Cantor David Bagley - Live Shabbat 1983 davening

Here is the great Cantor David Bagley in a live Shabbat davening from 1983. These have been provided to me by a Toronto cantor.

The eleven selections can be found at:

Posted by Simcha at 18/05/09 16:01:59
Thank you very much, I enjoyed the recordings greatly. Please continue to post recordings as often as possible!
Posted by jrcantor at 20/05/09 23:36:41
Indeed, thank you very much Simcha for making all these recordings available to us.

Unfortunately, I can't say I really enjoyed this particular davening of Cantor David Bagley. Nevertheless, it was quite interesting to hear it and learn from it.

He has a good developed voice and nice color to it. But he seems to make it very nasal (which I think is less beautiful) and penetrating. Something most Chazonim have today (except for the Naftali Herstik school of singing, which seems to influence quite some "new talents" in the cantorial scene today)

Until Av Harachamim, nothing really happens. It's all very basic, boring and dragging Nusach. I am sure he theoretically knew his trade but unfortunately it's very difficult to hear. Everything is being sung on the top of his lungs, most of the time.

Even when he comes to sections of the tefila that will be more interesting, they're almost all prepared compositions and very little improvisation that let's me hold my breath. I would prefer a Chazen, to recite Av Harachamim passionately, then sing perfect prepared compositions.
That's another subject, *sigh*, which Chazen today recites or declaims any tefila at all today?

I also notice that a lot of jolly jazzy superficial melodies (For example: Az Bekol - is that his interpretation of the text?? I almost wanted to get up and dance) have been introduced where this would have been much less a part of davening, let's say, in the 60's of the Cantorial set.

A lot of (conservative) standard cantorial "drama". A lot of twisting and turning (potentially) perfect beautiful syllables for no reason and thus artificially creating the notion of sincere emotion, where I just think most of it is just (calculated) special effects. Or worse, just creating unhealthy/odd sounding breaks in a phrase or word that could have been technically well exectuted.

I haven't heard him make one attempt for an interesting shift of keys or improvisation. It might be that he was under pressure that day or that he didn't have the peace of mind to do something more exciting. But from what I heard, I am not impressed.

We can clearly see that the degrading process of Chazanut was already well on its way in 1983. Yes, quite sad.
Posted by Glantzophile at 21/05/09 17:20:41
I must disagree with glantzophile. Kishmo kein hu. When one completely subscribes to the Glantz cantorial weltanschaung, all other chazzanut pales by comparison. But the fact is that there was chazzanut before Glantz and after him as well. Bagley was a master chazzan. This recording is but another demonstration of it. (As an aside, this recording is not one service. It's either two or three. notice that at Rosh Chodesh Bentsh'n and in Mussaf the choir is mixed, but in Shacharit it isn't. Also the echo is different. My only question is if the Rosh chodesh Bentsch'n and the Mussf were recorded at the same service.) I think Bagley's nussach, especially at Shochen Ad through Barchu was wonderful. That which glantzophine calls "boring. . .dragging" is in fact wonderful manipulation of the modes and an artistic rendering of the text. Why, pray tell, is Bagley's treatment of Az Bekol any "worse" than Ganchoff's use of the Miserlou melody at the same point in the litugy? Moreover, I suggest people pay close and careful attention to the Rosh Chodesh Bentsch'n. It is a master improvisation. The melody for ". . .chaim sheyimalu. . ." harkens back to pre-golden age of cantorial art, and was sung by Sirota's choir in Vilna. I wouldn't be surprised if Bagley, who was born in Vilna, heard it as a child and carried it with him his whole life.

When considering this recording, one must remember that Bagley was a helden tenor, remeniscent of Melchior. such a voice is dramatic and big. But it doesn't lend itself to piano or pianissimo singnig all that well. working within the confines of his vocal ability, Bagley "accentuated the positive" (thanks Annette Funnicello for that phrase) and built on it.

All in all I think this is a wonderful example of good solid "bread and butter" chazzanut, done by a chazzan who clearly knew his craft.
Posted by schwartzesq at 22/05/09 09:45:03
Thank you for your comment. I always enjoy getting feedback even if people disagree. I listened to some parts again, just to get a fresh feeling for it again.

Maybe I am a bit harsh in my criticism. I guess you are right in a way that my judgement partly comes from what I am used to of Glantz.
But, in this case, I have been listening quite intensely to some Shabbes services of Ganchoff over the last weeks and I was comparing Bagley to Ganchoff. After switching from Ganchoff to Bagley, it was an intense dissapointment. With Ganchoff, I knew he would be full of surprises and plenty of variations whereas with Bagley, he just sang the basic Nusach but didn't manage to excite me, even in a more conservative way. And it's not all about jumpy intervals and chromatics, I mean simple exciting modulations and passion.

Yes, you are right. Ganchoff uses that annoying melody. I wish he hadn't but I guess he felt compelled to do so to keep the Tzibur in. And, just because Ganchoff does it, doesn't necesarily mean it's a right approach to the text.
But at least, in one of the Shabbes services, he tries to do some dramatic interpretations of Az Bekol before he starts marching on that melody.

Actually I have a scan of a letter Ganchoff wrote to Alter (I assume - as Brenner being his brother in law) , and I


"You see Chazonis in America in the orthodox field - is so cheapened and jazzy that I myself am always looking for lidelech, after all I can't make G e v a l d e n for noise so I must do these things. So whenever you have the lidelech in compositions, I always appreciate them".

Ok, let me grant you: Shochen Ad and Befi Yesharim is "ok" Nusach.

Sheken Chovat goes nowhere and stays very basic, he seems to repeat the same turn and twists over and over. It's just 'stam' acrobatics. Just because he can.

Ki Lecha Na'e, he starts before the usual 'Berachot VeHodaot', ok thats fine, what does he do with it? Just reads it up, turns here and there....very dissapointing. At least Ganchoff, would draw something with the words. After the Broche, is "ok". Nothing to write home about.

About his voice: I don't know the different types of voices well enough to say anything definite about that. I would hope that a good Chazen has developed his voice to such extent, that he could do a little bit more than only be loud. I wish he would try to bring some more nuances into his singing. He definitely has a good instrument.

Don't get me wrong, I can see that Bagley is a good Chazen and probably knew a lot and did what he could within his own limitations. But as I have experienced in my short life, is that there is a big difference between knowledge and using what a person theoretically knows in practice.I see that with a lot of Chazonim.

To be creative is not easy. And to be creative in a very tight frame, as Chazones requires, is even more difficult.
Posted by Glantzophile at 22/05/09 12:15:53
Regarding twists and turns and being surprisng, nor everyone subsribed to that school of thought. There is artisry to be accomplished via straight presentation of nussach without interesting modulations or other leaps of fantasy. That Bagley did not engate in them that morning, says nothing about his cantorial abilities. Moshe Koussevitsky, Moshe Stern, Zvi Aroni, just to name a few and countless others, nay the critical mass of competant and great cantors davened and davens in this fashion. Glantz and other who were more innovative in their approach to applying nusach were gret because they went against the grain. That greatness presupposes the "grain" Doesn't it?
Posted by schwartzesq at 24/05/09 12:06:53
Dear Glantzophile and Schwartzesq,

A very interesting 'argument' ;-)! I have to conclude that I agree with both of you :-). Chazzan Bagley had a great voice and definately was an outstanding Chazzan. I think the comparisons of Schwartzesq are very accurate. Bagley wasn't an innovator nor was he a 'zoger' like Glantz or Ganchoff, but what he did, he did good.

I think a nice debate was evoked and I hope more similar discussions will follow... there are far too less discussions like this on the forum (and I believe that's the purpose of this forum: to discuss Chazzonim, Chazzonus, davenings, styles etc.). Let's keep the CW Forum alive!!!

Best regards,

Jeffrey P. Lieuwen
The Netherlands
Posted by J.P. Lieuwen at 25/05/09 11:55:31
Dear Glantzophile
I must disagree with some of your comments. First, David Bagley did not sing nasally at all. In fact, he possessed one of the most brilliant dramatic tenor voices of any chazz'n in the last 30 years. Ask anyone who heard him live in concert or at the Omud. The voice could litterally cut glass and fill any hall he sang in. I heard him sing duets with both Malovany and Stern and he completely overpowered them both. A person who sings in their nose prevents the voice from resonating and being heard. So that was pure nonesense.
As for your other comments please remember this - when Gantchoff davened somewhere it was a "concert Shabbos" a prearranged davening with choir where tickets were sold and people came specifically to hear him daven and nothing else. Therefore, he pulled out every trick in his arsenal and davened as if it as Game 7 of the World Series. What you are listening to here is David Bagley davening in HIS OWN SHUL ON A REGULAR SHABBOS. So you cannot compare the two. He still davened more than most weekly chazzonim.

Finally - in terms of your comment on his "faking emotion" again having heard him over 50 times live in shul, there was no faking.

