Composer Charles Davidson of Elkins Park

Our December 7th concert featuredtwo works in honor of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. They were composed by Charles Davidson, a brilliant and highly prolific composer.

He has been a musical virtuoso since he was a high school student. At age 90, he remains a man of implacable faith and fidelity to both secular and liturgical music.

Cantor Davidson’s musical compositions include a number of non-Jewish holiday choral settings that have been performed thousands of times by high school, college and community choirs.

His best known and most celebrated work is the monumental choral song cycle, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” based on a collection of poetry by Jewish children imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp during World War II (where only 100 of 15,000 children survived).

It has been performed all over the world more than 2,500 times to consistent critical acclaim and is the subject of two award-winning PBS documentaries.

When asked recently to explain how he gets his inspiration to compose, he mentioned the texts of songs he receives from collaborators. “Just give me the text,” he intoned.

And when responding to how he has managed to compose such an extraordinary volume of music over the years, he points to a clock.

“When I was on vacation during the summer, I used to get up very early, at 4 a.m., and work until 8 a.m. Your mind is fresh in the morning, easier to think,” he said.

His face changes when he talks about creating contemporary Jewish expression. His eyes light up. His grammar comes alive, the past tense yielding to the present.

First drawn to composing when he was in a Pittsburgh high school chorus, Cantor Davidson is the owner and publisher of Ashbourne Music Publishing Co. His catalogue contains over 300 works.

His music are works of integrity. And his hallmark is modesty.

Editor of “Gates of Song,” a collection of congregational melodies and hymns, he also is the author of several cantorial textbooks. And he is one of the most frequently commissioned composers by Jewish organizations and secular choruses across America.

At Congregation Adath Jeshurun of Elkins Park from 1966-2004, Charles Davidson served with distinction as its Cantor and taught countless children to sing. In doing so, he has helped to shape the lives of innumerable families.

One of his favorite pastimes was to attend Philadelphia Orchestra concerts with his late wife. (They have four children.) One of the least favorite things he has done has been to serve as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Army during the Korean War.

Charles Davidson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Doctorate in Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he served on its faculty since 1977, teaching an ardent cadre of would-be cantors.

He continues to compose in his Elkins Park home.

by Ira Cooperman