Hankus Netsky and Barbara GoodmanBritt Went to Klezkamp and All We Got Was This Lousy Khusidl!!
By Barbara Goodman
Klezkamp. It was an amazing week in the Catskills, Dec. 23-29, with some of the best musicians, dancers and Yiddish speakers from all over di gantse velt. I met people from Sweden, France, Belgium, England, Australia, Canada and nearly every state of the U.S. As an indication of the growing popularity of klezmer music, they had the largest turnout ever, about 400 people, half of whom were first-time campers like myself. In fact, they overbooked and had to put some of us up at a nearby hotel, although all meals (kosher, of course) and activities were at the Paramount Hotel in Parksville, N.Y. We ate at large round tables with different people at every meal. Sometimes I met people from parts of New England, and a few times when I gave someone my business card I was stunned to hear them say, "Oh youre Nefesh. Ive heard of you."
We were kept busy every minute. There were four 90-minute classes per day. The topics ranged from music instruction (ensembles, dance bands, individual instruments, song), to Yiddish language, folklore and film, dance, cooking, papercutting and programs for children including a junior orchestra the "Oomchicks."
All activities stopped on Shabbat. No instrumental music was allowed in any public areas. Services were held in two parts of the hotel, an orthodox minyan and an egalitarian service. Then later Friday night there was "Shlimovitz und zingen niggunim" with Frank London and Jeff Warschauer. Everybody "dai-dai-daied" until past midnight. There were services again Saturday morning and free time until havdalah. Then we had our 4th period class (that we had missed Friday afternoon) followed by the usual concerts and dancing.
I was on a work-study scholarship, which meant that I spent one period per day working in the Klezkids program for the 7- to 12-year-olds. We taught them Yiddish songs that they acted out as a shadow play behind a screen in their performance on the final night. Zalman Mlotek, whose son was also in the group, helped the teachers with the music. There was also a Kindernest program for the youngest campers. In all, there were about 40 children participating.
My main interest was the music program and I was not disappointed. The music faculty included Hankus Netsky and Jeff Warshauer of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Alicia Svigals, Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics (if youve seen or heard Yitzhak Perlmans "In the Fiddlers House," you know these musicians), the legendary Sid Beckerman, Kapelye lead vocalist Adrienne Cooper, accordionist Sy Kushner and members of the Wholesale Klezmer Band, which played a Cantors Concert at Beth El Synagogue in Waterbury two years ago, among others.
I had two classes each day with Hankus Netsky. The first class was Yiddish Dance Band, a huge orchestra of about 40-50 instruments. We moved quickly, learning six songs in about 4 days and performing them on the last night for the entire camp. Hankus is a wonderful teacher, so knowledgeable about the genre he taught us the difference between a khusidl and a freilach. He would bring in tapes of old music and we would listen closely, then we would all sing the melody, with the proper phrasing, before trying to play it.
The second class was keyboard instruction, a small class of only eight to 10 people. Hankus made copies for us of the songs from his out-of-print book that is not available anywhere. What a treasure!
The last class I took was small ensemble with Sherry Mayrent, the clarinetist with the Wholesale Klezmer Band. As we had three keyboard players in the group, I decided to switch to playing my concertina (I was the only concertina player at camp this year, and Hankus dubbed me "Lena from Palestina"). It was great fun, and I learned a lot from Sherry in terms of theory, scales, chords and the like.
Several of the instructors had mentioned the classic recordings of clarinetist, composer Naftule Brandwein. One night his granddaughter attended the concert and was introduced in the audience. The next day I talked to her and it turns out she lives nearby in Connecticut. I invited her to come hear Nefesh when we play at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman in June.
After classes until dinnertime there was an open jam session in the lobby, lead by Sherry Mayrent. At one session an orthodox woman in hat and dress who had been listening with her little daughter came over to me. She said her zayde used to play the concertina, and every sound the click of the buttons, the wheeze of the bellows reminded her of him. Her daughter, too young to speak, was fascinated by the instrument, and I let her press the buttons and touch the bellows and shiny wooden ends. We had never spoken to each other before, but now we had a connection.
Each night after dinner, there was a performance, followed by dance bands, in the Tantszal. There were faculty performances, Yiddish storytelling, and in the best Borsht Belt tradition, we even had a comedian Michael Wex who told long "true" stories that ended with a punch line in Yiddish. We were treated to the Wholesale Klezmer Band, the Klezmatics, Chava Alberstein, Adrienne Cooper and Mikva.
The last night was dedicated to student performances: the children and youth group put on plays, every ensemble and band had their turn. We all participated, if you werent playing music you were dancing, way into the early hours of the morning.
We may have started out strangers, but we left with many warm friendships, vowing to keep in touch, exchange music and perhaps meet again next year.
For further information on Klezkamp, contact Henry Sapoznik at:Living Traditions
430 West 14th Street Suite 409
New York NY 10014
Tel. (212) 691-1272
Fax (212) 691-1657