I. Shir hashirim 02:40
II. L'kha dodi 04:04
III. Bar'khu 00:57
IV. Ahavat olam 03:43
V. Sh'ma yisra'el 03:11
VI. Mi khamokha 02:02
VII. V'sham'ru 03:36
VIII. ḥatzi kaddish 02:41
IX. Grant Us Peace 02:38
X. Yih'yu l'ratzon 01:35
XI. Anim z'mirot 02:07
XII. Kiddush 04:03
XIII. Aleinu 02:10
XIV. Adon olam 02:19

Liner Notes

In fashioning a complete kabbalat shabbat and Sabbath eve service on a foundation of combined jazz and blues idioms—in tandem with traditional Hebrew liturgical and biblical chant motifs—Davidson trailblazed new territory in 1966 with the completion of ... And David Danced Before the Lord. The work was a watershed event in the progressive development of American synagogue music and became yet another document of intercultural threads in the American Jewish experience.

Rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic elements of jazz and blues can be found in a few previous individual liturgical pieces, such as Kurt Weill’s Kiddush, from more than two decades earlier, or Gershon Kingsley’s Jazz Psalms, written more or less in the same year as Davidson’s work; and here or there one can discern some imprints of jazz in the harmonic and rhythmic language in liturgical settings, such as in individual movements of Darius Milhaud’s Service Sacré (1947). But Davidson’s work is an overt foray into jazz and blues for an entire artistically unified service, complete with a traditional jazz combo. Apart from its aesthetic merit, the successful reception of ... And David Danced soon inspired other composers to turn to jazz and blues as potential media of expression for the Hebrew liturgy.

The 1960s were fertile ground for some adventurous experiments with jazz and blues in Christian services—not only among those less formalized denominations where grassroots populist and folk traditions had long informed the music of worship, but even in some of the so-called mainstream or established churches, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant. The trend may have had some connection to the now-forgotten strains of “liberation theology” that made headlines in the 1960s and 1970s, but those musical experiments probably grew more out of new generational sensibilities and the search for “relevance”—the mantra of those decades—than it did from radical theological-political movements. Sheer aesthetic variety was an important consideration as well. An indigenous American music such as jazz would seem to have been a logical resource on which to draw for the American synagogue, and although much Jewish sacred music in nearly every period has incorporated and reflected American cultural and popular elements, by the beginning of the 1960s it still remained for Jewish liturgical composers to address jazz or blues in a full-length work.

... And David Danced Before the Lord was written and first performed in 1966 on commission from Cantor Richard Botton, who sensed some Jewish interest in further exploration into the contemporaneous experiments in church services. The world premiere, in Long Beach, New York, was televised for the CBS program Lamp Unto My Feet. In the congregation that night was a teenage Billy Crystal, on whom the work made so great an impression that he requested it years later for his own daughter’s bat mitzvah in California.

The title of this work is derived from the incident in II Samuel 6, where King David, following one of his military campaigns against the Philistines, has retrieved the Holy Ark from them and brought it back into Jerusalem with enormous joy and public celebration. He dances without inhibitions “before the Lord with all his might.” But when his wife, Michal (daughter of the former King Saul), sees him “leaping and dancing” in front of the common people at the expense of his royal dignity, she is put off (“and she despised him in her heart”). She admonishes him for his behavior and asks how the King of Israel could have earned honor and respect by “uncovering himself [to dance] shamelessly,” especially in the presence of “handmaids of his servants,” like an ordinary, vulgar man. David replies defiantly that it was “before the Lord” that he danced and celebrated, and that he will continue to do so—even more so: “I will be yet more vulgar than this.”

Although there is a larger orchestration for stage band—which was performed at Detroit’s Temple Israel and at a music festival at the Interlochen Arts Academy in the early 1980s—in the original version, recorded here, Davidson employs a small ensemble. The intimacy of the reduced forces, he feels, facilitates the rendition of improvisatory passages for individual instruments “in much the same way as Indian raga instrumentalists can look at one another as they play and feel the direction and flow of the music as it develops.”

Davidson chose to commence the service with a setting of passages from shir hashirim (Song of Songs), which would not normally occur in or introduce an American synagogue service for Sabbath eve. It reflects a custom that dates to the Kabbalists in Safed, who used to chant hymns to the cantillation motifs of shir hashirim as a way of welcoming the Sabbath on Friday afternoon—before the Sabbath. Davidson quotes traditional biblical cantillation motifs in the solo cantorial line, which is supported by blues chords and rhythmic impulses. Bass and vibraphone improvise in true jazz fashion, while the flute echoes the melodic pattern of the solo line at various points.

