Debut CD showcases talents of newly ordained rabbi
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Debut CD showcases talents of newly ordained rabbi

Educator takes on roles of songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist

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Rabbi David Schlusselberg accompanied himself on his new CD.

With so many good things happening recently, it’s not surprising that Rabbi David Schlusselberg of Teaneck is on a high.

In March, he was granted semichah – Orthodox rabbinic credentials – by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He also recorded his first CD, “Mizmor L’Dovid,” for which he not only wrote the songs but provided the vocals and played many of the instruments.

Rabbi Schlusselberg, 27, is thrilled with both accomplishments. “I love teaching at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston,” he said. An instructor of Talmud, Bible, and Judaica electives, Rabbi Schlusselberg said he definitely plans to continue at the school – this despite the fact that since the CD came out, his 12th graders have made him feel “like I’m famous.”

The CD – which contains songs Rabbi Schlusselberg started writing some nine years ago – truly is a labor of love. “I’m enamored of music,” he said. “It’s something that resonates with me in a deep place.”

He pointed out that for Jews, even songs without words are “imbued with spirituality. With words, the songs I write, from the siddur, certainly have a deeper meaning,” enhancing his own closeness to God. “Part of the reason I made the CD was the hope that through it, others could come closer to God as well,” he said.

Music plays several roles in his life.

“On the simplest level, it’s an outlet to escape to another world where you don’t have to worry about day to day stresses, in a positive way,” he said. And “it’s a calling for my neshama” – his soul. “I feel like I’m maximizing myself; when I play or write I’m expressing a part of my personality in a different way. It’s a deeper element of my personality.”

Rabbi Schlusselberg, who graduated from the Frisch School in Paramus, contends that he is “the worst musician; I honestly cannot read music.” He started playing the guitar in 7th grade; the piano in 11th; the violin shortly before his 22nd birthday; and the cello when he was 24. He plays each of these instruments on his CD.

“Initially, like any kid with an older brother, I started playing guitar because he did,” he said. “Then I started writing music toward the end of my sophomore year in high school.” Realizing that “there was a certain beauty to songs written with piano,” he began to study the piano.

He said he started writing Jewish music during his second year in Israel. “I enjoyed writing songs from the siddur,” he noted. “It was more emotional.”

While all of the songs on his CD were virtually completed four years ago, “I wanted to record them but I didn’t have the time or money,” he said. “I kept pushing it off.” But this year – with a full-time job, still single, and with sufficient funds – “I realized that if I didn’t do it now, I probably would never do it.”

“It’s been a dream of mine,” he said, acknowledging that he has been influenced by both Jewish and secular musicians as well as by friends active on the music scene. “I wanted to put something out there with a different vibe, a more acoustic type of feel – folk, but with a certain sense of passion in the songs.”

To set his songs apart, for example, Rabbi Schlusselberg uses chords in a different way. “There are a finite amount of chords,” he said. To avoid the possibility of unintentionally plagiarizing, “I deliberately use different types of chords to make my sound more unique.”

Rabbi Schlusselberg said it took him anywhere from six to 10 hours to record each of his 11 songs, pointing out that each part of a song – whether lead vocals or harmony, base instrument or additional instruments – has to be recorded separately.

Typical Sunday recording sessions lasted from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., “with a break for eating and davening.” Occasionally he recorded after work, spending two evenings a week at the studio. While he could have done the project in less time and for less money, he said, he wanted to ensure that the CD would be of high quality.

Despite the intensity of the project, “I didn’t tell people,” he said. “I didn’t even tell my father or some of my best friends. I did this on my own. I was scared that I wouldn’t complete it and didn’t want to hear questions about it.”

But complete it he did, taking advantage of snow days to put in extra time.

Rabbi Schlusselberg said he’s happy with the result and would like the venture to be a springboard for further CDs and perhaps local concerts. “My goal is to play concerts and speak about Torah ideas and the siddur though music,” he said.

He credits sound engineer Jake Angelis, whose Hillside studio he used, for “putting all the sounds together,” mixing and mastering the CD as well as playing the drums on the recording.

“He has an unbelievable ear for music,” Rabbi Schlusselberg said, adding that both Mr. Angelis and his father, Mo Angelis, who plays bass on the CD, “really contributed to the success” of the project. He is grateful as well to his friend Josh Weinberg, who made the CD cover and video for him.

Rabbi Schlusselberg’s CD is available at Judaica House in Teaneck and on iTunes. Samples of his music can also be found on YouTube.

For more information, go to the rabbi’s Facebook page, facebook.com/davidschlusselbergmusic, or email him at daveschluss@gmail.com.

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