Playing Klezmer Music with the Suzuki Group

May 2, 2005, 11:57 PM · “We be jammin'!”

This is what I said tonight to several of my fellow teachers in the middle of our Suzuki group's great big final event of the year: a Klezmer workshop and final concert.

Our group invited members of the Hollywood Klezmer Band to show us a little about this form of Jewish music, characterized by schmaltzy violin playing. We also had a dance instructor come show the kids how to do Israeli dance. Plus we tacked on our final play-in concert of the year, where everyone gets up together and plays repertoire from the Suzuki books, plus a few other pieces.

Crazy? Certainly! But I'd say we all had a blast; everyone I saw was grinning ear-to-ear. And we got to jam!

The church where we hold weekly group classes alllowed us to use more of its rooms this week for Klezmerpalooza. We even got to use their special meditation room, covered in not-to-be-soiled light blue carpet, which we reverently referred to as the “Wonder Room.”

No one was allowed to wear shoes in the Wonder Room, where the dancing was held. So the first thing I did was to kick off my shoes and join the kids for a dance lesson with Mr. Zimmer, a dance instructor and also former Suzuki violin student. We all stood in a circle and held hands, stepped to the right, clapped, and kept going around. Then we learned some fancier footwork, and soon enough he had us circling to the left in a kind of Hora step, all going to the middle of the circle and back, jumping and tapping our toes...quite a workout! He reminded us to be in unison, as we are when we played. The kids took to it easily.

I stepped out of dance class to teach a few minutes of a big Book 1 class, for which I came with no plans whatsoever but somehow ended up with a roomful of kids playing Twinkle while lying on the floor. Don't ask, it just kind of evolved...

Then it was up to the church sanctuary to practice with the Klezmer band.

“Klezmer music,” explained violinist Robert Korda, “ Is like Jewish Dixieland.”

The kids had miraculously memorized three Klezmer pieces in about a month, and now Korda was ready to deconstruct it all, adding trills, tremolos, crazy bowings, slides, etc.

“But Mrs. Niles,” protested Sara with the long blond hair, “That isn't the way it was in the music...”

“You can pretty much play it any way you want to,” I assured her, “Just go with it!”

Then one of the other teachers piped up, “ But you just can't do this in the Vivaldi concerto!”

After our lesson in Klezmer, we enjoyed a potluck together. Parents brought cookies, fruit (wow, fruit kabobs, all stuck in a head of lettuce), chicken, sushi, you name it.

Then came the big concert, for which we all wore jeans and our Suzuki Talent Education of Pasadena (STEP) T-shirts.

We started with the Bach Double, which I'm happy to say, I remembered in full. Happy because I had to lead the seconds, and it's always nice to remember it!

Then the older kids played some supplemental pieces, the Mosquito Dance and Hungarian Dance. I'd been working with these kids all semester, trying to get them to play together and not have a race to the end of each piece. So I was thrilled that they played every rubato in Hungarian Dance very nicely together!

Then four Pre-Twinkle kids sang the Rest Position Song, remembering their words, singing in tune and looking adorable.

More and more kids came to the stage, and we played Suzuki music until it was time to jam with the Klezmer band, which now had its clarinetist, Leo Chelyapov, and guitarist, Jordan Charnofsky. The teachers and kids played the tunes (Papirosen, Odessa Bulgarish and Freilach) fairly straight, while the Klezmer band improvised. After that the band played on its own, while the kids sat on stage and watched. The clarinet wailed over the violin and guitar, and the kids clapped, laughed, nodded their heads.

And then, we ended with Twinkle. By this time, anyone who could play a violin was on stage, meaning that half those present were on stage! Even the dance instructor had joined us by now. Teacher Cheryl Scheidemantle led us on a nutty ride through Twinkle, complete with leaning this way and that, making faces, and jumping in place through an entire variation.

After so much serious work, what fun!


May 3, 2005 at 05:07 PM · Laurie, it's good to read a blog entry from you again. The whole event you described sounds like a lot of fun. I'd love to learn how to play Klezmer. That's one genre I haven't tried yet. The dancing sounds like fun, too.

May 4, 2005 at 12:29 AM · My dad had those STEP t-shirts made up! And Cheryl was just telling me how fun the Klezmer music was (lol Jewish dixieland)

May 4, 2005 at 04:13 AM · Thanks, Pauline! Probably next year we'll do a Celtic fiddle workshop; I can't wait!

Jenni, the T-shirts are great, and the kids were pretty happy about the idea of a concert in jeans and T-shirts! I like that they're black, I'm going to wear them everywhere!

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Starling-DeLay Symposium
Starling-DeLay Symposium

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine