Charles Davidson & Noah Schall Part 1- Interview with Mark Slobin

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Charles Davidson first started in the cantorate 1928. His father was a rabbinic scholar and a liturgical music composer. He was born in Prashka, Poland, on the German border. He learned the entire Jewish musical system by standing next to his chazzan grandfather throughout every service for years. Davidson came to America right after the first World War because his family was worried he would be called to the army. In New Haven he was a b'aal sha'arit and he went to Yale before he came to New York. While he was in New York he studied with Solomon Ansus, a Chazzan in Vienna, and a musical scholar, 3-4 times a week. Ansus made him aware of the Western European rite of Chazzanut. Davidson started working in an Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn in Lindon Blvd. He became the president of the modern cantor's association from1928-1953. His goal was to have cantors taken seriously as members of clergy. The members decided to make standards so that people off the street couldn't just pay dues and say they were cantors. They decided that a man had to be a permanent cantor for five years which became the standard.

In NY, there were four Reform synagogues.They started out as German Jewish congregations that changed to Reform as they became more Americanized. He talked about how the music for the Union Prayerbook was composed. He also talked about how the School of Sacred Music started (the first graduating class was in 1951). He talked about his disappointment in Jews who don't go to synagogue to pray any more, who can't read Hebrew, who are apathetic about the music and who don't understand the need for a cantor. Non-Jews were writing liturgical music for the Jews. He's disappointed the ACC is only an employment agency and isn't addressing all these other issues. He was disappointed that there weren't more men attracted to cantorial school.

Noah Schall was mostly self-taught. He grew up in Williamsburg. He went to Yeshiva University, SSM, and started teaching there. He claims the cantor is fading in Orthodox Synagogues. Modern Orthodox don't want one because it makes the service take too long. Strict Orthodox feel the cantors aren't well educated, didn't know music, and weren't spiritual. It used to be entertainment but Jews started to have secular entertainment. People decided that anyone could be a chazzan. People also didn't like the style. Davidson's favorite cantors might have been Reitman, Rosenblum Platt and Routman. He felt they were really praying. People felt that others were just singing for show.

Davidson and Schall went through some of the history of the changes of Jewish liturgical music in the United States. They were both upset that the ba'al t'fillah just went quickly and that no one pays attention, they talk through the entire thing. Schall said that students in that day were poor Hebrew readers, poor musicians, and weak singers. He also felt that they weren't serious students. Davidson was focused on all this training because he wanted cantors to help their congregations feel.

Summary by Nancy Dubin (April 2014), 4th year cantorial student in Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, HUC--JIR, NY


Access to archival quality sound files is restricted. For permission to obtain copies of these, please contact Mark Slobin at mslobin@wesleyan.edu.

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