Cantor (church)

Cantor (church)

A cantor or chanter (Gk. ψάλτης) is the chief singer (and ofttimes instructor) employed in a church with responsibilities for the ecclesiastical choir; also called the "precentor". The cantor's duties and qualifications have varied considerably according to time and place; but generally he must be competent to conduct the vocals for the choir, to start any chant on demand, and to be able to identify and correct the missteps of singers placed under him. He may be held accountable for the immediate rendering of the music, showing the course of the melody by movements of the hand(s), similar to a conductor.

Eastern Christianity

In the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the position of chanter ("psaltis") is one of the minor clerical orders, though it is not unusual for an unordained singer to fill the role of chanter for an indefinite period. The chief chanter is called the "protopsaltis" (Gk. προτοψάλτης). The cantor or chanters sing the many hymns called for during the Divine Services. A chanter must be knowledgeable about the ecclesiastical modes as well as the complex structure of the services. A chanter must be Orthodox and must have the blessing of the pastor to serve in the kliros.

In the Greek tradition, a "psaltis" will often wear the "exorason", a black outer cassock with angel-wing sleeves. The Slavic tradition—which tends more commonly to use a choir rather than a cantor—assigns no specific vestment to the chanters, unless an individual has been ordained a Reader, in which case he would wear only the inner cassock ("podryasnik") and put on the sticharion when he receives Holy Communion.

Western Christianity

In the Roman Catholic Church a cantor is the lead singer of the choir, a bona fide clerical role. The chief singer of the Gregorian Schola cantorum was called "Prior scholae" or "Primicerius".

In medieval cathedrals, the cantor was principal of music and chant, but also commonly one of the dignitaries of the chapter. During the 14th century in many churches, the cantor began to delegate his instruction of the singers to a master of music. After the introduction of harmonized music, some duties naturally fell to the conductor or choir-master.

The cantor's locality in the church is most generally to the right of the choir, and directly to his left is his assistant, formerly called the "Succentor". A common custom for cantors was the bearing of the staff, which was the mark of his dignity and a visual representative of his sacred role inside the church. This custom still survives in some places.

In Protestant Churches the role of the cantor can be lay or pastoral.

"This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913."



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