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From the Harvard Library to Fenway, Red Sox Organist Says He's Ready for Opener

On Friday, Joshua Kantor will take the day off from work. Instead of heading to Harvard, where he works as a part-time librarian assistant, Kantor will be starting the year at his other job: playing the organ for Boston’s beloved baseball team, the Red Sox.

Kantor has played for the current World Series championship team since 2003, and Friday is the first home game of the season. Early in the morning, he will walk the two miles from his house to Fenway Park to begin playing by the time the gates open for fans. Monday morning, Kantor will be back at Loeb Music Library, only to return to the stadium in the evening for another home game—a routine he will continue until the end of the season.

While many struggle to find the perfect work-life balance, Kantor, through his unconventional lifestyle, manages to bridge the gap between work and play on a daily basis.

JOURNEY TO FENWAY

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Kantor, a talented musician and lifelong baseball fan, landed his dream job in 2003.

According to Kantor, he has been a self-proclaimed “baseball nut” since he was a child, first supporting the Atlanta Braves, then shifting allegiance to the Chicago White Sox during high school.

When he was 17, Kantor moved to Boston, and within his first week, he attended his first Red Sox game, where he witnessed the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees, 15-1. From that moment on, Kantor said, he has been a “diehard Red Sox fan.”

Similarly, he has had a passion for music from a young age. Aside from the organ, Kantor plays the piano, upright bass, guitar, and accordion.

Yet for many years before coming to Fenway, his primary job had little to do with music. After graduating from Brandeis University in 1994, Kantor worked as a librarian at Boston University’s law school for four years. In 1999, Kantor picked up a position at Harvard Law School’s library, serving as a reference and interlibrary loan assistant.

While working at the Law School, Kantor says he particularly enjoyed the one-on-one interactions he had with faculty, students, and members of outside groups when helping them locate sources.

Kyle Courtney, who worked with Kantor at the Law School, said Kantor “took real pride” in his work.

“He was on top of everything all the time,” said Courtney, who is now the copyright advisor in Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication. “His knowledge combined with his skills was amazing.”

After almost a decade working at university libraries, Kantor was presented with an opportunity to unite his passions for music and baseball—while keeping the library job he loved.

At the encouragement of a friend who worked at the Red Sox, Kantor auditioned in 2003 to serve as the team’s organist. At the end of his second audition, Kantor was offered the position, one that he immediately accepted and has fulfilled ever since.

Kantor said he was ecstatic when he received the offer.

“[Playing] at my favorite stadium, for my favorite team, and in sort of a high-profile setting where you know there’s millions of people that come to the park every year,…it’s really a dream come true,” he said.

‘A WORKING MUSICIAN’

Balancing two demanding jobs is difficult, however, those close to Kantor say.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Courtney said. “But because [Kantor] loved both things, he made an extra effort to integrate both into his life.”

As organist, Kantor is responsible for playing all live music at the Red Sox’ home games, including iconic fanfares that have been a trademark at baseball games for decades.

At the same time, Kantor has continued to work for Harvard’s libraries.

As his roles and responsibilities at the Law School library began to evolve, he developed a keen interest in the possibility of bringing music to his regular vocation. In 2013, he transferred jobs and started working at the University’s music library.

Kantor said that in the music library, he discovered “a culture and understanding of the life of a working musician,” since his colleagues are “engaged in other musical endeavors outside of work.”

Currently, he works afternoons in the Isham Memorial Library, an adjunct library to the Loeb Music Library, which is devoted to special collections for scholarly research in music. The part-time job complements his schedule well, freeing up evenings and weekends for baseball games, and allowing him to pursue his outside musical career through recording sessions in the mornings. In fact, Kantor often finds himself sitting alongside Harvard students and researchers as he takes the M2 shuttle on his way from the University to Fenway.

Kantor says his commitments to music are not limited to his work with Harvard and the Red Sox. When he is not playing at Fenway or leafing through thousands of reels of microfilm that are copies of Mozart’s original manuscripts, Kantor travels around the country performing and recording with his bands: Jim’s Big Ego, the Split Squad, and The Baseball Project.

RETURNING TO THE PARK

Kantor said he is thrilled to return to Fenway to kick off the season, especially after the team’s success in 2013, when the Red Sox won the World Series at home for the first time since 1918. The championship game victory was particularly exciting for Kantor because the game was at home, meaning that he played for one of the largest television and live audiences of the baseball season.

Looking toward the first home game of this season, Kantor predicted “a very exciting atmosphere,” with fans and players riding on the excitement and spirit of last season.

“In some ways it takes some of the pressure off my department, the people doing the audio and the video, because we know we can focus on what we know how to do and what we’re good at, and know and trust that the fans are going to be excited,” he said.

While there may be less pressure, Kantor said that he hopes to continue broadening his repertoire, while “continuing to do the job as well as I can and to do the job better than before.”

Kantor has also made it a priority to cultivate collaborative relationships with his colleagues at Fenway. T.J. Connelly, who became the Red Sox full-time DJ in 2008 after a few years as a backup DJ, said he looked to Kantor for guidance throughout his transition.

"We have a very close work relationship,” Connelly said, adding that Kantor, who plays by ear and memory, has an “incredible” versatility. “It’s absurd how good he is,” Connelly added.

Regardless of the season or the team’s record, Kantor said that he loves his job.

“Playing the organ and watching baseball [have]...been two of my favorite things to do in the world since I was very young,” Kantor said. “They have always been, throughout all the changes in my life, constant things that I have really loved.”

—Staff writer Kristina D. Lorch can be reached at klorch@college.harvard.edu.

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