If Mayer Davis needed proof that music can fill in the spaces between the words in our lives, he found it one Shabbat morning when, after leading the services as cantor at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, he visited his ailing mother.
Esther Frankel Davis, whose husband, Avrum, is a well-known cantor, was by then seriously ill and no longer able to speak or recognize family members. But she loved when her son sang to her, and sometimes she would hum along, with eyes closed.
This particular Shabbat, Cantor Davis recalled, he sang a melody for Ayshes Chayil (A Woman of Valor), that his mother knew from childhood. It had a “Part A” and a “Part B” to the tune, but after singing them both, he noticed his mother suddenly open her eyes, smile and hum a “Part C” he had never heard before.
“Now it seemed,” he noted, “the song was at last complete.”
And the experience helped motivate the cantor to compile a very personal yet highly accessible album of Jewish songs and melodies dedicated to his mother, who died last year. Entitled, appropriately, “Bridge of Generations,” the CD has strong ties to his and his wife Rochelle’s family, going back in time a generation or two (Sameach Music, 1-888-3-SAMEACH).
It includes a track by the cantor’s father, Cantor Avrum Davis, who preceded him at the Modern Orthodox Kehilath Jeshurun, and two short snippets of Mayer Davis humming a niggun (melody) with his mother.
The result is a sweet and soulful collection of refreshingly under-orchestrated Shabbat and festival zmirot (traditional songs) and original compositions that also serve as a musical family album; it comes complete with photos of family members and helpful, detailed liner notes for each song, providing context and biographical information that connects the particular track to a family member.
In all, a poignant message of family tradition wrapped around a collection of tender songs.
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