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KlezKanada '99

Wednesday: Kurt Bjorling, "Who What When Where Why Klezmer?"

Wednesday: Zev Feldman, "Coming to terms with sacred and secular sources"

Thursday: Adrienne Cooper, "Itsik Manger"

Friday: German Goldenshtyn interview: From Bessarabia to America

other klezmer articles on the Internet

27 Feb 2000: Just got a link from Mark Rubin, or Rubinchik's Orchestyr for his photos of KlezKanada. He's way ahead of me--I still haven't digitized any of mine.

It was a long drive from Boston to the Bnai Brith camp an hour north of Montreal. To add to scheduling woes, we had estimated time to Montreal, and time from Montreal, and had not accounted for the hour of so it took us to travel through Montreal. Still, it's a beautiful drive, and the camp is a real summer camp such as I last saw 30 years ago, but more convenient.

And, it is definitely Klezmer camp. By the time we mosey out of our cabins, there are already people sitting down and playing music. After dinner, there is a short introduction and explanation of how the music workshops will run, and then more music. Pete, who has clearly just begun exploring the tsimbl, but knows a lot of songs, begins. A friend from Boston, Dobe, pulls out her clarinet and this jam is on its way.

Here are some of the stories from this particular klezkanada. As I start to take these notes, I am less listening to music, as I did at my KlezKamp session in 1996. Today, I am more thinking about Jewish identity and where klezmer fits in; and also about where the edges of the klezmer repertoire are--where are the new "old" songs, recently unearthed, and what are the new ways in which people are performing. As I listen to music this first night, I am realizing that I don't feel particularly attached to hearing "Ot Azoy" again, however good, bad, or improvised the version (and I will hear that song, and a few other chestnuts, many, many, many times this week). It is an odd time of musing to be at a klezmer camp, although the comfort of being here with family, and of seeing old and thoughtful friends matters considerably and makes for a very good vacation. I am at a time of life when the tools of building community may be more important than worrying about klezmer this or Zionism that. Even though this has nothing to do with KlezKanada, this may influence what I write.

To offer some broad narrative, KlezKanada is a lot of fun, but not tightly organized. So, we arrive by 5pm on Tuesday for instrumental workshops that are deferred to the next day. But, what the heck, we're here and let the jamming begin. The kids were eager to do theatre, but there was no theatre Tuesday, and on Wednesday it was cancelled again. On Thursday, theatre workshops were announced as definite, but then it turned out that no one had been tapped to teach. On Friday, someone was pinned down to do one workshop. Those of us desiring dance instruction were a little better off. We got lessons on Thursday and Friday--two out of the five days we were at the camp (not that I was ever bored, or without something interesting to do, mind you).

And yet, at the same time, our sax player did get a lesson at the hands of Paul Pinkes of the Epstein Brothers, and then Hankus Netsky sat next to him and mentored him. And our non-active-musician picked up drum sticks for the first time in the same ensemble and found himself performing. It is easy, on the periphery, to lose sight of much of the magic of gathering this many extraordinary musicians in one place and creating a time and space where they can simply teach and mentor and play.

KlezKamp, and KlezKamp West, focus much more on music music everywhere, with some less serious side lectures (as here) for hangers on such as myself, or older folks who come for the Yiddish and music, and enjoy some diversion. KlezKamp also offers more formal Yiddish classes, and classes in Yiddish arts such as papercutting and calligraphy. Some of that would have been fun to have here, as well. And here we got more nightly cabaret in place of the focus on nightly dancing at KlezKamp. I'm more of a dance person, myself, but I can't complain. This is also a younger program; this is the fourth year of KlezKanada.

There was an additional element to this particular klezmer gathering. I'm not sure how much is related to the coincidence of these particular people this year, and how much is deliberate. There is an intense intellectual thread to this year's camp that is very much what I was looking for myself, and seems deliberate. Kurt Bjorling started the thread with a panel the first day on what types of sources influenced the various musicians, and to what extent they regarded themselves as "klezmers". Other lectures included Dr. Walter Zev Feldman on early klezmorim, and Dr. Martin Schwartz on the Greek-Yiddish music connection. Both of these scholars have been researching and collaborating for 25 years. Musicians such as Kurt, Hankus Netsky (not so far from Dr. Netsky, himself), Michael Alpert, Adrienne Cooper, are wonderful exemplars of the "scholar-musician", and here they got a chance to indulge both sides of that duality. I don't know how much of this is due, say, to the Brave Old World folks acting as artists/scholars in residence, for the second year, and, as I said, how much was just this year, but it is exciting.

