Owing to a perfect storm of technical difficulties, this post has been a long time in coming–but check out the videos of the kickoff of the community side of the Philly Sher Project at Kol Tzedek‘s Chanukah party on December 13, 2009. The first clip shows the community lighting Chanukah candles, saying blessings and singing traditional songs. The second and third clips show Naomi Segal teaching the sher; the fourth and fifth clips show the community dancing the sher to the sounds of the Kol Tzedek Klezmer All-Stars featuring Susan and Elaine Hoffman Watts. You can see all of the clips on our video page. Thanks to Kol Tzedek member Greg Scruggs for manning the video camera.
Tag Archives: Kol Tzedek
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.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that Philly’s got an eclectic and vibrant music scene. You also probably know that the Philadelphia area is home to a diverse and active Jewish community. The two intersect in Philly’s long history as home to a unique brand of klezmer, the contemporary term for Eastern European Jewish folk music.
The sher is an Eastern European social dance for four couples–a cousin to the Western European quadrille and the American square dance. This dance, and an accompanying set of tunes, were brought over by Jewish immigrants from what was then the Russian empire in the early 1900’s. Philly quickly developed its own unique set of tunes, the Philadelphia sher medley, to go along with the dance, which was extremely popular in the Jewish community for many years. (Other American cities, such as New York and Chicago, also developed their own sher medleys.)
By the late 1960s, the sher wasn’t as popular as it once was; the Jewish community had more or less moved on to Israeli dancing and American pop music. Though it hasn’t been as visible in recent decades, the sher has still been played and danced at Jewish summer camps and klezmer-revival events like KlezKamp.
The Simcha Band of West Philly’s Reconstructionist synagogue, Kol Tzedek, is spearheading a project to bring this lively dance and melody back to regular performance in the Philly Jewish community. Check out the full description of the project’s methods and goals here.
This blog will contain news about events at which the sher will be played; video and audio clips of performances; info on the history of the sher and klezmer in Philadelphia; and educational resources for all who are interested. You can subscribe via email by clicking the button in the upper right-hand corner. Check back soon for some audio updates from Chanukah 2009 and the introduction of new bloggers!