I’ve just posted a few audio clips from the Kol Tzedek Simcha Band’s lesson with Susan Watts on September 22, 2009. This was my first encounter ever with playing the sher, and trombonist Sherri Cohen’s first time playing it in a while.
The first recording in the list (labeled “Sightreading the first tune of the sher”) makes our musical backgrounds pretty obvious. For example, while I am able to read the music pretty well in terms of pitch and rhythm, I clearly have no real concept of how to translate the klezmer style I’ve heard in recordings to my instrument (violin).
I grew up playing primarily classical music and a little bit of Irish fiddle, and it shows: I play everything as closely as possible to what is written on the sheet music in front of me, and use typical classical techniques such as vibrating on every note. By our final playthrough, I’m doing marginally better, but still struggling with understanding what constitutes tasteful klezmer style.
Sherri, on the other hand, is facing a different set of musical challenges. She is a very good trombonist whose primary experience is in school bands. She has attended KlezKamp and played in Kol Tzedek’s klezmer band for a few years. Therefore, she has a better grasp of the style and is able to improvise–she can look at a lead sheet and figure things out on her feet better than I can. However, she’s not quite as comfortable with sightreading.
Susan, of course, knows exactly what she’s doing, has a distinctive voice on her instrument (trumpet), and tries various teaching techniques to explain to me and Sherri how we should approach performing in a new style. Listen to a few of the clips and see how we progress throughout the lesson. We sound much better–if not great!–by the clip titled “Final playthrough” than we did in the first clip. And Susan has quite a few words of musical wisdom embedded in each track.