L’kha dodi (a phrase and title itself borrowed from shir hashirim, 7:12) is generally the musical centerpiece of a formal kabbalat shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service, which precedes the evening service proper. The text is attributed to the 16th-century kabbalistic poet Solomon Halevi Alkabetz (1505–84) and is a mosaic of scriptural phrases and references—from Judges, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Psalms. The Sabbath is personified and compared to a bride, as is the people Israel, and the refrain—which also serves as the introductory strophe—is based on a talmudic passage (Shabbat 119a). So complicated are aspects of this poem and its history, with cryptic references, metaphors, and images, that entire volumes have been devoted to it. The musical approach here combines a light jazz style with one of the traditional Ashkenazi prayer modes (known in cantorial parlance as adonai malakh, whose scale is in some respects akin to major), which applies traditionally to other texts of the kabbalat shabbat service. But unlike those other texts, this mode is not required by tradition for l’kha dodi—nor is any, since this poem is the one section of the service for which there is no prescribed musical tradition. It has therefore always been an invitation for free musical expression and composition. The sprightly congregational refrains provide contrast with the cantorially rendered strophes, mirroring the poetic structure. A countermelody is played by the flute, and there is a strong rhythmic bass line. The close relationship between words and music is particularly exemplified in the fifth strophe (hitor’ri—“Awaken!”), where the music is punctuated by syncopated, descending seventh and nineth chords from the instrumental ensemble.

A cantorial tradition of preceding important prayers with vocalises dates at least to the Baroque, from which period we have ample notated documentation, but it probably extends centuries further back. In a service based on jazz and blues idioms, a “scat” reinterpretation of that custom seemed appropriate to the composer for the invitation to worship contained in the opening prayer of the evening service proper, bar’khu. In that sense the device falls well within tradition. Although precise written notes are provided in the score, the cantor is given license to improvise and expand on them, which adds a manifestly cantorial parameter.

Ahavat olam is introduced with what the composer calls a “slow, riverboat blues” in the piano, which sets the mood for the ensuing reflective and moving choral line. Throughout this setting, he aimed at a “lushly romantic sound that would reflect the text’s message of God’s eternal love for us.”

“A driving, polytonal, and syncopated note-cluster in vibes, piano, and string bass,” wrote the composer of the sh’ma yisra’el setting, “prepare the ear for the Hebrew declamation” of this pronouncement of God’s uniqueness and eternal oneness, sometimes called the “watchword of the Jewish people.” A custom of concluding the declamation of the final word, eḥad (one), on a high note is reflected here as the solo line moves abruptly from its low E flat through G to a high, sustained D. The choir becomes a “speaking chorus” under the legato solo line at the words “And you shall love the Lord your God,” and the solo line alternates between male and female voices.

Mi khamokha begins with a robust, syncopated pattern that suggests the urgency of the exodus from Egypt depicted in this prayer text, with its reflection of the desperation experienced by the fleeing Israelites and the pursuing Egyptians. There is also the subsequent rejoicing and boundless praise for God’s intercession when the Israelites are safe after crossing the parted Sea of Reeds. The vocal line is based on an Arabic maqam (a particular type of tune formula or tune pattern in Arabic and Arabic-influenced Persian and other Near Eastern musics), which in this case is known as siga. This lends the setting a Near Eastern flavor that is entirely an arbitrary artistic choice; it is not meant to suggest any historical aesthetic connection to ancient Egypt. The concluding b’rakha (benediction, or expression of worship for God) quotes a melodic pattern from the musical tradition of the Three Festivals, most recognizable from its use in the Festival kiddush (sanctification recited over wine). Davidson incorporated this melodic material to stress the connection between Passover—one of the Three Festivals when this kiddush melody occurs in Ashkenazi tradition—and the Exodus.

The musical mood of v’sham’ru reflects the desiderata of Sabbath peace. Against an instrumental pattern of seventh and nineth chords, the soloist states the theme in a relaxed, easygoing duple meter (4/4), with unison-octave choral responses. Particularly interesting is the polytonal conclusion: G-minor 9 with D-flat 7.

The ḥatzi kaddish divides sections of liturgy and in this service introduces the silently recited core section known as the amida (“standing,” since it is thus recited). This setting commences with a musical quotation from a traditional Ashkenazi signature tune for the Festival of Shavuot. Although that tune permeates the Shavuot services, it is usually associated in particular and by label with the piyyut (inserted liturgical poem) known as akdamut, sung before the biblical readings in the morning services of that Festival. In addition, the kaddish setting incorporates biblical cantillation figures and also pays homage to a familiar melody for the text’s occurrence on Sabbath eve. But the imaginative chromatic modulations give that melody a fresh character.

