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June 17, 2009

Minsker Kapelye blows me away with "Tutejsi" (The Locals)

the locals - the minsker kapelyeHere's another case of a CD arriving in today's mail. I put it on the turntable to listen to while I study a bit. Never open the books. Just keep listening. From the opening "street sounds" featuring the electronic bells of the Minsk city tower to the closing Nign sung by Samuil Linkovskiy in his 80s, this is exquisite, intricate klezmer music and yiddish song introducing an unfamiliar klezmer sound—recreated from wax cylinders in many cases; from recordings of elderly Jews in Belarus made from 1997–2008. Who knew? Much of the field research was done by Dr. Slepovitch and the late Dr. Nina Stepanskaya to whom the CD is dedicated.

The Minsker Kapelye consists of just three musicians: Dmitri Slepovitch on clarinet and other woodwinds, vocals; Tatsiana Kukel on tsimbl; Hanna Kharchanka on cello—a remarkably traditional ensemble playing traditional music as it may have been heard prior to the Holocaust and Soviet antisemitism, now revived and, at least on this recording, very lively and enlivening. The quality of the playing is extraordinary. the Belarusian alto cymbalom in the hands of Ms. Kukel is a revelation, but none of the playing is less than excellent, ranging from a classical formality to swinging dance music as the music demands.

In terms of repertoire, many of these melodies are recently recovered from wax cylinders recorded by Sophia Maggid in the '30s (1928–1938); others come from relatively modern sources, including a rousing "Ot Azey!" credited to the late German Goldenshteyn (Moldavia, Belarus, what's the difference :-)) and some brilliant rap & reggae improvisation in a lovely folk poem recorded from Hirsh Reles, the last Belarusian Yiddish writer, and, um, improvised here. It is touches like the rap, and the occasional interjection of the Minsk streetscape that help make this recording special. It is traditional music, yes, but traditional music as I enjoy it best—lovingly sung in the here and now. The title of the CD, "Tutejsi,"—The Locals, is derived from the name of a classic Belorusian novel by Yanka Kupala (so claim the liner notes—I am sadly ignorant on this score). It feels appropriate in terms of making a local (Belarusian) klezmer repertoire available to the rest of us, but also in terms of the neighborhood feel of the material. If only all neighborhood bands played this well.

The album closes with the singing of the father of Slepovitch's late research partner, singing words written by Slepovitch (from the translation in the liner notes):

I am strolling on the streets of the ghetto, / Over there, there are modern houses and new people. / And here inside and under my feet, there lives my lineage, the poets, / Who bless us with their soundless verses and songs.

The CD is lovingly produced with copious liner notes in Polish and English. You can get copies from the band's website. It's a keeper.

June 14, 2009

"Postcards" from Beyond the Pale and US tour

Postcards, by Beyond the PaleFor those who don't know yet, Beyond the Pale has released a new CD with their patented blend of traditional folk music and intricate instrumental weavings. "Postcards" is an all-too-short record of where the band is traveling now, from traditional-sounding new melodies to Windham-Hill-ish explorations of pleasing harmonies. On this outing the band also features well-known young Israeli Yiddish singer Vira Lozinsky on several vocals.

Speaking of traveling, I mention Beyond the Pale in particular because they are on a short US tour this week, starting today in Amherst at the National Yiddish Book Center. You can catch them next week in NYC (including at the Theo Bikel 85th birthday bash), and then Princeton, NJ on June 17. It is the first time I can remember them being on the US east coast so I want to let people know who are already familiar with the band, and to encourage those who haven't sampled the music yet to catch the shows.

June 12, 2009

The Curious Case of the Moment Magazine Jewish Music issue

For years reviewers of traditional Jewish music have tried to get articles in Moment Magazine. To date, I am aware of no success. You can read Hadassh or the Forward or Zeek or the new Nextbook evolution, Tablet and get some sense of the anything from Jewish punk to piyyut. That may not change anytime soon, but I got the following email late Friday afternoon which may be of interest to anyone with a wedding band or other band for hire to Jewish audiences. Better late than never, I say—but note that you need to contact this person on Monday, 6/15/09:

Hello. I'm the Culture Editor for Moment magazine. I'm contacting those involved with Jewish music for a special advertising offer that ends on Monday. Let E-mail Rebecca Leavey, 202-363-6422, know by Monday if you're interested in purchasing a listing and/or an ad in the Guide--mention this note from me and you'll receive a special rate. . . . As a longtime Jewish cultural professional, I'm committed to reaching out to stakeholders representing the best in the Jewish cultural arts. My experience tells me that people are anxious for help in finding the best of what's out there. Please help us to be a forum for this discussion. . . .

Distribute this message as you see fit,
Diana Altman

June 8, 2009

Drupal testing, at last

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that several months ago I won a copy of the rather impressive O'Reilly book, Using Drupal , based on my plans to upgrade the KlezmerShack to Drupal. As I finish my current degree, and try focus attention on my full-time job at the Jewish Women's Archive, there isn't much time to get started.

