Dear Reb Shohama,
My fiancée and I are planning our wedding, and we want a ceremony that is traditional, but that feels like us. We know a rabbi, a friend of the family, who shares our desire for warmth and informality. This rabbi usually officiates by herself, as she has a nice voice. We also know a cantor who has served at our family’s synagogue since I was a child. We would like to include him, but are concerned that his formal operatic style will undercut the tone of the ceremony we are trying to plan. What should we do? Sincerely,Sharon
Wedding plans are rarely simple, especially when it comes to honoring friends who are professional clergy. Often the vibrancy and spiritual power of a ceremony are lessened by having shared leadership among people whose styles don’t blend well.
There is a great difference between rabbis and cantors who prefer a great deal of formality and those who prefer an informal, interactive approach. Either style can be spiritually uplifting. Neither style is right or wrong. But, they are different, and it is often jarring trying to blend the two.
The formal cantor brings spirituality by presenting musical sound with traditional blessings. The informal rabbi brings spirituality by engaging the couple and the guests in the holy energy of bringing forth blessings from G-d and from all those present.
It sounds as if the rabbi you have chosen will be able to lead a wedding ceremony that will reflect your personality and desires. Usually a kol bo (leader who leads the speaking as well as the music) holds energy best on his or her own.
There are a number of ways to have your cantor enhance your celebration without having him dominate the wedding ceremony. My suggestion would be to ask him to sing a special song or psalm during the reception , or lead Birkat HaMazon (the blessing after the meal) at the end. If you feel you want him to participate in the wedding ceremony itself, he could sing one song, or chant the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings that conclude the ceremony. That way he would be included, but would not shift the tone of the wedding.
I suggest you discuss these options with your fiancée first, and then with the rabbi and the cantor. May you be blessed with the wedding of your dreams, and a lifetime of happiness.
Mazel tov! Reb Shohama Submit your spiritual guidance questions here.
Recommended Reading: Living Jewish Life Cycle: Creating Meaningful Rites of Passage for Each Stage of Life has an extensive creative guide for Jewish wedding planning.