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Experience Klezmer: Concert featuring Jewish music style set for Pocatello

posted Mar 31, 2011, 1:09 PM by Karla Reynolds   [ updated Mar 31, 2011, 1:22 PM ]
POCATELLO — On Saturday April 2, at 7 p.m., local musician Robert Talbot will present “Klezmer Then and Now.” 

This tour of the mysterious roots of klezmer music, along with an energetic performance of its magnificent melodies, will include pieces not heard in centuries. The concert, an historic premier of lost musical treasures expressing the soul of Jewish life, is being performed as a benefit for the Idaho Foodbank. It is held in association with Pocatello’s annual “Feeding the 5,000” campaign and the 50th anniversary of the building of the Pocatello Jewish Community Center (Temple Emanuel), where it will take place. Donations to the Idaho Foodbank in amounts as generous as possible (cash or check) are requested in lieu of admission. Reservations are not required.

Klezmer as we know it today is the traditional lively dance music and the expressive instrumental music — sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping —of eastern European Jews, adapted by Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States and later artists. Talbot’s klezmer melodies have been heard by Pocatellans at the First Friday Art Walk, which he organized and ran for more than a year. But “Klezmer Then and Now,” featuring the results of the artist’s painstaking research into the music’s roots, will offer a truly new look at the genre based on his discoveries.

 It will include a sampling of the musical traditions of the many cultures of the Ottoman, Russian, and Hapsburg Empires, as well as their adaptations in America. From 15th-century Spain to Broadway musicals, Talbot offers a new and fascinating look at the unfamiliar roots of both klezmer and modern music.  

 Talbot, who has great enthusiasm about the upcoming concert, spoke about it recently in his comfortable office overlooking the hills outside of Pocatello. Volumes of loose leaf binders with thousands of pieces of music and cabinets full of published music fill the room. Instruments tucked into corners, along with thousands of LPs, tapes, and CDs of everything from classical to zydeco add additional interest. A couple of music stands wait at-theready
  as well.  

 “You never know when someone will drop in and want to play duets,” says Talbot, “and what’s a music room without music stands?”   

Although most who have heard something of klezmer think that they can readily recognize its sounds, there is a big debate in the musical world as to what tunes actually should — or should not — be included under the heading of “klezmer.”

 To seek out the story of the tradition’s origins and thereby attempt to find a better definition of what really deserves to be called klezmer today, Talbot consulted the research facilities of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archives, and the National Library of Israel, among other

“The funny thing,” Talbot muses, “is that all this research I’ve been doing has been to answer the question, ‘What is klezmer?’ Is it mournful music played by a sobbing violin, or wild dance music played by a screeching clarinet? Most of us can’t define it, but when we hear it we say ‘that’s klezmer, or that’s Jewish music.’ It’s like blues, or Cajun, or Big Band Swing. We know it when we hear it, but we have to be able to define it so that we can find more of it.”

During the first part of the performance, Talbot will speak of his discoveries while illustrating them with examples played on the gusle, cimbalon, and a type of caval, as well as on the accordion. “These are all instruments that have been played in Eastern Europe for 500 years,” he explains, “and they shaped the music that we now call klezmer. I also included bagpipes until I reached version eight of my talk, when I was able to obtain ten volumes of archival material published in the 1920s and dating back to the 1880s. I’m on version 14 now, and am trying to find a balance between history and the excitement of the music

He explains that the music he will play incorporates melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that met at the crossroads of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Sephardic Judaism in Eastern Europe, beginning in 1500 and continuing today on YouTube. “It is getting to be an old story,” Talbot relates, “but personal computers and the digitization of historical records is radically changing the depth of research available, even here in Pocatello. I have found, and downloaded, at least ten thousand pieces of music that were formerly only available if a person went to New York City or Tel Aviv or Odessa, and then sat
  for weeks in a library, blowing dust off books that hadn’t been opened in a hundred years.”  

 In the second part of the performance, a real klezmer extravaganza, Talbot’s playing will include music that hasn’t been heard in two centuries outside of the villages in which the songs were composed. “The first half of the program prepares the audience,” he explains, “opens their ears, so that they can appreciate the background of klezmer music, the music played by Jewish musicians for all faiths. Then, an hour or so of absolutely spellbinding rhythms and melodies that will rock the house. Or, in this case, the temple.”   

Robert Talbot demonstrates how the melodies traveled from Spain to the Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece, ending up on Broadway. Samplings from
  all of those wells of musical creativity will be included to make for a truly unique evening. Enjoy the opportunity to step out, be charitable, and have fun all at the same event. The performance will be filmed for distribution on DVD. Light snacks and beverages will be available.   

Temple Emanuel is located at 306 N. 18th Ave. in Pocatello, one block north of East Clark Street. Call 232-4758 for additional information.

On Saturday, April 2, at 7 p.m., local musician Robert Talbot will present “Klezmer Then and Now” at Temple Emanuel in Pocatello. The event is part of Pocatello’s annual “Feeding the 5,000” campaign and the 50th anniversary of the building of the Pocatello Jewish Community Center (Temple Emanuel).

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