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Klezmer comes with sounds of tradition

Photo courtesy of Klezmer Conservatory Band
Little-known fact: Nowhere in the Torah does it say 'thou shalt play "Hava Nagila" at thine wedding and kick thy legs in the air in circular formation.' There is other traditional Jewish Wedding music out there, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band will enlighten the rest of us as to what that is on Saturday night at 8 in Centennial Hall.
By Randi Eichenbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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College students may be familiar with some of the customs of a traditional

Jewish wedding. We've all seen "Wedding Crashers," right? But have you ever sat back to listen to the ceremonial tunes that get everyone on their feet and clapping?

As a child, Hankus Netsky, founder and director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, took a liking to the sounds of traditional Jewish music from weddings and other important ceremonies. It was during that time (the '60s), however, that those sounds were diminishing.

"People were sort of stopping having the traditional Jewish music in weddings and ceremonies," Netsky said. "And I kind of liked that stuff."

Growing up in a family of Jewish musicians, Netsky did not have to look too far to learn how to play traditional Jewish music.

"When I was 19 I started pestering my relatives who were willing to teach me," Netsky said.

In 1978 Netsky joined the faculty at the New England Conservatory. It was there that he started incorporating the teachings that he had gained from his family into his lessons. Netsky sought out a group of students who took to the music, and they formed an informal band. In 1980, the group had their first concert.

"For lack of a better word we started calling it klezmer," said Netsky. The word klezmer means musician in Yiddish.

The group's success quickly turned the band into more than just a hobby.

"All of a sudden, instead of 100 or 200 people in the audience we were playing for 1,000 to 2,000 people," Netsky said. "People wanted to re-discover this stuff that was gone for 60 years."

Netsky expressed pride in the fact that going to hear the music provides an alternative outlet for Jewish people to rekindle their roots.

"If they (the audience) are Jewish, they can express their identity without going to church or praying," Netsky said. "It is not about beliefs, it's about music."

The traditional sounds however, are now not only familiar to the ears of those who are Jewish; the music has become a mainstream cultural phenomenon.

"When we first started I would just stand back and say, 'Is anyone going to like this?'" Netsky said. "Now there is more of scene. You can hear it in movies and commercials."

Netsky has many bragging rights. On top of the group's several albums, including one that was featured on a children's video narrated by comedian Robin Williams, Netsky has also been a part of several projects that have aired on NPR, PBS and CBS.

Netsky is particularly looking forward for the group to perform in Tucson because of an added bonus musician they will be traveling in with. Vocalist Eleanor Reissa will accompany the group on their up and coming performances.

"It seems like she grew up speaking Yiddish," Netsky said. "It's really part of her life, like if she did not do this it would be weird."

Since the group has been around for quite some time now, Netsky praises the opportunity of having Reissa on board to change things up a bit.

"We're trying to keep it interesting and keep motivated to new stuff-especially with vocalists," Netsky said. "It's good to be doing new things."

The Klezmer Conservatory Band will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. Regular ticket prices range from $36 to $18, UA faculty and staff ticket prices are between $36 and $15, and student and child tickets range from $36 to $10.

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