Klezmakers play music you can dance to

Thursday, September 30, 2010 | by joseph amster

Lots of great ideas have come out of Silicon Valley garages: Apple Computer. Hewlett-Packard.

Add the Klezmakers to that list.

Nearly three years ago, the band came together in a Palo Alto garage. Some of its members had played together informally for a few years, and some had been in other bands, but all were searching for a way to express their love for klezmer music with their musical talent.

The group will perform from 1 to 2 p.m. on the Jessica Saal Memorial main stage.

“I started playing klezmer about eight years ago as a way to relate to my Jewish heritage,” says accordion player Bruce Kirschner. “I liked the culture, and this gave me a way to explore my roots — I really liked the music. I remember hearing it, and playing the accordion, which is a vital part of a klezmer band.”

Vocalist and percussionist Elaine Moise became interested in klezmer after attending a multiday program sponsored by KlezCalifornia. “They’re a great organization and do wonderful work in promoting Yiddish music and culture,” she says. “Playing klezmer music is a way to do Jewish ethnic music — I like that component a lot. I’ve been a musician all of my life, and I like expressing my music and my Judaism in the same place and in this particular way.”

The band practices in Moise’s garage, leading to the title of the band’s first CD, “Garage Waltz,” released in 2009. “The title piece on the album is ‘Garage Waltz,’ which is one I wrote for the band,” says Moise. “We play mostly traditional stuff, but on the CD, there are two original pieces. … We do some original music, some recent music and some traditional music.”

TLklezmakers Credit photo to Richard Meyer
The Klezmakers photo/richard meyers
It’s the traditional flavor of klezmer that keeps the band and its audiences engaged. “Many of us are Ashkenazi Jews, we have one non-Jewish member and another who converted to Judaism,” says Moise. “This isn’t just Ashkenazi music — it’s music from Eastern Europe.

“I perform in temples and do liturgical music, but this particular genre, which is Ashkenazi-based and also very American — which is where it picked up its jazz influences — is reflective of where I come from. At the same time, it’s about playing in a band where people can get up and dance and enjoy on a lot of different levels.”

Although they’re serious about their music and strive for perfection, they definitely have fun performing music people can dance to. “ We do strive to be musical, we strive to get the craft and the music right,” says clarinet player Tom Belick.

“The goal is to get to rehearsal on time, play together, and have fun,” adds Moise.

They also have a sense of humor about their work, evident in the camaraderie that playing in a band together brings. “There’s no detail too small to discuss again,” says Kirschner, eliciting laughter from his fellow band members.

In recent years, klezmer has gained in popularity. After a trail blazed by the popular Klezmatics, the Klezmakers are riding the wave of this revival.

 “One of the things that Jews did when they got here was to assimilate into the culture,” notes Kirschner. “ But I and many others wanted to rediscover what was our culture, and that’s why it’s regained popularity.”

At To Life, the Klezmakers will play their music for Klezmer dancing, led by Bruce Bierman. “Klezmer dancing, or Yiddish dancing, was thought to be lost for a good 30 to 40 years after the Holocaust,” says Bierman, artistic director of the East Bay-based Jewish Dance Theater. “It was during the ‘70s, when klezmer music had its revival and the klezmer musicians noticed that this music needs to be danced to, yet the dances were lost. There was a massive research project where people went to Eastern Europe, as well as senior citizen homes in America to find people who know these dances. They actually pieced the dances together from the memories of the people who danced them.”


The Klezmakers and klezmer dancing led by Bruce Bierman will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. on the Jessica Saal Memorial main stage.