The whole village is invited to the ninth annual festival of all things klezmer
Rooted in the Jewish cultures of Eastern Europe, klezmer is influenced by the traditional folk music of several countries, including Russia, Romania and Turkey. Often used at celebratory events like weddings, most tunes—both fast and slow—are made for dancing. Klezmer musicians use special ornaments in their playing: sobs, groans or “breaks in the voice,” known as krekhts, or bent notes, called kneytshn. These and other flourishes were derived from the singing of the cantor in a synagogue, and they help produce a “weeping” or “laughing” quality. KlezmerQuerque, a three-day extravaganza of workshops and parties, is centered around this expressive, upbeat genre.
Beth Cohen, member of The Rebbe’s Orkestra and director of the Community Klezmer Band, coordinates the festival, which is co-produced by Congregation Nahalat Shalom, its Community Klezmer Band and the Rikud Yiddish dance troupe. Cohen uses the event to bring klezmer to the general public, while also focusing on educational programming: She says she’s careful to invite performers who are good teachers as well. “We have [concerts] too, because we want people in the community to be able to just come and listen and dance and enjoy the music,” Cohen explains. This year, along with local bands, three guest musicians are scheduled to play and teach throughout the weekend.
The events take place at Congregation Nahalat Shalom, but almost all are secular and everyone is welcome regardless of religion (or lack thereof). Cohen says it’s always a mixed crowd at KlezmerQuerque events. The same is true of the Community Klezmer Band. “You don’t have to be Jewish to be in it,” she says. “It’s a cultural program, and probably more than half the people in the band are not Jewish.” There will be one or two prayers in Hebrew at the top of the Friday night kickoff, but “the rest of it is all singing and dancing.” Those who eschew all things religious can join the festivities around 7:30 p.m. for a vegetarian potluck, followed by a dance party and performances by The Rebbe’s Orkestra, the Community Klezmer Band and the guest musicians. Cohen says klezmer dances don’t require any special skill. “Basically, with klezmer music, if you can walk you can dance,” she says. “It’s a communal type of dancing that’s meant to make the whole village join in.”