As many of you know, my life has been a bit upside down recently. I’ve been caring for my father and mother more than in the past due to his recent heart surgery and have been feeling a bit… blah as a result. Life has finally started to even out again as he recovers. So when my friend asked if anyone was interested in seeing this “klezmer” band at a local theater – she was stuck with the ticket since her husband couldn’t go – I said, “Sure.” She promised Sweet Frog yogurt afterwards too, sweetening (pun intended) the deal.
I did a bit of research on this band, called the Klezmatics, prior to the show. I found very little, except some funky recording, online. It sounded upbeat and fun with a bit of Eastern European flair. (Later, during the concert, it reminded me of some movies I’ve seen with this type of music. Obviously, Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind, but I haven’t seen that. I was thinking more… Aladdin or even Star Wars – the cantina song is very close…)
When we arrived, a few band members were doing sound check and a little Q&A with the audience that had already arrived. I learned the band has been in existence since 1986 and were Grammy award winners! How had I never heard of them?
Well, for one, I’m not Jewish. Klezmer music is an old genre actually, starting with the Ashkenazi Jews in Germany around the end of the 1st millennium. It consists mostly of Yiddish words (as did the concert last night) (and is a language I don’t understand) and was used for weddings and celebrations.
I could certainly hear the jubilant songs intended for weddings. Several of the Klezmatic’s songs were very upbeat, causing some in the audience to perform traditional Jewish dancing in the aisles. We clapped along vibrantly to many of the tunes and hooted and hollered at the end of these raucous songs. Most of it was truly joyful music.
I was also astounded by the expertise of these musical artists. I’ve never seen fingers move so quickly! During the Q&A session, their drummer tried to explain how klezmer music was different. He pointed out the “ornamentation” among the songs and tried to give us an example by playing his drums. Then the sax player gave us an example. The only way I can describe it to you is this: When Christina Aguilara or Whitney Houston do the “runs” in their songs? THAT’S ornamentation. Those little trills and extra notes – it’s like the musician is just feeling the music and adds to it. In klezmer music, it’s said to imitate the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping.
When they changed up the beat, I realized klezmer had two very different styles: joyful and extremely sad. (My friend said later, “Just like the Jewish mindset!”) I envisioned the tearing of sackcloth for some songs and a vibrant, colorful wedding feast with others. By the end, I felt like I had been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride! Happy one moment, reflective and morose the next!
In the end, I’m glad I went and experienced this unusual, cultural genre. I wouldn’t say it’s something I’ll be listening to on a daily basis, but I did appreciate both the skill of the musicians and the way the music moved my soul with each plink of the dulcimer, toot of the sax, beat of the drum and strum of the violin.
And, of course, there was Sweet Frog after, as promised.
For more info on the Klezmatics – check out their website here.