Klezmer for Dancing: an Idiomatic Approach to Melody, Texture, and Groove
A Five-Part Workshop Series for instrumentalists
New Haven, CT — Winter 2016
Klezmer accordionist and researcher Christina Crowder will lead a five-part workshop series
exploring rhythm, texture, phrasing, and accompaniment techniques for klezmer dance music.
Participants will listen, dance, and play music together to explore four essential dance genres
with a capstone session about on-the-fly playing for dancers “in the wild.”
Over the course of the twentieth century, klezmer dance music has become almost completely divorced from its original context as music for dancing during Jewish weddings and simchas. This process was underway even in the 1890s, and now at the beginning of the 21st century, only a handful of musicians know how to play a spontaneous dance set using traditional klezmer tunes that responds to and shapes both tempo and groove over the course of a dance set lasting from twenty minutes to forty or more. The Klezmer for Dancing workshops will bridge the gap between the knowledge of single tunes (of necessity out of context), and an understanding of how to shape a given repertoire into functional and appropriate dance sets. Participants will learn: 1) how to listen for accompaniment patters in old recordings; 2) how tempo and rhythm affect the kinetic aspects of the various dances; 3) how to come up with spontaneous rhythmic and harmonic texture for accompanying lead players that is idiomatically appropriate for each dance; and 4) how to shape their existing klezmer repertoire into apprproriate dance sets.
Who Should Participate
The workshop is open to musicians on any instrument who play at an intermediate level or above. No previous experience with klezmer music is required, though players unfamiliar with the idiom should contact Christina in advance to see if the workshops will be a good fit for their instrument and their playing ability.
Where: Workshops will be held at the Whitneyville Creative Commons, 1253 Whitney Ave., Hamden, CT
When: All sessions will be held from 7-9pm.
Feb. 23—Slow Hora
Fees: Adults: $25 per workshop, or $100 for all five (registered/paid in advance); students: $20 per workshop, or $80 for all five (registered/paid in advance); some scholarships are available for potential participants with financial hardship.
Registration: Please register through bookwhen.com/bivolitaklezmer, payment will be arranged offline.
Session 1: Freylekhs
Zev Feldman refers to the freylekhs as the “common Jewish dance,” and this “core” dance/musical genre provides the foundation upon which all of the others are built. Freylekhs (also sher, fun der khupe, redl, runde, karakhod, hopke, etc.) is a moderate tempo dance with an “up” impulse in the dance steps but without the intrinsic need for hopping or leaping. Much attention will be devoted to *where* to place down beats, up beats, and other syncopations within the overall rhythmic structure. Discussion will also focus on how to judge when *to* and when *not to* play depending on the melody.
Session 2: Slow Hora (Zhok)
The Slow Hora or Zhok is not part of Zev Feldman’s “core” repertoire, but rather the “transitional” repertoire that is drawn from, but adapts to it’s own purposes the Hora Mare (big hora) from the Moldavian / Bessarabian dance tradition. It is the single most difficult Jewish dance rhythm for western-trained musicians to grasp because the rhythm is an asymmetrical but flexible “ovoid” dialectic between “1” and “&,” or “long” and “short” with the implication of further subdivisions. Participants will both listen and dance to get a kinetic sense of how the dance drives the rhythm, and how the tune melody interacts with the underlying rhythm.
Session 3: Bulgar
Bulgar is the quintessential American Jewish dance genre, and this workshop will delve deeply into both tempo and texture to accommodate slow, medium, and fast bulgar dancing. Attention in this workshop will be played to the essential tension between the “Oom-pa” (Esz-Tam) foundation and the three over two bulgar clave. Unlike in most Latin American or African musics, the clave in klezmer bulgar is implied rather than explicit, the “Voldemort” of klezmer music if you will—the “rhythm that should not be named.”
Session 4: Khosidl
Dr. Feldman does not usually teach khosidl as a formalized dance practice, but the khosidl genre forms an important part of the klezmer repertoire. Though tempi can occasionally be the same as freylekhs, the underlying rhythmic structure of khosidl is different, emphasizing a more even four that facilitates a more earthy, grounded walking groove that seeks both musically and physically (in the dance) to capture some of the spiritual essence/ecstasy of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hasidic movement.
