A table from Vilna at KlezKanada

Just back from KlezKanada where I spent a delicious week in celebration of Eastern European Jewish music, and the new derivatives of same, plus theatre, language, and cultural classes. This is such a wonderful way to take a vacation, even if, like me, you aren’t a musician.

It was also a place to reflect on how music has become more of a cultural symbol for us, and an expression of who we are, even more than words. This really hit home on Wednesday night at the second staff concert. There was an awesome sequence in which Yaella Hertz played a classical violin duo with a protege with whom she works at the camp, followed by Jeff Warschauer and Deborah Strauss performing a suite that included Jewish folk song, but also more, and then Aaron Alexander, the popular downtown drummer, came onstage to perform a piece from his forthcoming Tzadik album.

Okay, here’s some background. There is a photo at the National Yiddish Book Center of a table at a library in, I believe, Vilna. At the table, doing research, are luminaries from the Orthodox, and Marxist, and Socialist, and Yiddish, and Zionist worlds (with some overlap). There will probably never be a table like that again. There is no common ground for the scholars in those fields. But onstage with Aaron Alexander last Wednesday night there were Jews and non-Jews, representing music from traditional klezmer to avant garde (again, sometimes with considerable overlap) all playing joyously together (do Josh Dolgin’s samples count as playing?). And it flashed through my mind that this KlezKanada stage was our generation’s Vilna library table – the place where people come together either as Jews for the culture, or as non-Jews for the culture, and share and create entirely new, exciting music.

We saw more diversity and got to hang together, shmooze, and jam until all hours, than you’ll see over the course of several weeks here in NYC during the “350 years of Jews in America” celebration this fall. If it isn’t there already, do put KlezKanada on your calendar for next August.

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