(January 15, 2008) The Philadelphia Folklore Project announces a special Mother's Day concert featuring Philadelphia's premiere Jewish klezmer musicians: Elaine and Susan Watts, performing their family's repertoire with an ensemble of stellar guest artists.
The concert is scheduled for May 11 at 6 PM, at the World Cafe Live. Tickets are $20, through the World Cafe Live website (http://www.worldcafelive.com/) or at their box office (215.222.1400). Members may also purchase advance tickets (by 5/9/08) through PFP office at a special $16 rate.
This concert celebrates Elaine Hoffman Watts, who was awarded a National Heritage fellowship in September 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts: the nation's highest award in the folk and traditional arts. One of only seven artists from Pennsylvania to be so honored over the last 26 years of the award, Watts represents a distinctive Philadelphia vernacular music tradition.
Born in 1932, Elaine Watts is a third-generation klezmer musician. Klezmer is Eastern European Jewish folk music. And Watts is a critically important, feisty, and enduring link to a particular Philadelphia-style Jewish klezmer sound, rooted in Ukranian and Romanian traditions, the southern regions of the Eastern European Jewish diaspora, different from (and long-obscured by) the better-known northern (Lithuanian, Polish) Eastern European Jewish ritual and celebratory musical styles. Working actively in Philadelphia in the early years of this century, the Hoffman family and other Philadelphia Jewish musicians shaped a Jewish American music reflecting the influences of their homeland as well as the musical culture of Philadelphia. Elaine's drumming anchors this sound. The first woman percussionist to be accepted at Curtis Institute, from which she graduated in 1954, Elaine Watts has performed and taught for more than forty years, working in symphonies, theaters, and schools. Despite her skills and family heritage, when she was young Ms. Watts was seldom given opportunities to perform by klezmer bands, from the 1940s on: "they didn't want to employ a girl," she recalls, even Jacob Hoffman's talented daughter. It is fitting that this Mother's Day concert centers on the artistry of a woman (and a mom) who couldn't be stopped or silenced.
Susan Watts represents the youngest generation of this important klezmer dynasty. In addition to playing with a variety of noted klezmer musicians from around the world, Susan Watts has recorded and performed with Hankus Netsky, Mikveh, London's Klezmer All-Star Brass Band, and others. Susan has taught at klezmer festivals and privately, and performs in a diverse range of trumpet styles.
For this concert, Susan has been scoring and arranging a distinctive family legacy of klezmer music, working from her great-grandfather's hand-written scores, more than 100 pieces of music: doynes, freylechs, waltzes, and other melodies. Scholar Hankus Netsky has called these "the Dead Sea Scrolls" of Philadelphia klezmer. This concert represents an attempt to bring these sounds to a new generation of listeners.
Klezmer has a complex history that is still shrouded in shadow because so little documentation was done before the destruction of the communities and people for whom this was an important part of cultural life. "For Jewish immigrant musicians like Hoffman and his brothers, the heyday of American klezmer was in the earlier part of the 20th century; broader interest waned by the 1950s. In the 1970s, klezmer activists (including some of the musicians to be involved in this project) began revitalizing the form, and ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin has noted that these musicians turned to those accomplished artists from the immigrant era who were still alive to be interviewed and learned from, some good recorded work, "and a handful of tattered folios and manuscript versions of tunes." The Hoffman notebooks fall into the latter category, and are unique in representing music specific to their area in the Ukraine. This distinctive strand of klezmer, which grew to be known as a particular Philadelphia style, is "less Gypsy than Hungarian or Romanian, and more Russian in feel," says trumpeter Susan Watts. It is set apart even from other immigrant klezmer styles - what is found in New York, let's say, by being a bit looser and grittier. It's not as flashy as New York klezmer, according to Elaine Hoffman Watts. In a 2002 article, ethnomusicologist Hankus Netsky writes about "Philadelphia's unabashedly conservative Jewish wedding music tradition" as it contrasts with "the contemporary klezmer scene, where individuality and glitzy packaging are all the rage. Philadelphia's heritage offers a musical subculture rich in folklore and ritual, populated by colorful outcasts who may well have been the true nonconformists of their day." This Philadelphia klezmer became a mainstay at many Jewish weddings and other communal and family celebrations for decades. It is this repertoire that forms the core of our project. New arrangements of the music are to be created by trumpeter Susan Watts and performed by a stellar group of klezmer musicians.
PFP’s Musicians-in-Residence (MIR) project annually aims to create opportunities for significant local community-focused musicians to further develop work in their respective traditions, and to share it with the public. In our 21st anniversary year, PFP has been framing up projects that allow public reflection on the histories and “state of the arts” of distinctive Philadelphia vernacular traditions. This project, for our 2007-2008 season, involves investigation and support for a distinct Philadelphia tradition of rarely-heard klezmer music, not the music popularized by the 1970s and 1980s klezmer revival, which often centered on Polish and Lithuanian musical lineages, cosmopolitan culture, and on NY area immigrants, but, rather, the music that grew to be so central in Jewish Philadelphia and that the Hoffman family has never stopped playing. This is a minority tradition, and a local vernacular. The project includes rehearsal support, a concert and the production of a documentary videotape about Elaine Hoffman Watts and Philadelphia klezmer. A discussion with musicians and schoalrs after the concert will provide a chance for discussion of the significances and power of this music and these musicians.
Musicians-in-Residence is an artist development initiative organized by the Philadelphia Folklore Project (PFP), a 21-year old public interest folklife agency committed to sustaining local community-based arts. The Philadelphia Folklore Project affirms the human right to cultural expression, and works to protect the rights of people to know and practice traditional and community-based arts. The PFP offers public education in the folk arts, develops community projects and documentary resources, and organizes around issues of concern in the field of folk and traditional arts.
This project is funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great arts, the Philadelphia Music Project (funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of the Arts), the Humanities-and-the-Arts Initiative, administered by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and funded principally by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and by Philadelphia Folklore Project members.
For more information, please contact the Philadelphia Folklore Project, 215.726.1106, firstname.lastname@example.org.