Nonetheless, I have finally gotten Drupal up and running on my development laptop. This is critical to me, personally, for several reasons: First, I made a commitment to update the KlezmerShack—that's why they gave me the book, and until that happens, I will continue to be reminded of the fine 1990s code on which this current site is built. Not fun. Second, cutbacks at work mean that it's just our web developer and me, so I need to dig into Drupal if I want to speed up things at work. Third, our web developer is attending a workshop in Providence, RI, this week, and I'd love to show up at the Drupal meet-up and be able to talk about having opened the book and gotten started.

So, this afternoon, despite the long list of other work projects that should be sucking up my time, I am playing systems adminstrator and installing the software. It has probably been three years since I have had to look at the configuration files for anything. I discovered that the underlying language that is required isn't even on my new laptop--who remembered? I had to re-learn enough web server configuration to get things working correctly. I had to lookup how one sets up database users, something I once did almost daily. So, what should have been a five minute exercise has taken a few hours and left me a bit humbled. What on earth has filled the space once occupied by all of this vital information? Has it all been composted?

It will be a long time, I suspect, before what I am learning translates into a new KlezmerShack. Not years, but certainly months. The first priority, of course, is to learn Drupal well enough to model some things that I need at work and take the load off our web developer. The second priority is to work on simpler sites that I maintain that are even more broken than the KlezmerShack. Once those are up and running, these occasional musings on the technology behind the KlezmerShack will move to what is now a dormant technology blog, leaving readers here to encounter only the ephemera of Jewish music.

The scary thing, of course, is that I love this sort of work. It is very easy to get lost in the relative simplicity of coding and step back from the long-range planning, networking, grant-writing, and project management that really need my time right now. It will also be my job not to let this take over.

In the meantime, if this leaves you bored, just look for items categorized "drupal" and avoid them. I won't post often on this subject, but I am hoping that posting occasionally will keep me on my toes and somehow, in my copious spare time, moving forward.

June 7, 2009

Klezmer Classes in Minneapolis this summer begin June 17, 2009

It took the "insult" of seeing a class listed in another city, as though I had been intentionally ignoring this person's own city, to prompt someone from Minneapolis to send me this information. Don't let yourself be that person--if you have information that is of interest to people interested in Jewish music in your community--either send it in, or don't complain about my not listing it! I still might not have time to put something online in a timely fashion--but that process doesn't even begin until I get the "who what when where" in a form that I can actually figure out what is going on, cut and paste, and present it to ya'll, thus:

Klez Class

Tuition $140
Ages Adults
Instructor: Judith Eisner

Want to find your roots or plant new ones in the rich soil of Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewish music? You’ll learn the modes which make Klezmer music so compelling.We’ll play some of the most popular freylachs, horas, and bulgars in the repertoire. Fiddles, clarinets, trumpets, accordions, keyboards and percussion are the principal instruments in Klezmer bands but anyone is welcome.

6 week class begins June 17, 2009
Classes are 60 minutes long
Wednesdays 5:30 p.m.

MacPhail Center for Music, 501 S 2nd ST , Minneapolis, MN 55401, 612.321.0100


You can view Judith Eisner and her klezmer trio playing, below:

June 2, 2009

Many Jewish Music courses at Philadelphia's Gratz College this summer

A quick glance at the Gratz College summer catalog shows a pleasant number of courses of interest to the Jewish music aficionado. I can't find their email on the subject on the college website, but offerings include "Music In Jewish Education", July 27 - July 31, taught by Dr. Marsha Bryan Edelman.

Sara Alexander, z"l

from Hélène Engel to the Jewish-Music list:

Dear list members

Sara Alexander from her websiteIt is with with great sadness that I announce the passing away of Sara Alexander. She was an Israeli singer who settled in France after the 6 days war. She was dedicated to working towards a better undertanding between israelis and palestinians and released about 10 recordings as well as 2 books, one of them calle Shalom Salam. With her we lost "a Mentsh" and as she was not very well known in North America except Quebec, I invite you to google her name and discover her work and her music.

Several of her CDs are available from alapage.com. Please visit her website, sara.alexander.free.fr

Composer for Mexican Jewish Dance Fest seeks advice

…. I am researching jewish music for composing porpouses. Every year in México city they make this jewish dance festival called Festival Aviv.

I was choosen to compose music for a group, so my research goes from history to the deep investigation of traditional jewish music. I was wondering if you have any information about jewish typical musical instruments. I need to know everything about instruments before i start composing. I would appreciate it very much.

Here's the link to festival aviv: "Han pasado ya 35 años de danza y emociones en el Festival Aviv Carlos Halpert de Danza Judia en Mexico—Video producido para conmemorar esta XXXV edicion "

Many thanks, Marcos

Sylvia Feder, z"l

Teruah blogger Jack Zaientz found this:.

