Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Metropolitan Klezmer: Listening and Visualizing

Photo by Steven Toya.
Photo by Steven Toya.

  I went with a few friends to the Horizons Concert Series "Metropolitan Klezmer" last Wednesday night.  I really didn't know what to expect, but I knew that I liked klezmer music, after a friend introduced it to me last year.  Klezmer is culturally Jewish, and, for me, has an association with Jewish wedding music.  But it's so much more than that.  It really taps into a strange place of both hope and suffering.

  The band included an accordionist, a trumpet player, clarinet/sax player, pianist, bassist, percussionist, a violist (who actually studied at the Curry Summer Music Camp when she was a high school student at Tempe High School) and a vocalist.  I found each instrument fascinating to listen to--but then the wholistic presence of them as a band was fascinating as well.  They played a variety of tunes, described as "vibrant versions of lesser-known gems from wedding dance, trance, folk, swing and tango styles, as well as soundtrack material from vintage Yiddish films."

  My friend Laura and her husband, Mike, thought the musicianship of each individual was very impressive.  Mike was happy to learn that the trumpet player had played with Government Mule, one of his favorite rock and roll bands.  "I had assumed that the first song would sound like the second song would sound like the third song…," said Laura.  "But each song was very different, and the bandleader shared some interesting insight and history, too."

  The talent was extreme, and the music was truly haunting and wonderful.  But here's the strange thing:  it was so moving, that it moved some of us right into another sensory mode!  It made us feel a sense of synesthesia!  "Synesthesia is a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."  During the first set, I had a very real fantasy that I was in some kind of strange film, where certain members of the audience would spontaneously start dancing, turning the performance into a celebration (much like Jewish weddings, I have to admit.)  It was very hard for me to keep still.  I could see exactly who would be dancing, and how.

  My friend admitted to me that the music also evoked visuals for him too--but his tended towards the incongruous Western scenarios.  During the second set, I found myself visualizing Westerns too, with  saloons, open plains, and galloping horses.  Somehow, they translated well to the same sense of hope, suffering and freedom that the music was conveying.

  Laura even had a sense of visual place..."At one time it felt like you were in a European club in the 1930s, then at another point down in Brazil, then so on.  I think my son liked the music, but he is 7 so he also liked watching the reflections of light from the instruments tracking across the ceiling of Ashurst!"

I had no idea that I would start seeing movies in my mind's eye while listening to klezmer.  But that's what my experience was--very sensory-oriented.  I went to Metropolitan Klezmer expecting to hear good tunes, but instead I experienced Synesthesia.  How delightful!

(If you haven't gone to any Horizons Concert Series, you have to try them out.  They are all unique.  Check it out here.)


  1. Thanks so much, Elizabeth & Steve! Wonderful to know what states our band induced. I really appreciate your account & also these lovely photos.

    ~Eve Sicular (drummer / bandleader)
    Metropolitan Klezmer
    & of course we're on Facebook, YouTube and CDBaby