An Introduction To Klezmer Music

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The travelling guild musician who played instrumental musical for the wedding celebrations of the largely Yiddish-speaking, mostly Ashkenazi Jewish communities of Eastern Europe was called a klezmer. With a tradition going back to the Middle Ages, such musicians were sometimes viewed as a disreputable (e.g. a partly nomadic community with their own private language, klezmerloshn) but essential part of the wider community and its celebrations.

“a wedding without a klezmer is like a funeral without tears” (Yiddish Proverb)

The term ‘klezmer’ translates as ‘vessel of song’ (from the Hebrew כְּלֵי זֶֽמֶר / k'léi zémer). Today, klezmer is a dynamic global music phenomenon. In this workshop, Daniel Mawson and Richard Fay will explore klezmer from a musical, historical, and cultural perspective, through both musical appreciation and practical music-making.

The Klezmer Workshop

Taking one tune as an example, they will lead you through an exploration of the tune’s structure, its origins, its functions, to reveal the more about forms, cultures, and practices of klezmer. Listening to archive recordings, they will invite you to note the differences between recordings by, for example, Naftule Brandwein and Benny Goodman. What do these recordings tell us about the culture of the time? How is the tune different in the New World (e.g. New York) than it might have been in the Old World (e.g. Odessa)?

What is it like to play klezmer? How do you build a klezmer arrangement of a tune? Using archive and modern recordings, sheet music, and learning by ear, Daniel and Richard will work with that tune in a way that is inclusive for learners of different abilities and skillsets. Their approach seeks to be historically, culturally, and musically-sensitive. The workshop seeks to develop your understanding of a folk music that was almost lost in the c20th but which is becoming increasingly appreciated. At the same time, the workshop will support you in developing aural skills, musical literacy skills, or even dusting off an instrument you haven’t played for 30 years.


The workshop is suitable for those with interest in cultural/musical history/appreciation and for music-makers of any level. You can participate in the music-making even if you don’t have an instrument. You can observe, or participate with percussion or singing, and Daniel and Richard will bring a variety of instruments to help everyone enjoy playing and learning a tune together. Whether you play a note or not, much can be learned from watching an arrangement being built from scratch. You can also be part of the process by lending a music-appreciators’ perspective as well as by being a player.

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Apr 25, 2024 01:30pm - 4:00pm
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About the teacher

Daniel and Richard

Daniel and Richard are alumni of the Music Department...

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