Klezmer in London

Jul 5th, 2001, 02:11 AM
Ben Haines
Posts: n/a
Klezmer in London

Nothing in this note is practical nor useful. It's perhaps a trip report for a one hour trip.

Yesterday at six I bought a glass of white wine at the bar of the National Theatre on the South Bank in London, and settled on one of the benches they have laid out on the so-called Theatre Square, the outdoor area in front of the theatre bar, covered with comfortable imitation grass. I know it was comfortable because people more lithe than I were settling down there. On the small temporary stage in front of us all there formed a six-man klezmer band from Ukraine. I only learnt two years ago what klezmer is - the folk music, song and dance of the East European Jews of the days before Adolf Hitler. You get some taste of klezmer in "Fiddler on the roof", and some in the best of Benny Goodman. But probably all Americans know this, and it's just us English who are late learners.

The concert was free. They were good musicians, with penetrating half-tones from the violinist and luscious sharp rifts from the clarinettist. I think I recognised some tunes from a week's klezmer I had in Krakow last summer, and
certainly I recognised the Yiddish version of Tumbala Tumbala Tumbalalaika, but again it was new to us Londoners, and only I sang along as asked.

With the first tune an elderly English-looking gent in shorts upped and danced by himself in a corner, but then an excellent woman dancer of Spanish appearance started off a movement of some ten dancers, who formed conga lines and rings and danced to half the tunes. Family parties on the grass were many. A cheerful boy aged three of Chinese, Indian, black and white ancestry (at least) walked among us, greeting whom he chose, chaperoned by his mother at ten yards distance. Others danced by themselves, or jigged, or played complex games climbing upon their parents or grandparents. Over in one corner was a group from Ethiopia, brilliantly if warmly dressed, with those sharp fine features they often have. One of the dancers was older than I (and I'm 64), a man with baggy trousers, lived-in face, big nose, who I greatly hope had learnt this music in its homeland as a boy.

Tonight the same space gives us music from European gypsies, and on Saturday at five there are the Burning Bush, who play fifteenth century Spanish, music from the stedtls, and a great deal in between. All free.

Meanwhile, playgoers were walking in to the theatre, and I took time out to check on the reply to the frequent question on this forum: what is worn to the theatre in London ? I can only answer: what is not ? Shorts, slacks, skirts, dresses, blouses, tank tops, shirts, Nehru jackets, kurta payjama, cool lawn gowns, to name but a few. Nor did elegance mean money: my pick of the parade in front of me was a lady of my age who had kept her figure, white-haired, with the queenly bearing of a retired ballerina, who in fact wore just a dark blue summer dress and a large and colourful cotton shawl over one shoulder.

Sorry. But did warn you that this note would have no practical use.

Welcome to my city

Ben Haines
Jul 5th, 2001, 05:45 AM
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What a lively picture you show us!!
I am afraid I disagree with your"nothing in this note is pactical nor useful".
Jul 5th, 2001, 08:00 AM
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Mr. Haines, your nothings are better than most people's somethings. Thanks for another South Bank idea.
Jul 5th, 2001, 09:48 AM
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Thanks for an interesting post, Ben.

Klezmer apparently is undergoing quite a renaissance in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, where I guess it must fall into some sort of "lost arts" category. A Polish friend of ours told us that the large turnouts for Klezmer concerts in Poland and Germany were (in his opinion) partly the result of people in these countries growing up never having experienced anything of the Jewish dimensions of their cultures or histories. He said that in his (small) home town in Poland, "They went (to a Klezmer concert) to see what a Jew looks like, since nobody had ever seen one," (for obvious reasons, I guess.) Another acquaintance of ours, who's a Klezmer musician, says tha vast majority of the working Klezmerim in Europe aren't Jewish, so I guess our friend's neighbors didn't get their chance, after all. Wonder if they figured this out.
Jul 5th, 2001, 09:55 AM
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Thanks Ben for a wonderful account As I had wandered by there last year on a Southbank "ramble" I could picture exactly where you were!
Jul 5th, 2001, 11:24 AM
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What a vivid snap shot... I doubt they'll be people sitting on grass, either real or artificial when we are in London next April... none the less, your description... has got me "chomping at the bit"... 9 months really seems a long time.....
Just FYI...Klezmer music has also been undergoing quite a rebirth in NYC for the past few years.. I defy a person to listen to Klezmer music and NOT feel compelled to dance!
Jul 5th, 2001, 11:47 AM
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Lovely post! Ben Haines you are a wonderful contributor to this site (and have helped me in the past with info too)
And to Thyra - we usually go to London every April (will be there again April 2002) and while I don't know about the imitation grass I do know it can be warm enough (sometimes!) that people will be sitting on the grass in the parks. Easter Sunday 2000 we were on Hempstead Heath and there were many people taking advantage of the pleasant weather (it did rain about 5 p.m. tho so always have that umbrella!!) Granted it may not be warm enough every day, but you never can tell with April. It's a great month to be in London by the way, the flowers are blooming, etc. (and not too overcrowded).
Mar 30th, 2007, 07:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Top to share this lovely little note by Mr Haines.
JudyC is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 11:30 PM
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Thank you so much, Judy. As they say, "show don't tell." What a wonderful scene Ben showed us all.
5alive is offline  

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