Two days before the San Francisco Yiddish Combo was asked to perform for a party being held on the online video-conferencing platform Zoom, “We didn’t even know what Zoom was,” said the classically trained cellist Rebecca Roudman, who co-founded the band with her husband, guitarist Jason Eckl.
Only a couple of weeks later, they’re practically experts.
Like countless other musicians, the Novato-based musical ensemble, which has played updated renditions of classic klezmer tunes across the U.S. and Europe since 2018, took to the virtual stage when the coronavirus pandemic upended normal social life.
Between the SFYC and their other band, Dirty Cello, the couple and their band mates had been booked around the world through the end of the year. But their live show on International Women’s Day turned out to be their last; all April concerts were canceled, with more expected to follow.
“It’s sad, but we’re trying to be optimistic,” the perennially upbeat Roudman told J. “We’ve had so many projects needing to be done that got pushed to the back burner by the constant performance schedule we’ve maintained. We’re finding the time now to catch up.”
Luckily, one project they had just completed was the first CD of their Yiddish Combo songs, called “New Story” to describe their innovative interpretations of traditional klezmer music. Roudman said they changed the instrumentation of some songs, replacing the typical clarinet with her wild and soulful cello, and subbing in accordions for piano, for example. And they’ve composed new songs in the klezmer genre.
They also strived for a wider spectrum of mood and emotion across the album.
“I was always frustrated by the lack of variety in klezmer music,” Roudman confided. “Our repertoire includes a range of moods, from slow songs to wild and frenetic dance music.”
Planned CD release concerts for “New Story” up and down the West Coast were among the canceled events.
Undeterred, Roudman and Eckl have decided to sync up with the memory of another challenging time in Jewish history: the week of Passover. For each of the upcoming eight nights of Passover, starting at 8 p.m. sharp on April 8, the duo will perform one of the songs from the new album on Facebook Live. They hope their other band mates, Alex Farrell on bass, Laura Benson on violin and Josh Mellinger on percussion, will be able join them for a rousing performance on the last night, April 16. Each virtual event, which they are calling “Passover Performances,” will last the length of the one song. And, of course, they will be free.
For all the musicians know, the audiences may be larger online than they would at a live venue. Roudman and Eckl have been frequenting Facebook Live since they began the transition to virtual performing and have invited fans to fill their virtual tip jar via PayPal. They are also available for Zoom-based virtual concert bookings.
While as self-employed musicians the couple have been disciplined about saving for a rainy day, Roudman said, no one expected this deluge of almost biblical proportions.