Local Obituaries

The cantor who sang with superstars, David Conviser, dies at 98

Cantor David Conviser served Temple Beth Sholom and Temple Emanu-El as music director, sang with the Robert Shaw Chorale around the country and performed with some of the 20th Century’s top artists. In 1998, pictured at his Miami Beach home, he wrote a book about Jewish music in the 1950's.
Cantor David Conviser served Temple Beth Sholom and Temple Emanu-El as music director, sang with the Robert Shaw Chorale around the country and performed with some of the 20th Century’s top artists. In 1998, pictured at his Miami Beach home, he wrote a book about Jewish music in the 1950's. Miami Herald file

David Conviser, cantor emeritus of Temple Beth Sholom, sang alongside some of the 20th century’s most respected artists.

He sang with singer-actor Danny Kaye, Metropolitan Opera star Regina Resnik, conductor-pianist Leonard Bernstein and New York operatic tenor Jan Peerce.

“My father was a prominent choir director who was in great demand during the ’30s and ’40s. A lot of the famous superstars of that era would practice in my father’s apartment,” Conviser said in a Miami Herald story in 1998. That year, he released his book, The Singrl, an account of the golden age of Jewish music and theater.

Conviser died at 98 on May 24. Two days later, his wife Eve Conviser revealed he had a favorite duet partner.

No disrespect to the legacies of Kaye, Resnik, Bernstein and Peerce. But it was his widow, a former piano and violin teacher at Biscayne Elementary and Nautilus Junior High, with whom Conviser made his most memorable melodies.

No one was more surprised than Eve Conviser. “I didn’t consider myself a singer,” she said from their Windermere home near Orlando that they moved to from Miami Beach to be near daughter Jamie in 2005.

Conviser trained and graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. He was a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale, which toured and recorded for RCA Records from 1948 to 1965; director of the Brandeis Institute in California and the Shaker Village, a Christian religious sect in New Lebanon, New York; a New World School of the Arts faculty member; and, from 1958 to 1987, he was cantor and music director at Miami Beach’s Temple Beth Sholom.

Early in their marriage, Eve wasn’t especially active in the temple. She had a thriving music career of her own in teaching and was also mother to their three children. But their harmony, both musically and personally, was undeniable.

“One of the thrills of my life was being able to write music for David,” she said. “David liked the music I wrote and we started doing duets.” Though she wasn’t sold on her own voice, he was. He would turn to her and say, “Kid, you are a star.” The temple’s audience loved them together.

“I was so surprised. I was accepted as a singer. But our voices blended so we did sing together and that was a highlight of my career and such a pleasure to have that opportunity,” Eve said.

Music brought them together. Eve won’t exactly call it “fate,” but it applies. The couple met on Labor Day 1962 at the Fontainebleau. Eve, who lived in South Miami, had a cabana at the Collins Avenue landmark. Every young kid had a cabana at the Fontainebleau in the early ’60s, she said. Frank Sinatra basically christened the joint. James Bond struck gold there. The Convisers found love there.

Eve had just returned from the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. That Labor Day was overcast. “I didn’t think anyone will be there, there was not much sun,” she remembers. But she also figured she’d pop over to the cabana just in case someone might be around.

What she saw, instead, was a piano on the pool deck, probably from an event the night before. A man, older than she, was playing and Eve was drawn to the music. This guy knew how to play.

“I saw David and he was not shy. He was playing and, being a musician myself, I recognized some of the chords he was playing and I started to accompany him. Whatever he played, I played. It just went together,” she said.

The tunes led to a conversation. She told him about Tanglewood that season. He told her about his days singing with Robert Shaw as one of the 30-member ensemble’s seven tenors and of singing on the Borsht circuit in the Catskills. He told her how Temple Beth Sholom’s founding rabbi, Leon Kronish, had hired him as its cantor in 1958, thus bringing the World War II Air Force vet to Miami Beach.

“I told her she had talent. I asked her to sing in my choir. And she agreed,” David Conviser said of their meeting, in a Miami Herald story in 1987. Their families quickly bonded when Conviser invited her parents to hear the Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur at Beth Sholom. “My mother and father loved him. He was delightful. Funny. He wasn’t stuffy. He was just great in every way,” Eve said.

On Dec. 22, 1962, within three months of meeting, the two wed.

I’m satisfied knowing that I’ve left my mark on a lot of people. I hope that I’ve given them something along the way.

David Conviser, at his retirement as cantor at Temple Beth Sholom in 1987.

In 1987, two years after Kronish retired from Beth Sholom, Conviser did the same. The temple honored him with an emeritus title. “He has served the congregation for 30 years and he has always demonstrated the highest achievement in musicality,” Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Gary Glickstein said at the time.

“I wanted to look for new horizons. I’m not retiring because I can’t sing anymore. I’m better than ever now,” Conviser said in the Herald at age 69, as he took a job as Temple Emanu-El’s music director in Miami Beach. He was also director of the Cantors Association of Florida Choir, a group that performed for synagogues throughout the state.

“I’m satisfied knowing that I’ve left my mark on a lot of people,” Conviser said in the Herald in 1987. “I hope that I’ve given them something along the way.”

Conviser and his wife returned to Beth Sholom on the High Holy Days for many years, Glickstein said Thursday in an email.

“The cantor would don his robe and sing one of the prayers with which he was most identified. Afterward, congregants would come up to me and comment how just hearing that voice brought them back to special moments in their lives. … It is fitting that his final journey will begin in the sanctuary in which he led our congregation in prayer for 30 years.”

In addition to his wife, Conviser is survived by daughters Jaime and Susan. He was predeceased by son Robert. Services will be at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Sholom, 4144 Chase Ave., Miami Beach. Donations can be made in his name to the temple.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

  Comments