My Music. My Story. is one of Classical Music Indy’s initiatives to feature music, musicians, and music lovers in a fun way. To honor Jewish American Heritage Month, we spoke with Cantor Janice L. Roger, from the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (IHC). She was the Cantor with the IHC for 38 years and retired from the position in 2017. In this interview from May 2017, Cantor Roger discusses her love of music, how it is used throughout her work at the IHC, and why she decided to serve her community through music.
Cantor Janice Roger: My Music. My Story.
What is your favorite kind of music and why?
Music of the Baroque and Classical periods is most often on my playlist. I like the symmetry of these periods as well as the harmonies. That said, I am also a big fan of the Great American Songbook. The relationship of this popular music to the song forms created by Shubert always delights me – not to mention the wittiness of the texts of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim.
What does music mean to you?
Music has always brought me comfort in times of stress – once when I had a terrible toothache, singing relieved the pain. It also is the way that I unwind after a long day at work. Music also means joy and provides me a with a way to express feelings that are deep within.
How has music influenced your life?
Needless to say, music has been critical in my work – it allows me to help support and care for my family. However, it was the love of music and the gifts of voice and instrumental skill that helped me to become who I am today. Without the many teachers and conductors from whom I learned and with whom I studied, I could not perform the musical aspects of my position.
How does music play a role in your congregation?
Noted violinist, Nathan Milstein, said, “Music is one of the proofs of God’s existence.” Unknowingly, these words have guided my role as cantor for almost four decades. Worship services are the times in the week that music is the most apparent. However, I have long used music as a teaching tool for b’nai mitzvah students, and for students in our Early Childhood and Religious School programs. Also, visiting terminally ill patients and singing to them can help bring comfort at a difficult time. Vocal music, however, is not the only way in which our congregants hear and implement music. We also use piano, organ, cello, clarinet, and flute to accompany worship services. Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation has a very accomplished Klezmer band – a volunteer instrumental group – which plays for Shabbat, holy days, and celebrations. This year, our band will be playing at the Broad Ripple Art Fair.
As cantor, what are your responsibilities with the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation?
In addition to being responsible for organizing the music for worship services, I teach bar and bat mitzvah students, visit the ill and homebound, officiate at life cycle events, teach adult education classes on a variety of subjects (some of them non-musical), have administrative duties (creating annual Music Budget, working with Administrative Assistant to produce the weekly worship bulletin, maintaining a pastoral data base) and have created musical plays for the Early Childhood Chanukah celebration, Purim (a holiday based on the Book of Esther) and other congregational events.
What is the best part about the work you do as cantor?
Besides leading worship and choir rehearsals, it is working with people of all ages and critical points in their lives. Being a cantor means ministering to people and helping them find meaning in their lives through Judaism. Being a cantor means passing on knowledge and traditions so that there will be a Jewish future. The role of the cantor combines prayer, musicianship and art in ways that have the potential to touch people deeply.
What made you decide to work with the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation?
When the position became available, I was enticed by the rich musical traditions that existed here already. Also, I am from the Midwest and would be closer to my family in Chicago.
How do you think music benefits the Indianapolis community?
To answer with another question, “How doesn’t it?” Music brings people together; music enriches the lives of those who hear and those who make it happen. Science has proven that learning to play music improves well-being and intellect in numerous ways.