'Feder Sister' found fame in Borscht Belt, Miami Herald, BY Elinor J. Brecher, May 17, 2009

"Sylvia Feder Roebuck, half of a Borscht Belt-bombshell sister act that evolved out of New York's Yiddish theater to 1960s variety television, has died at 88—at least two years older than she would ever admit to…." >>more

Jack Saul, z"l

Catching up from the beginning of last month. Lori Cahan-Simon, of Cleveland, wrote on May Day, 2009:

Khaveyrim, I am sorry to tell you all that the wonderful Jack Saul has passed today [May 1, 2009]. I know many on this list visited his amazing record collection and benefited from his extraordinary knowledge of music when they the visited Cleveland area. He was a gentle, kind, and generous soul who will be greatly missed.

There is an obituary, but without a picture, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Jack Saul had a passion for music, especially classical, Saturday, May 09, 2009, Grant Segall, Plain Dealer Reporter

Bert Stratton adds:

Jack Saul was a collector. You couldn't find a seat in his house unless he moved a ton of records for you to sit down.

Every time he played a record he'd clean it with Windex. No scratches. Smooth-h-h.

He didn't throw anything out—since Day One. He even had a John McGraw baseball card.

A couple years ago I sold my baseball cards—for a few grand—and he said, "Why'd you do that?" (I wasn't looking at 'em and my kids didn't want 'em. They didn't know who Harmon Killebrew was.) "Why'd you do that?" he said again, semi-stunned.

The Cleveland Jewish music scene is all about Jack Saul. The Kleveland Klezmorim musicians went to Jack's house in the early 1980s to records '78s.

Those '78s were pristine.

When Boston public radio, WGBH, did a radio show in 2000 about Mickey Katz, they came to Jack for clean recordings.

Jack never let a record out of his house. You had to sit there for an hour, or two, and have him dub the records onto tape.

He always had time for musicians. The first time I went there, in 1988, I recorded cuts from Music For Happy Occasions, Paul Pincus; Jay Chernow and his Hi-Hat Ensemble.; Dukes of Frelaichland, Max Epstein; Jewish Wedding Dances, Sam Musiker; Twisting the Frelaichs; and Casamiento Judio, Sam Lieberman. A freaking klezmer record from Latin America!

Jack had almost every Jewish record. And it had it in both monaural and stereo.

Jack's favorite popular musicians were Guy Lombardo and Irving Fields. Jack liked musicians who, when they improvised, stayed close to the melody. He phoned Fields when I was over."What's new, Irving? I'd like to get you to Cleveland." Never happened.

Everybody talked to Jack, because, for one thing, he could supply them with recordings of their own works that they, the musicians, couldn't even remember making.

Jack had a thing for Guy Lombardo. Jack's thesis was Guy Lombardo was behind "Bay mir bistu sheyn"'s popularity. Jack gave me an article from a mag—name unknown, possibly the New Yorker—dated Feb. 19, 1938, titled "Everybody's singing it—Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen. Played on the air for the first time by Guy Lombardo, Radio Made it the Nation's No. 1 Hit."

Jack liked my band, Yiddishe Cup. (He also liked Steven Greenman, Lori Cahan-Simon, Cantor Kathy Sebo—Cleveland Jewish musicians.) At a meeting for the Workmen's Circle Yiddish concert committee, he said, "We've got talent in this town. We don't always have to always run to New York [for entertainers]."

That meant a lot to us locals.

When Jack talked, the rest of the committee listened. He had a stellar rep—Cleveland Orchestra and Sir Thomas Beecham Society credibility. Jack had every Beecham recording. That classical-music imprimatur really cut it with the older klezmer crowd.

Flip side: the rough-edged Abe Elenkrig's Orchestra's "Di Zilberne Chasene" (Silver Wedding) on '78. Jack had thousands of records like that. Gritty. But not a scratch.

Jack Saul made Jewish music in Cleveland.

—Bert Stratton
May 2, 2009

Hankus Netsky adds:

What a great guy he was…

BTW, I'm the one who sent WGBH to Jack's house for the Mickey Katz Records. Before our tour with Joel Grey's Katz review, "BorshtCapades" in 1994, I had visited Jack, who had made me the ultimate Katz compilation. We couldn't have done the show without those recordings—Joel himself had never heard a lot of them!

Besides the records in every corner ("but not in the kitchen," the one concession to his loving and remarkably tolerant wife), the other amazing thing were the front walls of the house that had been hollowed out and replaced with speakers of every shape, size, and frequency.

A great loss—I sure hope they have a good hi-fi up there….


Klezmer Michael Winograd: One of the "36 under 36"

Pete Rushefsky sent this last month, but that up-to-date Klezmershack is just posting it now. But many of us would claim that it's been obvious for far longer than the Jewish Week's discovery, anyway

I'm sure despite his best efforts to prevent it :-) , Michael Winograd has been honored by the Jewish Week as one of their 36 under 36!

Mazl tov Mikey!!!!