There are real questions about what comes next, or what this is all for. It isn't just about a revival--klezmer is alive and well. The Yiddish culture in which those original klezmorim flourished (if flourished is the word) is gone, as is its context. This new thing, with new klezmer and old klezmer and a self-conscious awareness of having resurrected parts of a culture, and then grafted these pieces onto new stock, what does it mean? And more important, to what extent does a wonderful, week-long, combination symposium and music camp, help ensure that the skills and awareness and love of the culture are passed on? It was fun to be here for a week for whatever happened.

[From the main KlezmerShack page's weblog]

KlezKanada, 8/18 - 8/22, 1999: It's KlezKanada week, and that's where we've been for a delicious week. While onsite, I took rough notes of some of the lectures (although, beware that lectures are a small part of KlezKanada), and gleaned some very special gossip, er, news.

Julie Epstein, at this point (unless Max can be convinced to pick up his clarinet again*) the only Epstein Brother still playing, has announced that he has almost completed a collection of his arrangements of klezmer and Yiddish classics, scored for small ensembles through full orchestras. The phrase, "treasure trove" comes to mind. E-mail Julie for further details. Personally, if a quality publisher were to snatch these up and make them accessible to a mass market, this could be a classic example of doing well by doing good.

Steve Greenman, one of the most amazing young violin players anywhere, and Zev Feldman, he of the magic tsimbl, have formed a new ensemble, Khevrisa (sp? from the klezmer-loshn "Khevruta", as pronounced by Steve and Zev), and have recorded an album which should be available shortly**. Feldman's 1979 recording with Andy Statman, "Jewish Klezmer Music," was groundbreaking. Ironically and sadly, it remains the only Statman klezmer album to remain out-of-print. This should be the traditional recording of the year, if not even better, and the group explores the beautiful, non-dance music, recorded in that period at the peak of traditional European klezmer performance, just as the recording age was beginning. Greenman, of course, is known for a wide variety of recordings in recent years, including the landmark Alicia Svigals album, "Fidl," and the first Budowitz album. The ensemble also include Stu Brotman and Michael Alpert of Brave Old World. (A second Budowitz album is also immanent***, so the crown for "outstanding "early" klezmer recording of the year may be hotly contested.)

Lisa Mayer and Sruli Dresder, they of the Young People's Klezmer Orchestra, recently told me good news on two fronts. First, the original album, "Oy Vey," a hilarious and wonderful young person's introduction to klezmer, has been picked up by Rounder, and should be available in stores everywhere. Second, they're done with a second album, "Oy Vey, Hanuka****," which should be available in time for this year's holiday. I'm not a fan of kids albums, but this is special. More important, when kids hear this stuff, or get the chance to learn with Lisa and Sruli at workshops, or KlezKamp, KlezKanada, whatever, kids love it. Do yourself, and a young person a favor and keep your eyes peeled for these.

Austin, TX-based Mark Rubin, who is usually seen in Bad Livers performing something akin to bluegrass or country or blues, or even the Rubinchik's Yiddish Ensemble, performing something very much like klezmer, mostly produces CDs. He has just found a sponsor for a reissue of cleaned-up recordings by the Belf Orchestra, and has gotten precious 78s from several leading musicologists (Kurt Bjorling, et al). He is looking for additional 78s, and for anyone who has done scholarly work on Belf who might be willing to contribute towards the liner notes of the project. E-mail Mark Rubin directly, or call (512) 458-8567.

*Max Epstein died on March 19, 2000. [return]

**The Khevrisa album was released in Spring 2000. [return]

****Indeed, Spring 2000 also saw the release of Wedding without a Bride. [return]

****Oy Vey Hanuka is wonderful! Released Fall 1999. [return]

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