Session 5: Capstone—Playing in the Wild
While the individual genre workshops treat individual dance forms, the capstone workshop will look at how to put theory into practice. Participants will be welcome to bring their klezmer “play book” to initiate a discussion of how to sort out tunes into appropriate categories according to the “Feldman Principles,” and the idiomatic knowledge gained in the previous sessions. Klezmer tune titles are notoriously unreliable as a means to sort into dance forms. There are examples too numerous to count of things called freylekhs that are actually hongas; bulgars called sirbas (and vice versa); and never mind trying to figure out what all of the pieces called skotshne have in common, though we’ll talk about that too! The session will focus on sorting tunes into genre, tempo, and vibe categories, and then building them into appropriate sets that can be deployed in the field. Participants will be encouraged to bring blank sheet music to begin writing out their own “Inkibbitz” for dancing—a one or two-page “cheat sheet” with the first two measures of tunes sorted into tempo, key, scale, and genre categories—drawn from their own repertoire.
The capstone session will also delve into “survival techniques” for both melody and accompaniment players on how to keep the dancers going while moving from tune to tune. Dividing into two groups, mini formations will alternately lead tunes, and dance to them to get a feel for both sides of the dance equation.
If there is interest, the capstone workshop can be extended into a second, two-hour session.
Beyond the Workshops?
The Klezmer for Dancing workshop series is intended to lead into an ongoing New Haven Klezmer Khevrisa, (study group) that will continue—meeting every other week or so through the academic year—to delve into the finer points of European and American klezmer music. Though continuing the rhythmic and textural exploration of the dance workshops, the Khevrisa will be more concerned with melody, phrasing, ornamentation, and harmony. Though not strictly required, participation in the Klezmer for Dance workshops is strongly encouraged for musicians who might like to continue in the Khevrisa.
About The Sessions: Structure
All sessions will include the following components:
Advance Materials: 2-3 mp3s with a guided listening worksheet; lead sheet and recording of 2-3 tunes to be played during the workshop. While knowing the melodies in advance will be useful, most attention will be focused on rhythm and texture, which will begin with playing just the tonic notes of the chord progression. Further developments will unfold at a rate that can accommodate both those who have extensive ear training and those who don’t.
Listening: Each workshop will begin with a listening segment with discussion to identify the essential rhythmic elements specific to each dance genre.
Dancing: The listening segment will be followed by a brief, but active segment in which all participants will learn a very basic version of the dance under discussion (esp. freylekhs, slow hora, bulgar). The goal will be to get an understanding of the underlying kinetic impulse of the dance, tempo range, phrasing, etc.
Playing: The longest workshop segment will be devoted to playing and practicing pre-selected pieces in each dance genre. Rather than emphasizing melodic playing (though there will be some discussion of phrasing and appropriate ornamentation), the focus will be on developing appropriate rhythmic/harmonic accompaniment for the target dance across an appropriate tempo range. Though advance materials will be given, participants should expect to work without sheet music during the workshops themselves, but this should not be excessively intimidating.
Playing and Dancing: Workshops will conclude with all participants both playing for dancers and dancing with other participants playing. This will be the practical test for new techniques and rhythms learned during the workshop. The group will be divided into at least two cohorts, with each having the chance to alternately play and dance.
About Christina Crowder
Christina has been performing, practicing, and studying traditional klezmer with an emphasis on dance music for over twenty years. She also has a deep background in classical ballet and a wide variety of European folk dance traditions, having studied Balkan, Scandinavian, Hungarian, German, Romanian, and Moldavian dance over some thirty years of travel and research. The Klezmer for Dance workshops is the continuation of Christina’s recent research into the relationship between Moldavian and Klezmer music under the guidance of Walter Zev Feldman (NYU), one of the founders of the klezmer “revitalization,” leading author on the subject of klezmer music, accomplished multi-instrumentalist (including tsimbl, the Jewish hammered dulcimer), and one of the very few living practitioners of traditional Ashkenazic Jewish dance. Christina has served as accompanist, documentarian, and assistant teacher in a number of recent dance workshops led by Dr. Feldman, and has been his research assistant during the writing of the forthcoming book Klezmer: Music, History, and Memory from Oxford University Press. Christina also performs regularly with leading klezmorim in New York and farther afield, and has her own klezmer chamber trio Bivolița in New Haven, Ct.