Tuesday Rehearsal Reflections: River City Klezmer Band

I’m posting this now as I may or may not be back in time tonight to finish a post before midnight.  If you folks hadn’t noticed I am attempting to blog once a day–more for the discipline than anything else, but also because I have been really inspired by Eric Edberg‘s (one of my former cello teachers and someone who I still consider a mentor–at least he’s still teaching me things even to this day!).  As an aside-if you haven’t been following Eric’s Sabbatical adventures in New York City–you should!  Some really neat and interesting things happening there an I envy him his time being spent there!

You folks now know what I do on Mondays, Tuesdays are a little different.  I’m usually giving private lessons at IU Southeast to college students as well as kids enrolled in the IU Southeast Arts Institute (which is primarily for k-12 ages), but as I also teach lessons on Wednesdays I’ll wait till tomorrow to blog about this experience (which will be interestingly difficult as the privacy of students is always an issue!).

But what I do want to blog about is that Tuesday nights are also a rehearsal night for me.

Every first and third Tuesdays I make the journey across the river to Louisville, Kentucky to the Jewish Community Center of Louisville to rehearse with the River City Klezmer Band from 7:30-9:00 pm.  This is an amateur group of folks at various level of abilities and stages of musical ability.  Very few of the group are professional musicians and as we often say before our shows the whole idea of Klezmer is to bring together whatever musicians happen to be there to play Klezmer music.

It took me some time to get in touch with these folks (mostly at the insistence of my wonderful wife).  I just found myself too busy and though I really wanted to  play with a Klezmer group, it took some life-changing events (most notably the death of my brother last September) to make me realize, well, as the cliche goes–you only live once!

The instrumentation for this particular incarnation of the band is as follows: voice, piano, clarinets (2) harmonica, flute, fiddle, saxophone, drums, and me–as usual the odd man out–on cello.  I believe someone came up to me after our last concert at the Iroquois branch of the Louisville Public Library and said, “this is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a music group with both harmonica and cello in it.”  Well–it’s a first for me to play in a band with a harmonica player–hah!

We have a lot of fun, generally, and I’m having a blast just playing with these folks and especially playing so much of this Klezmer music that I’ve fallen in love with over the years as well as just getting to know all the rest of the band-mates.

And for those of you who have no idea what Klezmer music is.  The short story is that it’s the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.  Many dance tunes as well as songs sung in Yiddish, and now English (especially in the US).  Klezmer musicians are called klezmorim so I guess I can now be counted amongst the klezmorim of the world!  If you want some more info, wikipedia has a good enough intro to the subject.

But the best intro you can get to Klezmer is just by listening.  So here’s a video of one of my favorite Klezmer bands, the New York based Klezmatics:

Plenty of Klezmer music to be found on youtube–enjoy!  Next Tuesday I’ll probably blog about the other “band” I play rehearse with on the Klezmer offdays, the IU Southeast Orchestra.


  1. I’ve seen Klezmer music performed live just once and decided then and there that I should make an effort to play with the group. I never went through with it (made a half-hearted attempt at contact via MySpace), but maybe I should follow your example and actually do so ^_^

    Are arrangements of Klezmer music available that contain parts notated for a bass clef instrument in the cello’s range, or did you find yourself having to read soprano clef and double one of the melodic instruments in the cello’s lower range?


  2. You should, if you really want to. There’s nothing to lose in the end other than a lost playing opportunity.

    Yes, there are plenty of parts written out in bass clef range–and even the melody instrument parts could work out for cello (as I’ve learned from years of playing Middle Eastern, Irish/Celtic and Central European music) if transposed down an octave. I’ve gotten to the point that reading down an octave takes no effort though I know I struggled with that for the first couple of years.

    Basically, what I’m doing in the Klezmer band is reading from either the string bass or trombone scores. Trombone happens to be one of the principal secondary melody instruments, so that is an interesting revelation. Not that I didn’t notice it after having spent so many years listening to Klezmer music–but it just didn’t dawn on me until I started playing it.

    But don’t be afraid of playing the melody parts if your chops are up to it–the cello is perfectly capable of playing all those wonderful fiddle or clarinet lines–I know I love just reading and playing along with pieces.

    This is probably one of the BEST resources for Klezmer scores I’ve found online as it has all the parts written out for various ensemble forces, as well as a score to read while listening!



  3. Cool. Yeah, as a cellist you have the option of getting rhythmic and doubling (or complementing) the bass or also leaping upward into the melody.

    That’s a pretty cool resource. I should find some recordings of the tunes in the scores and see what I can do with them ^_^

    Have you had any issues with making yourself heard in the ensemble? If you are playing bass lines, it seems like the cello may not have enough weight to properly anchor that group of instruments without amplification. Winds + drums = loud.


  4. There are audio links for many of those tunes–usually the first or second link in the batch. Some are just midis, but others are actual recordings of the tunes!

    Yes, being heard is a bit of an issue with so many other forces playing the main melody lines. I had thought about bringing in my small bass amp with me to the gigs though for our next one (Louisville Klezmerfest) we’ll all be amplified with the house system.


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