I’ve just posted a bunch of new audio clips, this time of the Simcha Band’s October 27 lesson with Susan Watts. Susan worked more intensively with us this time on learning how to play in the proper style. We already had most of the notes down by this time, and since our ultimate goal was to perform the sher in a way that would make sense in a klezmer dance setting, we needed some help understanding exactly how we should sound and how all the dance steps fit with the music.
I find the clips labeled “Playthrough of tune 2 and some stylistic modifications” and “Tunes 3 and 4 and ‘simpler is better’ discussion” particularly interesting. You can get a good sense of the progress we’ve made by this point (or haven’t made), but you can also get a sense for how Susan conceptualizes the sher, and the subtle ways in which klezmer style can be changed and personalized within set limits.
Despite the fact that I (Meredith Aska McBride) sound comically “classical” in the clips labeled “Susan and Meredith discuss vibrato” and “Susan working with Meredith on violin technique,” I still think they’re worth a listen if you’re interested in comparing and contrasting classical vs. klezmer style. Susan is quite explicit about the ways I should think about my klezmer playing and how that differs from my typical style, and I think that the ways I try to negotiate this stylistic transition are sort of interesting.
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!