Monroe piano man receives global recognition for reimagined Jewish tunes
Dave Schlossberg is known affectionately as “Piano Dave” to audiences and local choral groups and bands, many of them Jewish, that he has accompanied for years.
Now his musical talents are being recognized on an international level, as his debut CD was named one of the top five albums of the fall 2017 Global Music Awards competition, which recognizes artists around the world in diverse genres. The organization also awarded Schlossberg a silver medal for outstanding achievement.
While the award for his CD, “A Place Beyond Words: New Visions of Classic Jewish Melodies,” which was released in March, doesn’t bring a cash prize or metallic statue, there is still a tangible value: The announcement was sent to 35,000 followers and music publications.
“I’m very grateful to win this award because it is providing exposure for the music I love and proves there is a place for this kind of music,” said Schlossberg.
A 34-year-old Monroe Township resident who grew up in East Brunswick, the musician, composer, and arranger said music has been a part of his life since his parents got him a piano at age 5. Jewish music is particularly meaningful for Schlossberg.
“I find Jewish music to be beautiful and heartfelt, and I’m attracted to its sincerity and honesty,” he said. “It can be harmonically and melodically interesting.”
He described the new album as a mixture of tunes he grew up with, new ones he’s learned, and classics he hadn’t heard in a long time. For the collection, which features only Schlossberg and his piano, he applied original riffs to modern and classical Jewish liturgical music. For instance, he put his own spin on the “V’ahavta” portion of the Shema, which is sung the same way by many synagogues, he said.
“I wanted to take something universal that people would recognize and elevate it,” he explained. “V’ahavta’ is always sung a cappella, at least in my experience. I’d like for them to fill in the space with music. I want them to feel the prayer, not just chant it. It has a melody and harmony to be explored and improved. I want to give chanted prayer a new dimension.”
In fact, “V’ahavta” inspired his album. While attending the American Conference of Cantors Guild of Temple Musicians conference two years ago in Philadelphia, Schlossberg was asked to accompany a morning Shacharit service on the piano, but he was told V’ahavta would be chanted “the normal way.” He persuaded them to let him improvise and “they loved it.”
After the service, attendees told him how much they enjoyed the rendition. “They kept saying it was so good and so fitting,” he said. “I thought, ‘If they remember it that way, why not make a whole album of the service?’…I realized it was an underutilized genre and there was a lot of beauty to transform through these melodies.”
Among the other selections are Shlomo Carlebach’s classic “Mizmor L’David,” to which he added more modern chord progressions; the traditional Sephardic hymn, “Ein Adir”; and the “Avot” prayer with an added “playful” touch.
On the organization’s website, Global Music Awards founder Dr. Thomas Baker wrote that the judges found the collection to be “uplifting and celebratory,” adding “It’s good medicine for a conflicted world; bouncy and cheerful to the ear because of [Schlossberg’s] unique use of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic variations. Schlossberg’s sound is rich, textured, and authentic, even though nouveau.”
Although Schlossberg has a degree in performance from the College of New Jersey in Ewing, he said he’s learned the most from experience.
Schlossberg is a member at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick where he plays with the Kol Emet Choir, serving as collaborative keyboard artists for all services, concerts, and special events.
“As I sit at my keyboard on Friday nights I am consciously aware of the power of the music as a conduit of worship and as a vessel through which those listening can come ever closer to expressing the desires of their own hearts,” he said. “I have always hoped my music would enable people to find their own sacred space. It is in that spirit that I recorded these improvisations.”
On the CD, he thanks the synagogue for “instilling in me a deep love of Judaism and Jewish music,” and its longtime cantor, Anna West Ott, who he credits with “helping me find my voice and has challenged me to fulfill my potential as an artist.” Ott is co-director of Makhelat Hamercaz Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey, for which Schlossberg is the accompanist.
Schlossberg’s list of Jewish musical associations is long. He accompanies the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble; Kol Dodi; the Jewish Community Chorale of NJ MetroWest; and is a founding member of the Highland Park-based klezmer group, Tsu Fil Duvids [Too Many Daves]. He has roles in the Monroe Township Chorus; the Concordia Chorale in Monroe; the Stonebridge Singers in Montgomery; and the musical theater program at the Middlesex County Arts Middle School in Edison. He also performs programs of Broadway show tunes, jazz standards, and his own compositions at community programs throughout the region, and he plays at bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings.
This despite having to use a walker or cane to get around, the result of a spinal cord injury from being hit by a drunk driver while he stopped at a red light in 2005. He was hospitalized for 10 days and spent more than three months at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange. The accident, which also punctured his lung and spleen and broke his ribs, has left him with bladder, bowel, and balance issues.
“It affects my career because logistically it’s harder to get around,” said Schlossberg. “And on a technical level, I have to play the [piano] pedal with my left, not my right, foot.”
His injuries aside, he is grateful the award will expose more people to the beauty of Jewish liturgical music.
“Music helps our prayer achieve a new level of meaning,” said Schlossberg. “It does that in a way that cannot be explained, only felt. One can find peace in this place, a place without words.”
The CD is available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and cdbaby.