Westmount cantor lends his voice to new Leonard Cohen songs
Gideon Zelermyer and his choir sing backup on 2 tracks on Cohen's new album
When cantor Gideon Zelermyer got an email from Leonard Cohen back in November asking him to sing on his new album, his heart skipped a beat.
"At six o'clock in the morning when I got the email, [it] caused me to shout and wake up the family," says Zelermyer. "I wrote him back, my answer is Hallelujah and I'm your man."
Three weeks later, Zelermyer and his choir teamed up with Leonard Cohen's son Adam to produce the chorus and background vocals on two songs.
The first track You Want It Darker, on the album of the same name, is a dark, mesmerizing, hymnal song with Zelermyer singing "Hineni, Hineni" in the background.
The tenor's chant means "I'm here" in Hebrew, followed by Cohen saying, "I'm ready my Lord."
The spiritual track was released Wednesday, on Cohen's 82nd birthday.
Although Zelermyer has never met Leonard Cohen, the Cohen family's connection to the congregation at the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue where Zelermyer is cantor goes back generations.
Walking through the halls, there are old photographs of Cohen descendents going back to the late 1800s.
Portraits of his grandfather and great-grandfather hang in the stairwell.
A Hanukkah menorah presented to the congregation by Cohen's grandfather on his father's bar mitzvah sits in a glass case.
A young Leonard Cohen is even seen in a Hebrew school class photo dating back to 1949.
With his family's legacy at the synagogue, Zelermyer said the cultural icon wanted to work it into into his new album.
"He wrote back, I have so many fond memories of being in this sanctuary. It means so much to me that you are part of this project," says Zelermyer of his email correspondence with Cohen. "And this was really the spirit in which we did this."
Shortly after the two songs were produced, Cohen sent a self-portrait with a thank you note to Zelermyer for his work.
The cantor can't wait to thank Cohen in person next month at the album's launch in Los Angeles. He already knows what he'll say to the legendary singer.
"Thank you from me and from our congregation and from all the people that you've given so much joy to over the many, many years of your art history."
You Want It Darker will be released on Oct. 21.