Grant Us Peace is the English adaptation of sim shalom, which occurs only in morning and afternoon services in traditional synagogues. Except for the liturgical rite known as nusaḥ ari, which is followed in most Hassidic communities, that Hebrew text is replaced with a similar one, shalom rav, in evening services. American classic Reform ritual, however, as reflected by its once nearly exclusive reliance on the Union Prayer Book (now superseded in many Reform congregations by newer Reform prayerbooks), retained sim shalom for evening services as well; and the English adaptation has been a frequent feature.

Yih’yu l’ratzon, which follows the amida as a summary request that the just-recited prayers be accepted, was composed specifically for a female solo voice. Its vocal line is based almost entirely on a three-note figure and its permutations.

An’im z’mirot is a piyyut usually recited in traditional Ashkenazi ritual at the conclusion of the Sabbath morning services, but its use in this service is a legitimate aesthetic decision. The tune on which this setting is based is one of the most familiar versions for this poem and is amplified by the subtly sharp dissonances in the accompanying chords.

The 5/4 meter and cross-rhythms in the instrumental ensemble for the kiddush setting create the jazz parameter, which is juxtaposed against a more traditional and more familiar cantorial line. The incipit of the opening b’rakha again reflects the tune usually heard in Festival kiddush renditions, which in turn is derived from the akdamut melodic incipit. The simultaneous combination of two rhythms between the solo line and the accompaniment lends a feeling of excitement.

Davidson has referred to his setting of aleinu as “a jazz waltz, moving quickly to the choral climax” that reflects the majestic tone of the words “His greatness is manifest throughout the world. He is our God, there is none other".

The concluding hymn, adon olam, frequently has been subjected to contrafact (adaptation of secular tunes to liturgical texts), a practice to which its iambic prosody lends itself easily. Especially in American synagogues after the 1950s, such contrafacts have included lighthearted and even pop tunes. So Davidson felt free to “conclude with a groovy setting that was fun to write and—I hope—is fun to sing.” A twelve-measure standard blues pattern over a basso ostinato allows the solo cantor and choir a degree of vocal freedom and an opportunity to “swing.” The grand gesture at the end is ubiquitous in American jazz.

By: Neil W. Levin



Sung in Hebrew and English 

Translation: JPS Tanakh 1999

The Song of Songs, by Solomon.
Oh, give me of the kisses of your mouth....
Let me be a seal upon your heart, Like the seal upon your hand.
For love is fierce as death....
The Song of Songs, by Solomon.


Beloved, come—let us approach the Sabbath bride and welcome the entrance of our Sabbath, the bride.

STROPHES 2, 5, 9:

Let us go, indeed hasten to greet the Sabbath,
For she is the source of blessing.
From creation’s primeval beginnings that blessing has flowed.
For on the seventh day—the end of the beginning of creation—
God made His Sabbath.
But He conceived of her on the first of the days—at the beginning of the beginning of creation.

Awaken, awaken!
Your light has come.
Arise and shine,
Awake, awake—
Speak a song! Sing a poem!
The glory of the Lord is revealed to you.

Sabbath, you who are your Master’s crown,
Come in peace, in joy, in gladness
Into the midst of the faithful of a remarkably special people.
Come, O Sabbath bride—
Bride, come!


Worship the Lord, to whom all worship is due.
Worshiped be the Lord, who is to be worshiped for all eternity.


You have loved the House of Israel, Your people, with an abiding love—teaching us Your Torah and commandments, Your statutes and judgments. Therefore, O Lord our God, upon our retiring for the night and upon our arising, we will contemplate Your teachings and rejoice for all time in the words of Your Torah and its commandments. For they are the essence of our life and the length of our days. We will meditate on them day and night. May Your love never leave us. You are worshiped, O Lord (He is worshiped, and His name is worshiped), who loves His people Israel. Amen.


Listen, Israel! The Lord is our God.
The Lord is the only God—His unity is His essence.

Praised and honored be the very name of His kingdom forever and ever.

And you shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul and all your might,

and these words which I command you this day shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and arise up.

You shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes; you shall write them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates,

that you may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God.


