Matt Austerklein is a musician, scholar, and innovator in the American cantorate. Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, he received a rigorous training in Jewish liturgy and music from his bar mitzvah tutor and from his two cantors. He fell in love with the cantorial arts while studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, where he also studied voice with mezzo-soprano, Paulette Vineyard Herbich.
Matt graduated summa cum laude from the College of William & Mary in Virginia with a BA in Music in 2006. Already while in college he led his first full High Holy Days as musical prayer leader. He went on to receive a Master of Sacred Music and cantorial ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011.
Matt has served with distinction as Cantor of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda, Maryland, and at Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio. Over his past decade as a congregational cantor, he has cultivated diverse skills to support Jewish communities, including pastoral care, teaching Jewish text and traditions, communal song leading, music education with guitar, event programming, playwriting, fundraising, choral directing, and strategic planning. He serves as an ongoing mentor to new and student cantors, and currently serves on the Cantorial Coaching Faculty of Hebrew College.
Matt performs music across many Jewish repertoires, including niggunim, hazzanut, piyyutim, art song, and folk music from Sephardi, Israeli, and Ashkenazi traditions. He is a founding member of the Wizards of Ashkenaz, a four-cantor a cappella group performing close-harmony Jewish music from around the world. Matt composes niggunim and melodies for prayer, a selection of which were included in Shira Chadasha: Music of the Independent Minyan (Cantors Assembly 2017).
Matt is a committed supporter of Jewish a cappella singing. Partnering with the Cantors Assembly in 2016, he co-founded the Ilu Finu Jewish A Cappella Initiative, creating a nationwide competition, concert, book, and workshops to engage collegiate a cappella arrangers in creating liturgical music.
Matt is a regular volunteer and project leader for the Cantors Assembly. He has served on its Executive Council, Publications Committee, and Innovation Committees; acted as its representative to the CJLS; and co-edited its Mission Statement and By-laws. He is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of Synagogue Music, and is the leading editor of its upcoming 75th Anniversary Journal.
Matt is passionate about writing and scholarship. His essays on Jewish music and the cantorate are featured in the Journal of Synagogue Music, Times of Israel, and Hebrew College Community’s blog. He is the editor of two books: Tefillat Shmuel: The Writings of Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum (2017) and Ilu Finu: A Cappella for Jewish Prayer (2019), both published by the Cantors Assembly.
Just before the pandemic, Matt completed a prestigious Polonsky Research Fellowship at the Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies at Oxford University. In 2020, he went on to become a doctoral candidate in Jewish Studies at Halle-Wittenberg University (Halle, Germany), where he is writing his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Diana Matut and Dr. Edwin Seroussi. His dissertation examines the musical specialization of Ashkenazi cantors from 1500 to 1800, analyzing the genesis of cantorial thought and musical professionalism. He is currently an ELES Research Fellow.
Matt is blessed to be married to his holy partner, Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein. They have two musical and creative children.