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Gerry Daien age 17

Cantor Gerry Daien 1978

Cantor Gerry Daien and his wife, Peril 2010



by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng. November 17, 2010

 Many people have said, “There must be something in the genes,” when comparing Cantor Gerry Daien's singing skills to those of his grabdfathers. After all, his grandfather, Moishe Daien, was a renowned, well respected cantor and shoichet at Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue on Manitoba and Salter St in Winnipeg's legendary North End.  His father, Harry Daien, was the eldest of  seven children who came to Winnipeg in his early teens.

“He [my father] probably had a sweet tenor voice like my grandfather, but he had to support the family,” said Cantor Daien. His father began working as an electrician. Later Gerry and his late brother Herb z”l , a singer in many choirs, joined their father in the electrical contracting business.

“It was not well paying, but we did what we had to do to make a living,” said Cantor Daien.

Rabbi Shalom Rappaport z”l who helped to guide and support Cantor Daien at the beginning of his career, jokingly referred to Cantor Daien as an “electrifying cantor and to hear him was a shocking experience.”

Cantor Daien began singing at nine years old in the Talmud Torah choir. As the years went on, he participated in almost every choir, play, musical club, theatre group, etc. sponsored by Jewish organizations. He sang on the radio on the Noah Whitman show and at the Sharon home. He sang with Jack Silverberg and with many other touring chazzans and famous Jewish actors and singers who came to Winnipeg.

“My main income was certainly from the electrical business, but I never gave up the desire to be what I am today.”

Cantor Daien  did not receive any yeshiva training in musical or cantorial study. He trained with Cantor Brownstone, a recognized composer of liturgical music and a renowned cantor, who became Cantor Daien’s mentor. He learned by listening to and singing with tapes of Cantor Brownstone. These tapes have since been turned over to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the institution to which Cantor Brownstone bequeathed his music upon his death. These tapes which were turned into CD’s are the only known recorded vocals of Cantor Brownstone.

Cantor Daien remained at his cantorial post at Herzlia for 18 years. He later worked as a cantor at Talmud Torah Beth Jacob Synagogue for one year and then moved on to the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue, where he has been the spiritual leader for 30 years.

He filled in at synagogues and elsewhere when the occasions arose. He taught classes at Peretz School and at Talmud Torah School and returned after school to teach Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes. During lunch hour he taught  students in grades 8-12  of  Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate and subsequently at the Gray Academy how to conduct their own Shabbat services. And then at home in the evenings, he would teach more Bar and Bat Mitzvah students.

When asked about the highlights of his 50 year long career, Cantor Daien said, “It is a highlight to have had a career where I have been recognized and respected by the community all these years. I am honoured to be mentioned in “Our Musical Heritage -  100 Years of Jewish Musicians and Music in Winnipeg”,” (a book written and edited by Winnipeg writer Sharon Chisvin that examines all types of music that have been prevalent in Winnipeg and profiles individual personalities that have made unique and enduring contributions to music).

Another highlight of his life was when Cantor Daien shared the bimah with his father, Harry, and his son, David, at David’s Bar Mitzvah. 

“David can daven with the best of them,” say Gerry and his wife Peril Daien in unison.

"Another highlight is having people that I taught some 20 or 30 years ago come up to me to say hello and hug me now. Former students find me from all over.”

“I love the work and I am grateful I can do the work.”

Shul is my home away from home. I feel guilty when I want to go out of town and visit my grand children,” says Cantor Daien, who has seven grandchildren.

Gerry and  Peril Daien, both good down-to-earth people, have definitely instilled the values of Jewish education, religion, and family, in their children and grandchildren. Their daughter Rachelle is an elementary Hebrew teacher at Gray Academy. Barb is a social worker who teaches medical residents in family practice medicine. Marim is an artist and potter and past director of the Marion and Ed Vickar Jewish Museum. David is a family physician in Toronto who is also involved in computerizing medical records.

“Last week, my two granddaughters, ages 7 and 9, called from Toronto and sang Birchat Ha Mazon to us on the phone after the Shabbat meal,” boasts Cantor Daien.

“To us, that is very special – to know that Judaism is being passed on,” says Peril. “Our children keep kosher homes with traditional Jewish values.”

Gerry and Peril caught each other’s eye at the old Talmud Torah Synagogue on Flora and Stella while Gerry was singing. Gerry was on the bimah with Cantor Brownstone at Rosh Hashanah and Peril was 16 and sitting in the balcony enjoying the service. Peril had a genuine appreciation for cantorial music. Two weeks later, they ended up being in the same Grade 12 home room class. Three weeks later, he asked her out. That was 63 years ago this week. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this summer.

“I have been lucky that Peril went along with me in whatever I needed to or wanted to do as a cantor. It could have been difficult for me if I hadn’t had Peril’s support, love and understanding,” states Cantor Daien.

“I thank G-d for my abilities and for my loving and supportive wife and family,” concludes Cantor Daien.

Robbie Waldman, vice president of the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue says that a tribute to Cantor Daien is planned for the near future.

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