The Westmount synagogue behind Leonard Cohen's Grammy-winning You Want it Darker

Leonard Cohen has won his first solo performance Grammy for the eponymous song from his 2016 album You Want it Darker.

Song developed with help from family synagogue, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim

Cantor Gideon Zelermyer was sent a self-portrait from Cohen after working on You Want it Darker. He attended the Grammy Awards in New York, Sunday night. (CBC)

Leonard Cohen has won his first solo performance Grammy for the eponymous song off his 2016 album You Want it Darker — but not without the help of his family synagogue in Westmount.

He won the award posthumously at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday night.

The track was developed with Congregation Shaar Hashomayim — the synagogue Cohen's grandfather and great-grandfather were presidents of. 

"I am some combination of exhausted and ecstatic," said Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, who attended the Grammy Awards Sunday night. "I was lucky enough to be in the theatre when they announced it. It was surreal."

The award was given out before the televised ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York. Cohen's daughter Lorca was on hand to accept the award on his behalf.

"It's a beautiful capstone to an amazing journey," Zelermyer told CBC's Daybreak, Monday morning.

Putting it together

Zelermyer said he was overjoyed when Cohen approached the congregation in 2015 to work on the album. 

"At six o'clock in the morning when I got the email, [it] caused me to shout and wake up the family," Zelermyer said. "I wrote him back, 'My answer is Hallelujah and I'm your man.'"

The congregation received a very rough track of what would become You Want it Darker with just Cohen's voice. 

"We didn't know what to do with it, what to expect. Or what they wanted," music director Roï Azoulay said in the fall.

They decided to write several options of how the track might sound, then they recorded them with the congregation's all-male choir and sent them to Cohen and his team. 

'It was mesmerizing'

Within a few weeks, they were in a Montreal studio, producing the chorus and background vocals on two songs, produced by his son, Adam.

Their contribution was sent to Cohen, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, and he added his voice to them.

"We listened to it, and it was mesmerizing," Azoulay said.

After the songs were produced, Cohen sent Zelermyer a self-portrait along with a thank you note.
Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and music director Roï Azoulay recorded different musical options to complement Cohen's vocal track. (CBC)

The album, You Want it Darker, went on to win the 2017 Juno Award for Album of the Year.

That award was given to the congregation as a gift and is currently on display in its foyer.

With files from CBC Daybreak, Marilla Steuter-Martin