For the past 30 years, Martin Schwartz has gathered an impressive collection of rare 78 rpm records, many of them klezmer, a type of instrumental music originating from Eastern European Jews. In the 1970s, Schwartz met some Berkeley musicians who shared his passion for klezmer. They began learning from the old recordings and started a band called Klezmorim, fostering a burgeoning nationwide revival of the genre.
Meaning literally “vessel of song,” klezmer can be played on a variety of instruments – including trombone, clarinet, violin, accordion, tsimbl (a kind of hammered dulcimer), drums, bass viol – but is most commonly associated with the violin and the clarinet. These lead instruments are played in a style that mimics the human voice, common to liturgical singing styles.
Klezmer harkens back to a time when music was an integral part of daily life, supporting weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other sacred and secular celebrations. Today, Schwartz is on the Advisory Council of KlezCalifornia, which was founded in 2003 to celebrate klezmer music and Yiddish culture in the San Francisco Bay Area.
KlezCalifornia offers workshops on music, dance and singing. Participants learn the music by listening and playing back what they hear — no written music is handed out, which is true to the way klezmer has been passed down for hundreds of years. Spark explores this revival at KlezCalifornia shedding light on a tradition that has endured through time and hardships to prove its vitality and relevance to new generations.