The beauty of music is that it allows the ability to connect with what you find meaningful in life and can serve as an extension of faith. For Jacob Agar, music was always deeply rooted within him and became his connection to spirituality and the human experience. Enamored by the intensity, drama, and purity of opera, the musician quickly found passion in vocal artistry and began his lifelong mission to create music that speaks to people from all walks of life. He became a cantor – an official who sings liturgical music and leads prayer in a synagogue – at Beth Sholom Congregation, marking an impressive accomplishment in his musical journey. Jacob Agar continues to explore his depth in range and lyricism through his projects, allowing it to serve as a form of healing for himself and those who listen.
Diving deeper into his Jewish faith and heritage, Jacob Agar presents his rendition of “Avinu Malkeinu,” a classic piece sung on the High Holy Days. The song welcomes a new year filled with forgiveness, new beginnings, and the desire to be better. With spine-chilling vocals and gorgeous instrumentals, Jacob Agar provides a modernized take that anyone can appreciate. The music video matches the song’s beauty: the visual was shot at Beth Sholom, the only synagogue designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s truly a visual to marvel at and a song to appreciate the skills Jacob Agar has mastered throughout his career.
Tell us about your journey in discovering your passion for music, what pivotal moments shaped you?
Growing up I was surrounded by a lot of music – my parents had diverse musical tastes and so I grew up hearing opera, classical music, Italian and French contemporary music, Flamenco, jazz, old Soviet music, classic rock, film soundtracks and middle eastern music. I was named after my grandfather who was an opera singer and died a year before I was born – fact always stuck with me. When I was 15, I formed a rock band and started taking singing lessons. Through my lessons, I started to fall in love with opera and decided to pursue classical singing professionally.
What is it like being a cantor? How does music help you connect with your faith?
Being a cantor is an incredibly fulfilling job. Much of being a cantor consists of singing and leading musical services, creating all sorts of musical programming and activities, and teaching – both kids and adults. I put on different musical services every week in a wide variety of styles.
To me, music has always been the primary mode of connecting to spirituality and the spiritual world. It is for me the primary means of experience a feeling of spiritual transcendence and is one of the main reasons why I decided to become a cantor – to help others connect to their faith and spirituality through music.
How do you think your sound has evolved over time? What genres do you like to create music for?
While my singing and musical training are primarily classical, over time I have started to explore other styles of music, and have started to experiment with different aspects of them. My upcoming album, Genesis, will combine all the different styles and genres I love. There will be operatic style songs in Italian, some French chanson, Avinu Malkeinu and another cantorial piece in Hebrew, some Flamenco style songs in Spanish, and a few of my own compositions in English.
What is “Avinu Malkeinu” about? What about this song spoke to you and aided your decision in selecting it?
Avinu Malkeinu is a prayer sung during the Jewish High Holy Days, at the new year. In it, we ask to be forgiven for any mistakes, failings, inequities and wrongdoings, and allow us to start anew in the new year, with a clean slate. We ask, that the new year is a good and positive one, one that brings us new opportunities to grow and do good in the world.
I chose this piece because this musical setting, composed by Max Janowski, is one of my favorite cantorial pieces. It’s a classical piece that is very intense and powerful, and takes the listener on an emotional and spiritual journey through time, evoking the ancientness of this prayer. This version is also a new arrangement that I made to further amplify those feelings.
How was the experience of shooting the “Avinu Malkeinu” music video? Can you tell us why the location of the video is important to you?
The music video was filmed at the synagogue in which I work, Beth Sholom Congregation of Elkins Park. It is the only synagogue ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it is an incredible building and spiritual space. It seats over 1000 people yet feels intimate and warm throughout the room.
My goal with this music video was to showcase the incredible architecture of the building and incorporate it as a character in the video. The videographer, Anthony Sabino, did a fantastic job achieving this vision, and captured the building in all of its glory.