29 August 2011

Post KlezKanada wrap up

Well, I've now returned from an amazing week at KlezKanada with my dissertation staring me right in the face. 

KlezKanada itself was a great year (in my humble opinion), not only with the depth of interesting workshops and lectures, but with a small change to help highlight the talents of the faculty to a greater degree.  In his first year as the artistic director, Frank London decided to institute a series of faculty concerts in the early evenings (before dinner) rather than try to shoehorn the massive talents of the teachers into two practically endless concerts lasting well into the night.  The KlezKabaret series of late night talent shows (for lack of a better word) continued the theme nights which they began last year.  The "Battle of the Bands" night was a huge success, and is sure to be taken further in the future.

As far as my own personal KlezKanada week was, I had a blast being able to teach this year.  I led an ensemble called the "Nokh a Mol Band" which was a beginner-intermediate group.  I had a great time teaching traditional tunes both by ear and from sheet music, and the group responded to every challenge I gave them.... I was trying to have them play "real klezmer," and not simplify the music beyond recognition.  I also tried to make sure that we were playing the music in a stylistically correct fashion to the best of their abilities. 

This brings us to the point that many people categorize klezmer as a "folk" music that can be picked up quickly.  This is, of course, not true, as klezmer was a professional field, and as such, a somewhat professional ability on instruments (particularly melody instruments) is required. 

This makes it difficult for beginners to play klezmer with all of the ornaments and subtleties, which is why I was trying to capture the energy and intent of the music (as a dance music) with my group.  I also wanted the participants to play what they could and be a part of the musicking process, rather than get intimidated by the number of notes.  This seemed to work out well, as the group (a fairly large one) sounded great, and gave a spirited performance at the student concert!

I also gave a lecture based on the paper I presented at the recent International Council for Traditional Music biannual conference in July in St. John's, Newfoundland.  The KlezKanada lecture was sparsely attended (as was the one in St. John's), but seemed to go over well. 

Otherwise, the highlight of KlezKanada is always the "hang" - getting to see friends for the first time since last year, hanging out, playing music again (after spending months writing and teaching), and meeting new, interesting klezmer people who come out.  This year seemed to have a very international attendance, including people from Canada, the US, Israel, France, Sweden, Germany, the UK, and many other places.

And with a night of very little sleep and a lot of alcohol (and a very hung over ride back to Toronto), KlezKanada ended for another year.  Hopefully I'll be able to see some of the old and new friends soon, either on my upcoming travels to Europe or here in North America.

21 August 2011


Well folks, it's just about time to be heading to KlezKanada.  As I have recently tweeted, just one more sleep and a 6+ hour car ride with my parents to KlezKanada! 

What is KlezKanada you ask?  Well, it's a 6 day residential workshop that celebrates Eastern-European Jewish music and culture.  It includes music classes, dance classes, Yiddish language classes, lectures, concerts, and a whole lot more.  It (and most other klezmer workshops) was modeled after KlezKamp and takes place at Camp B'nai Brith near Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, about an hour north of Montreal.

KlezKanada is a place where people from all over the world come to make music and friends in this small, close community that we call the klezmer scene.  It's filled with heymishe (Yiddish for home-y) touches that would make my Bubbi proud, and some of the best people you can meet.  I have been attending since 2006 (making this my 6th consecutive year), and many of the people who attend have become like a world-wide family that sees each other at simkhes (Yiddish for celebrations). 

So my last few days have been filled with preparations, particularly for the ensemble that I will be leading this year.  KlezKanada is a curious place to teach music, because of the extremely wide range of skills amongst both adults and youngsters.  The goal is to allow people of all abilities to enjoy the workshops while still challenging the more advanced players, and letting the not-so-advanced players do what they can and still feel that they are getting something out of the experience. 

I don't know what else to tell you right now, but it will be great to see everyone again.  Since spending last summer travelling the European klezmer circuit (read about it in my previous blog!), I got used to seeing these klezmer people everywhere.  It's been a year since I've seen most of them, and that's what I'm looking forward to most this year.

18 August 2011

I sold my car

In preparation for my move to Berlin (see previous post), I have sold my car.  I did this now, 3 months before I go, mainly because that was when my insurance came up for renewal. Rather spend the money to maintain, gas and insure my car for the next 3 months, I would just give it up, cold turkey.

