Tag Archive | "Klezmer Klassics"

The Realization of a Musical Dream

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The Music Corner


Few people get to realize any of their lives’ dreams.  I’m one of the fortunate ones.  My story begins almost a half century ago in the southern New Jersey town of Willingboro, one of many post-war era planned suburban communities of the ‘50s and ‘60s.


As a child and adolescent, my recreational hours were filled with sports and music.  I participated in various sports and studied and played the trombone.  Often, I fantasized about how great it would be to play in a major league stadium as either a gifted athlete or gifted musician.  Although I enjoyed both activities, it became apparent pretty quickly that I was gifted neither as athlete nor musician.  To be truthful, I was average at best in both activities.


I, nonetheless, continued to play trombone at John F. Kennedy High School (now defunct via its merger with Willingboro High School in 1989).  I played in all the bands – marching band, concert band, and jazz band for all my high school years.  I even participated in summer bands.  I guess you could say I was a band geek, even though I did not consider myself a good musician.  Upon my admission to Rutgers University, I continued playing during my freshman year as a member of the marching and pep bands.  For some reason, I stopped playing trombone that year.  It is a decision I regret even today.


Many times during the next thirty years I thought about playing again.  I always, however, came up with some excuse (not enough time, no place to practice, etc.) to nix the idea of a comeback.  The impetus for me to get out my horn and start blowing again, however, was provided by the decision of one of my stepsons to begin playing the trombone.


I began taking lessons from my son’s private lesson teacher.  After two years of on-and-off instruction, the private lesson teacher informed me that the Marple Newtown Community Band (MNCB) was looking for trombone players.  I joined the band and still play with them today.  It is a great concert band with which to play, and I have enjoyed every rehearsal and concert, as well as the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many fellow musicians.  Little did I know that on one fateful night with this band, I would be offered an opportunity – one that would commence a three and on-half year odyssey leading to the realization of a musical dream.


It was a cold night when I trudged to the Paxon Hollow Middle School in Broomall, PA for the MNCB’s Christmas concert in December of 2010.  Just as the concert began, I noticed that we had a substitute tenor saxophone player, one whom I had never before seen.  As the concert progressed, I forgot about the new person and just concentrated on playing my trombone part.  During intermission, this new person came up to the trombone section and said “My name is Merv Richards.  I have a Klezmer band, and I need a trombone player for the band.  Are any of you guys interested in joining my Klezmer band?”  I was the only member of the trombone section who knew about Klezmer music, and I jumped at the chance to join the band.  It was the best musical decision I ever made.


Klezmer in Hebrew loosely translates to “musical instrument.”  The Jewish musicians (aka, Klezmirim) traveled from town to town in Eastern Europe to entertain at weddings and bar mitzvahs.  The Klezmirim generally played clarinets and fiddles producing the sounds associated with “Jewish Music.”  Other areas in Europe with Jewish populations added different styles and rhythms contributing to the evolution of this musical genre.  With the migration of Jews in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Klezmer music was brought to the United States.


So, I joined Merv’s Klezmer band in January of 2011.  The band, named Klezmer Klassics, rehearses every three weeks and has gone through a few personnel changes.  We now have a solid group of nine including, vocalist, clarinet, piano, trumpet, flute, bass clarinet, violin, trombone, and drums.  We have recorded an album and played at retirement communities, synagogues, and bar mitzvahs.


Last September, Merv sent our demo CD to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Phillies in an effort to secure an engagement to play at their respective American Jewish Heritage Nights.  A few weeks later, the Philadelphia 76ers contacted him indicating their organization’s desire for the group to play at the 76ers American Jewish Heritage Night.  After approximately eight weeks of stonewalling by the 76ers organization, it became clear there was a problem.  Finally, the 76ers told Merv the group would have to buy 50 tickets in order to play.  Forget it!!!


Yet, with the elimination of a performance at a 76ers game and a general dearth of recent gigs, I considered the continued existence of the band as tenuous.  Then in April,  the Jewish Federation contacted Merv with the good news that they wanted us to play at the Phillies’ American Jewish Heritage night on May 29, 2014.  In contrast to the 76ers, all members of the group received free tickets.


On that auspicious day, I arrived at Citizens Bank Park at approximately 4:30 PM to join the other members of the band in performing an hour-long set of some fine Klezmer Music.   Setting up our instruments outside of the Alley Grill near Section 140 of the ballpark, we played all of our well-known standards from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM.  We then joined our guests and watched the game from Section 207.  In the middle of the fifth inning, a Phillies’ representative ushered us through the stadium’s maze-like basement to lead us down to the field where, in the middle of the seventh inning, we led the crowd in a Yiddish rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”


It was a fantastic night for Klezmer Klassics.  We got the opportunity to display our talents before an appreciative crowd and were treated royally by Phillies’ personnel.  On a personal level, however, it provided the opportunity for me to realize a lifelong dream.  If I never play another note, at least I have the memory of that wondrous night at the ballpark.


Check out the music of Klezmer Klassics below:

That’s Entertainment – Klezmer Style!

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A good friend recently called me to share the news that the Klezmer band in which he plays would be performing at Jewish Heritage Night festivities at an upcoming Philadelphia Phillies’ game.  Subsequently, he contacted me to inform me that he had an extra ticket if I wanted to make the 70+ mile trip down to Citizens Bank Park from my home in Morris County, New Jersey.  The chance to witness a live performance by my friend’s band and also root my beloved Fightin’ Phils onto victory was a temptation too appealing for me to resist.


And so, earlier this week I made the trek to witness my first ever performance by a Klezmer band.  For the uninitiated, Klezmer bands play a type of music derived from folk music performed in Jewish villages of Eastern Europe several centuries ago.  This traditional form of music was meant to imitate the voice and music of the cantor in the synagogue and customarily employs instruments including the clarinet, violin, flute, and accordion.


Hmm, what about the trombone?  I know my friend Art played trombone in the band at his Alma Mater, Rutgers University.  In fact, to this author’s knowledge, Art is one of the three best known living trombonists – in distinguished company with the likes of Joseph Alessi of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Christian Lindberg the renowned Swedish trombone soloist.


And, in what I have dubbed as The Art Lucker Klezmer Band (aka, Klezmer Klassics), Art is accompanied by clarinet, flute, trumpet, saxophone, drums, keyboard, and violin players as well as a vocalist.  In this author’s humble opinion, Art’s band rocked the ballpark both in their hour-long pre-game performance under the watchful eyes of the Phillie Phanatic inside the right field gate, as well as in their rousing Yiddish version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” before a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 26,668 during the seventh inning stretch.


As it turns out, the band’s on-the-field performance in the seventh inning was the highlight of the evening as the punchless Phils lost to the Mets by a 4-1 score.  Yet, the opportunity to see and hear Art’s band made the nearly four hours of driving and disheartening effort by the Phillies well worth it.


Check out the video below for one of the band’s standards from their pre-game concert.  L’chaim!



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