It is very difficult to listen to people ponitificate about things they know nothing about. That is the danger with this forum - everyone is a maven....

I would not argue that Bagley was equal to Gantchoff or Glantz but he was a wonderful ORIGINAL (unlike practically eveyone today) chazz'n. A magnificent voice, a great stage personality, a great musician and a great teacher. Essentially everything that the new chasidishe peyeloch are not.

Posted by Pinchik at 04/06/09 22:46:56
It's always a good day when my good friend and colleague, Pinchik, posts a comment. Indeed he was very close to Bagley and is probably one of the foremost authorities on him. I agree with everything he says except that in my opinion Balgey was not a dramatic tenor, but rather a heldentenor. He sounded more like Melchior than Bjorling; especially in his prime years. Additionally, I think Bagley was distinctive in his way. He was careful in his selection of repertoire; chosing pieces that brought out the best of his vocal and interpretive abilities. He was not afraid to risk appearing trite in his interpretations (vide his Harninu Goyim which incorporates Fastag's Ani Maamin melody and transitions into Hatikva or hios Zos Kroatnu which also references the Fastag melody). But the thing was, when he did it, it wasn't trite and came off as sincere and even innovative. It was a demonstration of taking old text and imbuing it with new symbolism. Few could do it as well.
Posted by schwartzesq at 05/06/09 14:48:10
Nice to see you posting again Pinchik. I enjoyed reading your comment and as always, there is plenty to learn. I appreciate you (and Schwartzesq) telling me more about this Chazen.

You should know that when I post something, I simply share with you my opinion/perception/experience and feeling. I don't pretend to be a maven on anything. I just downloaded the service, like I always do and listen to it. I must say I had been intensely focusing for weeks on a couple of Ganchoff services (and a few others) I have and I felt a bit dissapointed when hearing this particular recording of Bagley.

That doesn't mean I dismiss him as a good Chazen.
It's good you put my Ganchoff experience in perspective, that does make more sense.
That is another nuance I want to bring, that my reaction was only about this recording. I have never heard Bagley live. I haven't heard him 50 times like you did. So I can't say anything about details like: the resonance of his voice (in general), his choice of compositions or other specific trivia.

I do think he has a great instrument. I once saw a video, one of you guys posted, of a Ma'ariv he davened and I also listened to a concert he gave in Amsterdam where he sang his "Harninu Goyim Amo" and I could hear he has this big beautiful sound, few present day Cantors can match. I don't dispute that (and most of your comments - including your humorous "chasidishe peyeloch" reference).

I agree with your statement that singing nasally takes away from the voice resonating (properly) (although I thought the French School of singing actually stimulates it a bit) and many Chazonim have been "guilty" of either singing nasally or partly or even as limited as certain phrases or vowels. I do experience certain parts in this
recording where I feel it has a nasal sound/ring to it. That doesn't mean that I have declared that the "great Cantor Bagley" is incompetent or sings nasally in general.
I have great respect for your highly revered and beloved Cantor. But I can't change the way the sound enters my ears and the way my brain filters the specific details and nuances in the sound.

I am sure he must have been emotionally charged at many of the services he davened or at the concerts he performed at for all those years, at which you were often present. I think it only confirms,
when reading your post, that he was succesfully able to convey his emotions to many people, including yourself. That does not take away from my impression, in this particular recording, which is the only thing I can meassure it by, that it was more a routine service.
(as you said yourself: What you are listening to here is D.B. davening in HIS OWN SHUL ON A REGULAR SHABBOS - ok, makes sense)
I feel it lacks a bit of genuine feeling or maybe he dramatised his emotions a bit. In a way, it felt a bit kitsch to me. It just didn't click with me.

Surely, somebody could post a davening that would better represent Cantor Bagley's more creative and inspiring services. That would be very interesting to hear.

Yes, you are right. At a public forum like Cantorsworld, everybody wants to share it's thoughts/opinions/feelings/experiences/knowledge etc., some more accurate/valid/researched/articulated than others.
Everybody wants to feel a little bit like an expert or even a Chazen. I guess that is human nature. I enjoy reading posts of most people and I surely appreciate the refined knowledge you and others have brought to this forum but I wouldn't go as far as saying "... they know nothing about." In my experience, everyone knows something, even people who are seemingly ignorant, and when combined together it makes quite an interesting forum.

Try to see it as your privilege to educate all of us who know less than you, and so keep this forum alive. I would be happy to see you post weekly about any given Cantorial subject.

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