Who is comparable among the mighty to You, O Lord? Who can equal the magnificence of Your holiness? Even to praise You inspires awe, You who perform wondrous deeds. Your children witnessed Your majesty, looking on as You parted the sea in the presence of Moses. “This is my God” they sang, and repeated “The Lord shall reign for all eternity.” And it has been said in Scripture: “For the Lord has rescued Jacob and liberated him from a most powerful foe.” You are worshiped, O Lord (He is worshiped, and His name is worshiped), You who redeemed Israel. Amen.


The children of Israel shall keep and guard the Sabbath
And observe it throughout their generations as an eternal covenant.
It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever,
That the Lord created heaven and earth in six days,
And that on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.


May God’s great name be even more exalted and sanctified in the world that He created according to His own will; and may He fully establish His kingdom in your lifetime, in your own days, and in the life of all those of the House of Israel—soon, indeed without delay. Those praying here signal assent and say amen.

May His great name be worshiped forever, for all time, for all eternity.

Worshiped, praised, glorified, exalted, elevated, adored, uplifted, and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, praised be He—over and beyond all the words of worship and song, praise and consolation ever before uttered in this world. Those praying here signal assent and say amen.


Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O Lord, eternal source of peace, and enable Israel to be its messenger to all the peoples of the earth. Bless our country that it may ever be a stronghold of peace and its advocate in the council of nations. May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship and fellowship among the inhabitants of all lands. Plant virtue in every soul, and may the love of Your name hallow every home and every heart. Praised are You, O Lord, giver of peace.


May my prayers of [articulated] words as well as the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.


Sweet songs will I sing You and hymns compose; Your wonder is near to my soul in repose; my being is stirred as the prophets of old in mystical visions Your love foretold. My lips speak Your praise; my heart glorifies Your essence, Your oneness. Your truth will reply, Accept, Lord, the silent pray’r of my heart. Creator of all and of all apart, my lips speak Your praise, my heart glorifies Your essence, Your oneness. Your truth will reply, I know not Your form nor can fathom Your ways. Draw near through my pray’r and on earth find Your praise, Sweet songs will I sing You and hymns compose, Your wonder is near to my soul in repose.


You are worshiped, O Lord (He is worshiped, and his name is worshiped), our God, King of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine. Amen.

You are worshiped, O Lord (He is worshiped, and his name is worshiped), our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments and has taken delight in us. Out of love and with favor, You have given us the Holy Sabbath as a heritage, in remembrance of Your creation. For that first of our sacred days recalls our exodus and liberation from Egypt. You chose us from among all Your peoples, and in Your love and favor made us holy by giving us the Holy Sabbath as a joyous heritage. You are worshiped, O Lord (He is worshiped, and his name is worshiped), our God, who hallows the Sabbath. Amen.


Let us adore the ever living God and render praise unto Him who spread out the heaven, established the earth, whose glory is revealed in the heavens above and whose greatness is manifest throughout the world. He is our God. There is none other.

We bend the knee, bow in worship, and give thanks to the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He. On that ultimate day all will acknowledge that the Lord is the one God. And His name shall be acknowledged as “One.”


RABBI (spoken):
May the Lord let His countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

Lord of the world, who reigned even before form was created,
It was when His will brought everything into existence—
That His name was proclaimed King.
At the time when His will brought everything into existence,
Then His name was proclaimed King.
And even should existence itself come to an end,
He, the Awesome One, would yet reign alone.
He was, He is, He shall always remain in splendor throughout eternity.
He is “One”—there is no second or other to be compared with Him.
He is without beginning and without end;
All power and dominion are His.
He is my God and my ever living Redeemer,
And the Rock upon whom I rely in times of distress and sorrow.
He is my banner and my refuge,
The portion in my cup—my cup of life
Whenever I call to Him.
I entrust my spirit unto His hand,
As I go to sleep and as I awake;
For my body remains with my spirit.
The Lord is with me; I do not fear.



Composer: Charles Davidson

Length: 38:42
Genre: Liturgical

Performers: Hubert "Tex" Arnold, Piano;  Jeff Campbell, Bass;  Amy Goldstein, Soprano;  Brad Lubman, Conductor;  Ramon Ricker, tenor saxophone, flute;  The Buffalo Vocal Ensemble;  Rich Thompson, Drums;  Chris Vatalaro, Vibraphone;  Douglas Webster, Baritone

Date Recorded: 01/01/2001
Venue: Hale Auditorium/Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, New York
Engineer: Dusman, David
Assistant Engineer: Frost, David
Project Manager: Richard Lee and Charles Davidson

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Ashbourne Music
Translation: Rabbi Morton M. Leifman


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