. He is the congregation’s cantorial soloist.
David Fair’s dream, hope and plan was always to be an opera singer.
But God keeps giving him work to do.
Since August, the charismatic vocalist has been making the weekly, hour-long drive from Cleveland Heights to Temple Israel, where he serves as the congregation’s cantorial soloist.
The cantorial soloist is a type of worship leader.
“When you get up on the bimah (pulpit) you have to have a ‘ruach,’ or spirit,” Fair explained. “You have to be comfortable with the language, have eye contact, and relate to the audience. I smile when I sing. I can’t help it.”
Growing up, Fair, his two brothers, and their mother were the only Jews in an all-black neighborhood in Baltimore. His father is a Christian.
“Being Jewish became a very special thing for us,” Fair said. “We’d drive two towns over to go to synagogue. Judaism was always this very exciting thing, thanks to a mom who lived it, too. I just always loved it.”
As a teen, Fair said, his involvement in Jewish activities receded but found new life when he became a music major at the University of Maryland, College Park. Eventually he found work with a cantorial quartet at a synagogue, which prompted him to devote three years to perfecting his Hebrew. He graduated from college in 2007, with plans to go to Israel.
“I wanted to do something Judaic,” he said.
But when the trip fell through, Fair found another job as a Hebrew instructor at a Jewish preschool in Pittsburgh. When he was overheard singing during a synagogue service, it led to a job offer as cantorial soloist and teacher.
“I got a real taste of what it would be like to be a full-time cantor; I didn’t like it,” Fair said frankly. “There was too much politics.”
Cantors are ordained clergy. They are required to earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by five years of study at a Jewish seminary, an additional year of study in Israel, and in some cases, an internship. Their responsibilities include teaching, participating in funeral rites, overseeing the B’naiMitzvah programs at their synagogues.
A JEWISH SOUL
When Fair accepted a scholarship for a graduate program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he had no idea it would lead him to Temple Israel.
“The way I got this job was weird and wonderful,” he said.
Fair was on a hiatus from teaching at the Cleveland Hillel, when he won a singing role in the Canton Symphony’s production of “Sleepy Hollow” when auditions were in Cleveland. The executive director of the Cleveland Symphony recommended him to a member of Temple Israel, who mentioned that the congregation was looking for cantorial soloist for the High Holy Days.
Page 2 of 2 - “I feel very much like a part of this family,” Fair said of Temple Israel. “People here are so wonderful; they’re not fussy. And Rabbi (Jon) Adland trusts my judgment.”
“The journey he has been on to get to the Cleveland Institute of Music is fascinating,” Adland said. “He has a desire to be opera singer but he has this real Jewish soul.”
Adland said it’s the job of the cantorial soloist to engage the congregation in the songs selected, and to bring a spiritual component to the service through the music.
“He makes the decision on what we’re going to sing,” Adland said of Fair. “The people absolutely loved him and the music he brought to this congregation; it was great and beautiful. They hadn’t had a voice like this in a long time.”
Fair said that even though he’s Jewish, he has no qualms about singing at churches, which he did professionally as a college student, and still does on some Sundays.
“I love religion,” he said. “I love what it does for people. I’m happy to give anybody a spiritual experience ... I see myself as a channel through which people send their prayers to God. I think I provide a congregation with a degree of spirituality. I’m not up there tap-dancing; I’m actually praying when I’m singing.”
Fair said his favorite “yih’yu” or prayer to sing, comes from Psalms 19:14: “May the words of my mouth, and the mediation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Fair said he’s grateful for the opportunity to serve Temple Israel.
“While I’m not an ordained cantor, I love what I’m able to do now,” he said. “What I’m doing now allows me to do so much more.”
“He was absolutely wonderful during the holidays,” Adland said. “I hope we can get him back for at least one more year. People come out to services and really enjoy being there.”
“Being a cantorial soloist allows me to sing for a truly appreciative congregation, while being able to pursue other interests,” Fair said. “I’m able to pursue being an opera singer while still being able to establish a relationship with congregants and serve as a ‘shaliach tzibur’ (an agent of the congregation). It sounds a bit like I’m getting my cake, and eating it too, and it sort of is.”