The choir at Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, as well as its conductor Roï Azoulay and Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, are thrilled to be sharing in a Grammy Award that was posthumously awarded to Leonard Cohen on Jan. 28.
The title song of Cohen’s final album, You Want it Darker, won the American music industry’s award for Best Rock Performance of the year.
“It’s a huge achievement,” said Azoulay, the Shaar’s music director. “I think we may be the first synagogue in the world to be part of such a thing.”
Azoulay, who helped arrange the song and conducted the all-male choir, said he expects he, Zelermyer and, as a group, the choir – will each receive Grammy trophies, as will everyone else who’s credited with its production.
They shared in a Canadian Juno Award last year, when You Want it Darker won album of the year.
Zelermyer was in New York for the ceremony. Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca Cohen, accepted the award on behalf of her father, who died in November 2016, less than a month after the album was released. It was produced by Leonard Cohen’s son, Adam Cohen, who worked with the Shaar on the song.
Cohen turned to the synagogue in which he grew up to lend an authentic Jewish sound to the haunting title song. Zelermyer and the choir sing backup, as Cohen intones the chorus, “Hineni, Hineni/I’m ready my lord,” hinting at his own mortality.
This was the first solo Grammy for Cohen, who won two others, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
“It’s an amazing thing that it has come to this,” said Azoulay. “When (Cohen) came to us two years ago, it was just a first draft of the song.… It’s very satisfying that it has come to this.”
In 2015, the congregation received a rough early take of the song, with just Cohen’s voice. Azoulay and his collaborators wrote and recorded several options for Cohen to choose from.
They went on to record the title track, as well as backup vocals for a second song, in a Montreal studio, and sent their contribution to Cohen, to mix with his voice.
The Cohen family flew the entire choir to Los Angeles for the album’s launch in October 2016.