Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Weimar Yiddish Weeks and Hungarian Jewstock: A Study in Contrasts

Almost a month on the road is about enough for me for a good long while. We did the dance workshops for Klezmer and Roma dance at the Weimar Yiddish Weeks workshops, with guests Florin Kodoba and Sue Foy as dance teachers. We were all worried a bit about Florin as a dance teacher - he is a fiddler and an incredible dancer, but had not really done much teaching of Mezőség Gypsy dancing in his life. Still, he's grown up at events where his villages dances were the object of teaching, and he fell right into the job alongside Sue - patient and clear and breaking down the elements of the incredibly dense Transylvanian dance cycles of Palatka. New York Klezmer Wonder Boy, fiddler Jake Schulman-Ment, joined us for the concert and workshops. Jake amazes me. Twenty four years old and he plays my stuff better than I do - he plays (and teaches) our Carpathian Jewish repetoire and has turned into New York's leading Hungarian fiddler, specializing in none other than the music of Palatka (seen above playing with Florin Kodoba in Weimar.)
The Triumvirate of the Klezmer Dance Workshops, Michael Alpert, festival director Alan Bern (both of Brave Old World) and ethnomusicologist Zev Feldman. I would call them the Trinity of the festival, but, well, you know... it gets kind of uncomfortable using that term. Alan is a rock of patience, managing the demands of the participants and performers like the pro he is... if the man had less musical talent he could have been a rabbi. Or perhaps a sargent in the US Marines.
Michael and Sue Foy backstage after our concert. Never put Klezmer musicians in the same room as alchohol and theater costumes. It leads to silliness that may find its way to the public ("you didn't tell me you had a blog!") and hangovers. The hangovers needed to be kept in control because we had to be up and teaching by ten each morning - no small feat for a musician, given that we (well, not me... that often) were up late each night playing at jam session sponsored by cafes and bistros around Weimar. But we had a dedicated group of string players who asked for in-depth tuition from Florin about the Mezőség fiddle style. This is the only way one can learn this music - notation of the melodies on paper can never come close to the ornamentation and phrasing of a live performance. The trick to the dyanamics of the syle is all in the bowing, and the ornamentation can not be separated from the melody itself - they form one, dense, pulsating musical whole. This is a music that is "learned, but not taught" in its traditional context.After the Weimar week, we tossed Jake and some of his french Klezmer friends into our mini bus for the ride back to Hungary, where we had been asked to play and teach workshops at the MAROM "Jewstock" festival in Monostorapati, near lake Balaton. This festival turned out to be... err.. less than auspicious. After the almost shocking effiencey of the Weimar seminars, the organization of the Hungarian festival was, how can we put this... fluid... actually it was a frigging mess. Our first day was... hopeless... But the organizers are good folks, so this is more of a "buy me a beer, I'll tell you a story" situation. At least it wasn't quite as fracked as the main festival in the neighboring village of Kapolcs, the "Magic Valley" festival. Magic as in "watch the performers disappear when they learn they ain't getting paid" because the festival lost all of its main sponsors months ago but decided to go on. It was, basically, a bad crafts/boutique fair with overpriced beer and goulash, and very occaisionally, somebody playing music.I would have avoided the mess in Kapolcs altogether, but Aron was working as unpaid labor as part of his school project, in which his class worked on media interviews and tech help during the entire festival. I hitch hiked over one day to buy him some decent food. He wolfed down a salad first - his slave masters had forgotten to include fresh vegtables in the student media crew's diet plans - before wolfing down an excellent Serbian plescavica plate from the Kafana Restaurant's tent. He was happy though - he was given the rather impressive responsibility of being the production manager of the student media teams - I managed to do better eating at the small village bar in Monostorapati, where a decent serving of mutton stew with tarhonya (little lentil-sized pasta) ran only Ft 800 (EU 3.25) and the froccs was fresh and local. This is real Veszprem county food - you never get good tough sheep meat in paprika sauce in Budapest, and my roots are from Veszprem, so I was in mutton heaven. I couldn't really deal with the nightly music offerings down on the soccer field, which comprised mainly of Israeli rap bands which invariably featured Heroic Hebes in dreadlocks whacking away artlessly on djembe drums and darabukkas. It was seriously painful and tedious. Instead, I wound up befriending a family of the local Beas (Boyash) Gypsies, who sang in the Beas dialect of Romanian and whacked artlessly on the top of the table for percussion (anything is better than an Israeli with a djembe.)The Beas are Gypsy in origin, but lost the use of the Romani language several hundred years ago while enslaved/enserfed by the Romanian nobility and used to work in mines (hence the name: Baias, or miner in Romanian.) The Beas are losing their language in Hungary, but these still spoke Beas, an older dialect of Romanian with admixtures of Serbian and Hungarian. When I was able to answer them in my own pidgin pan-balkanoid way, they were astonished. "You speak tsiganesht!" No, I had spoken Romanian, not Romani to them. But these were farm assistants, not linguists. On the other hand, the one Romani word they did recognize was useful a bit later when the wine flowed a bit to freely. "Patchiv!" Respect. Never met a Gypsy who didn't have a deep sense of respect, at least when expressed in their own language.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Another wonderfully rich account - thanks, Bob. This format suits you, and it's that much better since we all get to see it! I look forward to buying you a beer and asking you to tell me some stories on my next trip your way... which will be some time away, but still looking forward to it...