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Cantor

The chief singer (and sometimes instructor) of the ecclesiastical choir

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Cantor, the chief singer (and sometimes instructor) of the ecclesiastical choir, called also precentor. His duties and qualifications have varied considerably according to time and place; but generally he must be ready to lead all the singing in church, to start any chant, and be watchful to prevent or correct mistakes of singers placed under him. He may be responsible for the immediate rendering of the music, showing the course of the melody by movements of the hand. The chief singer of the Gregorian Schola Cantorum was called Prior scholce or Primicerius. In medieval cathedrals the cantor was master of music and chant, but also commonly one of the dignitaries of the chapter. In the fourteenth century the cantor in many churches 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, who might be a layman: The cantor’s place in church is on the right of the choir, and immediately on his left stands his assistant, formerly called the “succentor”. In ruling the choir the cantor very commonly carried a staff as the mark of his dignity. This custom still survives in some places.

WILFRID G. A. SHEBBEARE


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