To Life! Hankus Netsky Talks Klezmer Music

Sep 19, 2017

When it's time to celebrate, no music expresses the joy of life like klezmer. WRTI's Debra Lew Harder takes us into klezmer's rich world and heritage. A Happy and Healthy New Year to all of our listeners celebrating the Jewish High Holidays!

Debra Lew Harder spoke with renowned klezmer music scholar, ethnomusicologist, and performer Hankus Netsky, to learn more about klezmer music. Netsky serves as Chair of Contemporary Improvisation at New England Conservatory in Boston. He’s the author of a newly published book from Temple University Press, called Klezmer: Music and Community in Twentieth-Century Jewish Philadelphia.

Hankus is also the founder and director of The Klezmer Conservatory Band, an ensemble that has specialized in klezmer music and Yiddish song for the past 30 years.

Radio story:

Opening Music: “Doyne/Freylakhs,” performed by The Klezmer Conservatory Band

Klezmer scholar and multi-instrumenatalist Hankus Netsky is the author of KLEZMER; MUSIC AND COMMUNITY IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY JEWISH PHILADELPHIA.

After the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed 2000 years ago, and during the Jewish diaspora that followed, rabbis banned the performance of instrumental music, to mourn the loss of the Temple.

But, as renowned Jewish music scholar Hankus Netsky says, “Whenever you’re reading about something being banned, you know people are doing it all the time.”

Music: “Meron Nign,” The Klezmer Conservatory Band

A rich tradition of instrumental music outside the synagogue grew from what Netsky describes as “the very human need” to celebrate important moments in life, like weddings. Jewish musicians absorbed the music of the communities around which they settled: Turkish, Greek, Romanian, Polish, Ukrainian, and gypsy music, and later, in the United States, they took in jazz. Yet they retained something distinct: even in non-religious celebration, the prayers and cantorial singing of the synagogue came through. This combination created music whose passion, Netsky says, “is not in any way suppressed.”

Music: “Freilach,” Giora Feidman, clarinet

The music was given the name “klezmer” in the 1930s, and comes from the Hebrew word meaning “vessel of song.” Raw emotion, fired through the kiln of prayer — klezmer captures all who hear it weep, sing, sigh, and celebrate.

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Jewish High Holidays!