The Ba’al T’file’s Blog

# 4 March 2011

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Copyright © 2011 by Yosl (Joe) Kurland

Report from KlezmerQuerque

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In February, I had the opportunity to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico to teach and perform at a wonderful festival called KlezmerQuerque. The experience was delightful. It is an annual festival organized by Beth Cohen, Cantorial soloist at Congregation Nahalat Shalom. The other presenters were Christina Crowder, Accordionist with Wholesale Klezmer Band, and clarinetist Margot Leverett,

Among the activities I participated in, taught and led at the festival was a Shabbos morning nusakh learning service which is described on the Klezmerquerque website thus:

From 10am-noon Yosl will lead a learner's Shabbos Service featuring a "hands-on" workshop/service using traditional 'nusakh' (special melodies which use specific modes & scales). Using only Shabbos morning material, Yosl will teach how to put together nusakh elements to chant prayers, as well as interspersing some prayers sung as congregational songs and chanting a khazanic solo within the context of a congregational chant of the kedusha. Teachings & Kavanot will be led by Rabbi Deborah Brin.

I led a similar service/workshop with Rabbi Bob Sternberg at Temple Israel of Athol on Saturday, May 7th, 2011. Please contact me if you are interested in bringing this program to your shul.

Below is the letter I received from Beth Cohen upon my return home.

I want to tell you right now how much everyone enjoyed your workshops and performances. Many have said that this was the best KlezmerQuerque ever.  KlezQ attendees have also written e-mails to me - one included an inspired poem about the weekend, and there were many written compliments that I could compile for you as well.

Sometimes when I write press releases for myself, my bands or other groups that I'm producing shows for - I feel like I have to exaggerate or be creative in the descriptions about the performer's gifts and talents in order to get the media's attention, but when I referred to you as a 'walking treasure of Yiddishekeit' this was no exaggeration whatsoever...and I believe it was actually an understatement!

Everything you did and shared (which was a TON!) from the Friday Freylekher Shabbes, Saturday morning nusakh learners service, Yiddish class, Saturday performance & Sunday classes were of the finest and highest quality. Plus - you did everything with such a relaxed, generous and joyous demeanor that it made me and the other participants feel relaxed and more receptive to learning and enjoying it all. For me, this was the most relaxing KlezmerQuerque ever (even though to you and others I probably seemed like a 'Masha Kapoyre' all weekend)! I also feel like I retained more from the workshops than I ever have before.

Both you and Christina were so organized, knowledgeable and easy and pleasant to work with. It was such a pleasure to have the printed materials in advance and that you planned everything so carefully. I also appreciate that you wanted to have more than enough material for your classes (in case we learned quickly - or knew more than I thought we knew). The materials you gave us - a beautiful booklet with songs and appendixes- for the Yiddish workshop is enough for a week - or at least an entire weekend workshop in itself. I'm really going to study them! Also your charts and lyric sheets are not only legible, but are attractive and copy very well.

When you and Christina played and sang on Friday night, we all knew that we were in for an incredible treat all weekend - people were blown away. Your stage performance on Saturday night with Christina was so engaging & professional and it was done with what appeared to be little or no effort for either of you (even though I know that's not the case at all). The two of you appear relaxed and look like you're having so much fun - the audience had a blast: children, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-aged up to bubbes and zaydes. The way you wove Margot's clarinet playing into your set was awesome and we all loved the pieces she and Christina did together. It's remarkable that you only had the one rehearsal with Margot - the performance was so polished. It just kept getting better and better as the night went on. Your performance style is very unique and I love the translations on the cards and the way you intro the pieces and get people involved. Naturally, in our "lefty" shul community, many folks also loved your political commentary. I loved the way you sang "S'iz nito keyn Nekhtn" - very upbeat and moving - I want our band to do it that way.

We learned an incredible amount of material and you left us with a lot to work on - on our own:

Starting with your beautiful Hashkiveynu that you wrote (we have you singing it and your sheet music). I loved the instrumentals Christina played too - don't know if she was improvising - or if she has something written down...

The mind-clearing nigun (we have the chart for the basic melody). Also loved what Christina played with that.

Tsuzamen mitn gelt!! -this song was a HUGE hit with everyone over the weekend and - a.k.a. Marc our banjo-player - posted a neat commentary on his web site/blog about it with the words/translation on Feb 21st. I have a recording of a slightly different version -from Di Naye Kapelye's 'Traktorist' CD that I learned and re-visited the song today (as a nign and instrumental) with the band.

And thank you for making the band play the honga faster - they're really trying and they're getting it!

The Saturday service (I was totally inspired!!-- and yes- the sound files came through fine - I don't know if we can even come close to re-creating everything that you did, but we're going to try). BTW- did you ever find the sheet music for the recitative part of the Kedusha? I'd love that - or to know if there's a place I could order/buy it? I thought that I recognized that Yismakh Moyshe...!

Yiddish class I already talked about - AMAZING!! We learned some beautiful songs from you - I've always loved 'Abi Gezunt'. Today we also revived our version of "Oy mayn Kepele" for Purim - people were glad that you reminded us of it and now we have a few new verses from you! I learned ours from Gerry Tenney --Did you know the 'Oy mayn pipikl' verse? 'es shmekht vi a chipikl' (my belly-button- it smells like a bird's nest)- I think he and Betty Shrek wrote that one.

Also, thank you for correcting the Yiddish grammar on 'Liebes tanz' (and figuring out the 'vos mir leben op dem haynt' - funny that it can mean 2 opposite things).
I've been practicing the song the new way now and it makes more sense already.

I haven't spoken in detail with the dancers - except for the one who wrote the poem (I'll send that to you too), but I will get their comments. The dancer that donated the money was sorry not to meet you, but she was happy that we all enjoyed having you here you so much.

Yosl- In a nutshell - you were the perfect guest artist for our event; you are incredibly knowledgeable yet humble and patient with all levels of students. You are very organized, print nice-looking and legible materials. As a performer you were professional, relaxed and you were having fun and included the audience in on the fun. I can tell that you have also been a professional teacher, because you included everyone, you were patient and thorough - and you made sure that everyone understood materials before we moved on to something new. And as a person, you are truly a mentsh and I am so happy that I got to know you and work with you and I hope that we get to meet Peggy and the rest of The Wholesale Klezmer Band in the near future.

Thank you for sharing your talents and joy with our family and our community!
Beth, Randy, Jamie and the Nahalat Shalom "shtetl"

KlezmerQuerque 2011

Please sign my guest book or leave a comment

Yosl (Joe) Kurland leads services at Temple Israel in Athol as well as at Temple Israel in Greenfield every Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. He also often leads part of the service at Shabbatons at both Temples. He is the lead singer with the Wholesale Klezmer Band, and twice a winner of the Shalshelet New Jewish Liturgical Music competition. Yosl's day job is making digital prints of ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) and other calligraphic artwork created by his wife, Peggy Davis and his own photographic art. You may learn more about their work at their website, which is

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