Piano Dave is a focused musician and healer
Shelly and Ken Schlossberg got the phone call every parent dreads on Feb. 21, 2005. Their younger son, David, then a junior at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), had been in a serious car accident.
”When we first saw him,” Shelly said, “he was lying on a gurney in the emergency room at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. He was in a neck brace, and we were told his spinal cord injuries were so severe he would probably never walk again. But when David saw us, he lifted his arms and said, ‘Look mom. I can move my fingers. I can still play the piano.’”
His dad is sure that the accident 18 years ago, caused by a drunk driver, would have derailed the life of a less focused and determined person. David went on to graduate magna cum laude in piano performance from TCNJ, if a year later than his classmates.
Known as Piano Dave at TCNJ, he started piano lessons at 5 and envisioned a life dedicated to performing. Despite his challenges, that vision, that hope, has never left him, although he concedes, “It’s been a long journey.”
David credits much of his physical recovery to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J. He also admits, “There were times I didn’t want to get better.“ Eventually, he turned to therapy.
In the process he learned, “Sometimes it’s OK to be afraid, that I don’t always have to be brave. Plus, despite everything, I have a lot to offer. So I am dedicated to sharing my talent as best I can.”
Now Dave leads the life of a professional musician, playing gigs as often as possible. The list of organizations, choirs, and individuals he works with is seemingly endless. Many involve the Jewish community of Central New Jersey, including Makhelat HaMercaz Choir in Monroe, Kol Dodi, the Jewish Choir of MetroWest/Essex, and the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble. He also serves as collaborative keyboard artist at New Brunswick’s Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, the synagogue in which he was bar mitzvahed.
In addition, he is the long-time musical director of both the Monroe Township Chorus and the Middlesex County Arts Middle School’s Musical Theater Program. He says these involve “teaching, performing, and adapting music to meet the needs of the group.”
Several of his original Jewish choral compositions have been premiered at the North American Jewish Choral Festival. That’s in addition to his award-winning solo piano CD of Jewish liturgical music, “A Place Beyond Words.”
According to his brother Matthew, “Dave does so much for so many. He’s always making special musical arrangements for cantors and others who contact him. No matter how busy he is, he never says no.”
It was that inability to say no that connected him to the woman who would become his wife. Katrina Blaise-Schlossberg, a licensed social worker with Catholic Charities, said, “While I was a student at TCNJ, I organized an Open Mic night to promote awareness of domestic violence. I needed a terrific closing act. Someone suggested ‘Piano Dave.’ I’d never heard of him. But I called, and he immediately said yes. And he was terrific. Everyone loved him.” She said they have been together ever since.
She is in awe of his talent and dedication. “Music is his passion,” she said. “But he is so much more than a musician. He is a healer. Dave and his music heal people.”
David views that as simply part of what he must do. “I understand that I am in the position to effect positive change,” he said. “So that’s my challenge.”
Phyllis Solomon, president of the Chancy Memorial Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to philanthropic projects in the arts for challenged members of our communities, has known Dave for about a dozen years.
“We send musicians to rehab facilities like the Kessler Institute and locations where patients are receiving chemotherapy,” she said. “I initially was concerned about hiring David. After all, he has to carry his keyboard, and that is not easy for him. But he has great resilience and magic fingers. He’s always a hit.
“Besides being a wonderful musician, he’s a wonderful human being.”
There are two items currently on David’s to-do list. The first involves bringing what he’s learned to intimate audiences. “I give motivational presentations at high schools and at libraries,“ he said. “Now I’d like to offer a sermon in song as a scholar/artist in residence.”
The second would take him to a wider audience. For this he has served as a composer/lyricist as well as co-writer for a semi-autobiographical musical titled “Facing The Music.” The point of the musical, he said, “is to share what I’ve learned. That not everything is black and white. I am not a hero and the person who hit me is not a villain. We both have shades of gray.”
A company in New York City has expressed interest, so Dave is working with a creative team to tighten the script of his musical. The goal, he said, is to have a production Off Broadway in the next two years.
Ever interested in learning and improving himself, Dave said, “I’m excited to see what I got wrong and right, to know what works. I’m an amateur in this arena and I am thrilled to be working with true experts.”
On the 18th anniversary of the accident, Dave posted the following on Facebook:
As I reflect on the 18th year since I became paralyzed, I realize again that my journey, while unique in some ways, is universal as well. We all experience adversity. We all, at some point, have our own life turned on a path not of our choosing.
And yet what unites us is that we choose how we respond to our circumstances. Will we let them define us or empower us? I have chosen empowerment…
Tonight, I am about to do a gig. Eighteen years later, I am still working, still making choices after I thought all choice was stolen from me.
I am posting this now because 18 in Hebrew represents life. I am choosing life.
Dave’s choices, while not always easy, have brought him to the place he envisioned so many years ago. He’s a successful composer, a sought-after accompanist, a motivational speaker, and the author of a musical. He was born with a gift.
And he has chosen life.
Joann Abraham began chronicling Jewish life as editor of Monmouth County’s Jewish newspaper, now defunct, and has written for national and international publications. She is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.