Violinist David Schneider dies at 83

David Hersch Schneider was known for his violin playing: For 50 years, he bowed with the San Francisco Symphony, often as a soloist. But when it came to his voice, this maestro knew he was lacking.

“I have no problem with Hebrew or trope,” he told the then-Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 2001, on the occasion of his second bar mitzvah, at age 83. “But I have a terrible voice to inflict on the congregation. They’ll have to take the bitter with the sweet.”

Schneider, of Santa Rosa, died Tuesday, Oct. 25. He was 87.

He was born in San Francisco on April 10, 1918. As a child, he was educated at the Buchanan Street Shul, and then his family joined Congregation Beth Sholom when it opened in 1935.

For his first bar mitzvah, “I did the whole service, the cantorial and Torah portion,” Schneider said in 2001. “It was taken for granted that you would. Everyone was very knowledgeable.”

Along with his Torah studies, Schneider also began playing the violin, giving his first recital at age 5.

“Every Jewish mother had a Jewish violin under a son’s chin,” he told the Bulletin in 1987. “I took to it and it took to me.”

He was also a good student, entering U.C. Berkeley at age 16.

At 19 he joined the San Francisco Symphony, where he became a frequent soloist. He also played with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, helped found the California String Quartet, and authored a book, “San Francisco Symphony: Music, Maestros, and Musicians,” published by Presidio Press in 1983.

He wrote several articles for the Bulletin about music, and covered the Jerusalem Music Festival in 1984.

“Somehow the violin seems connected to Judaism, to such virtuosos as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifetz,” he said at a talk at the Jewish Community Center San Francisco in 1987. “I can feel a certain warmth in my playing that is probably from my Jewishness.”

Schneider was also a soloist at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel; for 20 years, he played “Kol Nidre” at Yom Kippur on the violin. He did the same for Santa Rosa’s Congregation Beth Ami after he and his wife, Geraldine, retired to Santa Rosa.

He sometimes played at synagogues with his brother, Sanford Schneider, a pianist and harpsichordist who was also well known in the Jewish community. Sanford Schneider died in 1999.

After retiring from the symphony in 1986, David Schneider became involved in the administration of San Francisco’s Congregation Ner Tamid and served as its board president.

When he and his wife moved to Santa Rosa, they joined Congregation Beth Ami, and, in 2001, at the age of 83, he decided to have a second bar mitzvah.

Because Schneider was not so active in the synagogue, Rabbi Jonathan Slater, spiritual leader of Beth Ami at the time, said, “it becomes a bigger deal that he would choose to mark this stage of his life by coming to the synagogue, that’s lovely.”

Schneider was predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Geraldine, earlier this year. He is survived by son Bart of St. Paul, Minn.; daughter Sandra Black of Dallas; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Donations can be made to the David Schneider Scholarship Fund, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 1201 Ortega St., S.F., CA 94122.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."