Tag Archives: Susan Watts

New video: Kol Tzedek’s Chanukah party

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.

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New audio: October 27 lesson

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.

New audio: September 22, 2009 lesson

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.