Without further ado, here are the pros and cons of not having a car and living in north-central Toronto (also called North York):

More exercise
Will be able to spend more time reading blogs while waiting for subways and buses.*

It takes longer to get EVERYWHERE
More exercise**
Can't umpire anymore this summer
Must plan ahead more for trip taking
Have to plan more for weather

 Now, all that said, I have been car-less for 2 days.  Funny enough, I feel a sense of freedom.  I have not always had a car.  In my 2 years in Boston, I had my feet, the "T" (what they call the subway in Boston), and in my second year, my bike.  I didn't exactly have a problem there.  When I was in Europe last summer, I walked everywhere.  Or took public transit.  Or both.  So, I'm not as automobile dependent as some (like my parents) might think I am.  

Now, the area I live in is not the most conducive to traveling with public transportation, but it's actually not that bad.  While I'm nowhere near the downtown core, and the major streets are about 2km apart (they were set up as a grid, each one about a mile and quarter apart), it's not so bad.  I live in between the final 2 stops on this branch of the subway line. With heavy traffic, it can take just as long for me to get downtown driving as it would if I walked to the subway and took the train in.  

In fact, it takes about as long for me to walk to the subway or bus stops here as it did to get to the Yiddish Summer Weimar classes when I was in Weimar, Germany last summer.  The 20-minute walk into the centre of Weimar from the places that I was billeted was not exactly a hardship.  

So, to sum up, 2 days in, not so bad. I'll actually get my bike fixed when I get back from KlezKanada, and then I'll have a way of getting around even faster!

*Not sure if this is a pro or a con

**Long story but I sprained my ankle while running at the end of June (I WAS hoping to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon this year....) and it hasn't healed well, thus the more exercise walking to and from the bus/subway will probably keep it from healing.

The Klezmer Strikes Back *now with more Twitter*

Some of you out there actually followed my blog last summer, "Adventures in Klezmer" (find it here).  Since i forgot my gmail ID (and never actually used that email account) and password, that blog has been left to die and this new one will take it's place.

So.  I'm back blogging?  Why?  Well, as the subtitle says, it's "Mikey's Big Adventure.*"  Nu?  What's the big deal?

Well.  I'm moving to Berlin.  Germany.  As in, far from my home in Toronto.  Canada.  That is my prepared statement.  I will now take your questions.  You in the back with the glasses.


Ah yes.  Generally the first question.  Because.  Many reasons.  As you might know, I'm currently hunkered down in an undisclosed location** writing my PhD dissertation.***  For those of you who have never attempted such an undertaking, it kind of sucks.  It also keeps me from actually playing music (klezmer and more), which sucks even more.  For that reason, I have set myself a deadline of mid-November to finish writing, and will then move to a location that I believe to be more conducive to living the bohemian lifestyle of a musician.  Next question: you with the shirt...

"But why Berlin?"

Well.... if you've read my previous work (the aformentioned blog that can be found here), you'll know that my experiences at klezmer workshops both in Canada and the US have allowed me to make friends throughout the world, but particularly in Germany.  I have also been counseled that in Germany, Berlin is the place to be, with great musicians to play with, and a happening scene.... shirt guy... what do you want now?

"But why Germany?"

Geez man, you're just a one trick pony.  Ok.  I speak some German already, having studied it in high school and university and having spent about 3-4 weeks in Germany and Austria over the past couple of summers.  Also, the Canadian government has an agreement with Germany^ that allows young people (apparently, I'm still considered young) to get a free 1-year work visa for Germany.  Happy?

Ok. So what now?  Well, I'm going to blog here over the next few months as I prepare to go.  Those few months will be puncutated with KlezKanada (next week), and my presenting a paper at the conference for the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) in Philadelphia in November.  But other than that, I'll probably blog to entertain myself as I write my dissertation.

Finally, this blog will be new and improved.  Why?  Because I have joined the Twittersphere.  And the Lord said, "Thou shalt Tweet, and it shall be."#  You can (and SHOULD) follow me @KlezFactor.  And yes, I may tweet on things that have nothing to do with music or klezmer or anything that I write about here.

*Note:  You may call me "Mikey," however, I reserve the right to a) not answer, and b) engage in a hearty bitch-slap.

**Usually a Starbucks or similar coffeeshop.

***Due to the simultaneous nature of blogging and writing a dissertation, some of this blog may sound dense, esoteric and academic.  Deal with it, ma bitches!

^Suck it, Americans!

#I'll expect at least 6 lines of talmudic discourse on that particular passage from the Book of Social Media.