{GUEST POST} This Cantor Life


This week’s guest post comes from cantor, former co-worker, and long time friend of Zechiel Music Transcription, Rigby Jones. Ms. Jones recently competed in the National Eisteddfod in Wales, broadcast on the BBC Wales, and won 2nd place in the mezzo-soprano category. She has a BM in Voice Performance from The Boston Conservatory and has studied at The Second City Hollywood, and with The Radio City Rockettes at Cal State Long Beach. She enjoys flamenco and classic rock, learning languages and traveling, the beach, listening to The Scorpions, Lady Gaga, and Bryn Terfel, and short concise bios. You can follow Rigby Jones on Instagram @erigbyjones and at her website, https://rigbyjonesmezzo.com.

You’re at a dinner party, the doctor’s office, passport control…

A: “So what do you do for a living?”

B: “I’m a singer”

Best case scenario, the response is something like this:


But more often than not, the feedback that I receive leaves me at a loss for words. The most common responses are “Oh, you sing at church? That’s so sweet! How cute!” or “You sing at churches? I hope that’s not all that you do. Why don’t you sing opera?”. I understand that these comments are well intentioned, but they still take me by surprise and leave me unsure how to respond. While I do gig, sing opera, and all that jazz, my main day job consists of singing 4-5 catholic masses a weekend plus weddings, funerals, and quiceañeras. I work with top notch musicians from the area including members from a well known symphony and have learned more about musicianship and professionalism in this setting than during my time at Conservatory. In spite of this, I am often met with disappointment when I tell them that I am a church singer. 

Just recently, I signed up for a class at a community college. The first day of class, we participated in everyone’s favorite ice breaker, “Say your name, why you are taking this class, and something interesting about yourself”


Instead of saying my usual go-to *party line*: “Hi, my name is ___ and I sing for operas and for catholic weddings and funerals. Give me a call if you know anyone who is getting married or dying”, I decided to keep my answer simple and said “I sing for churches”. I waited for the usual follow-up questions: “So you sing opera, like Phantom of the Opera?” or “Can you sing something right now!!?” but they never came. Mission accomplished!


It just so happens that there are a lot of “baby” musicians (high school/beginning college) in my course and the professor loves to ask them to get up and play for everyone (they are all really good!). For the first few weeks, I remained under the radar, until one day, my number was up. We’d all gone around describing our weekends and I mentioned that I’d sung for a few funerals.

Prof: “Oh, so you are a volunteer?”

Me: “Uh no, this is my job”

Prof: “Your job? Really? You get paid to sing at church? I didn’t realize that… what songs did you sing?”

Me: “‘How Great Thou Art’, ‘Amazing Grace’, (insert funeral greatest hits), ‘Ave Maria’...”

Prof: “AVE MARIA! I love Ave Maria! Sing ‘Ave Maria’ right now. Please, Please!!”

Me: “No, that is on my *no-sing list*.” 

I knew that I was going have to give them something but I wasn’t about to get up and start singing without accompaniment, not warmed up… C’mon, girl! I have a reputation to protect! 

giphy (1).gif

To appease them, I pulled up a recent youtube video of myself singing at a competition because I’d rather have the awkward experience of sitting in a room full of people watching me on youtube than singing mediocrely a cappella… Tough call, but sometimes you’ve got to suffer for your art. 

*Lights come up* Prof: “Wow, that was amazing! We are going to see you in an entirely different light now. Why didn’t you say that you could do that?!. You said ‘Oh, I just sing for churches, blah blah, nothing special’…”. Then one of my classmates piped up and said, “Why don’t you sing more opera?”. Luckily, it was the end of class and everyone was packing up their stuff so I was saved from giving a much of a response other than a shy smile, an awkward scoot out the door, and “a bientôt!” (Can you guess which class this is?).

tenor (1).gif

Driving home, I ruminated on what I could’ve said and my initial thought was “With the exception of baptisms, being a church singer is not very cute! I don’t go out on Friday or Saturday nights because I am singing all weekend and often wake up at 5:00am or 6:00 am to get ready for my gigs. During big holy days, I am suffocating from incense smoke and missing Easter and Christmas with my family. Aside from the role I play in keeping you awake and attentive during mass, I am there for the some of the most important moments of your life - marriage, death, etc… - some of which are extremely tragic (singing for the funerals of children, suicide victims, even murder victims).  

tenor (2).gif

But of course, I would never dare say these thoughts out loud! 

So what do you say instead? 

After this experience, I realized that these comments are a bit like bad LA traffic, if you’re anticipating them, you can handle the situation calmly and be prepared. My go-to answers vary from, “Yes, I really enjoy singing for church. I’ve been cantoring since I was 12 yrs old so it feels like home to me”. Or “It’s really fun sing for weddings and see all of the beautiful dresses” (Good convo started about weddings and it moves away from church singing). Or, if you want to be a bit obnoxious, say “Yes, I feel so blessed. What church do you attend?”. 

There is no magic, one-size fits all response. (Sorry to disappoint!).  Go forth, and let your cantor life light shine! 


Thanks be to God! 

-This Cantor Life

*Disclaimer GIFs generated for this blog can be found on Giphy.com