Think of it as Jewish jazz, suitable for any sort of celebration that requires an aural background of fun and festivity.
Hanukkah, for instance. And it’s in celebration of Hanukkah that the Meshuggina Klezmorim will present a concert Friday, in the Jury Assembly Room at the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
The concert, from noon to 1 p.m., is free and open to the public and will be presented as part of the city of Las Vegas’ Downtown Cultural Series.
Lee Schreiber, violinist and a Meshuggina Klezmorim founding member, says the ensemble — the Yiddish name translates roughly to “crazy musicians” — was formed about 23 years ago. It was a trio, then, made up of musicians playing piano, clarinet and violin, all of whom “really enjoyed the klezmer style of music.”
“And, it’s kind of a funny story, now,” Schreiber says, “but our first actual job was to play Hawaiian music for a local wedding.
“(Then) over the years, it morphed into a five-piece band” — percussion and tuba were the later additions — “and we’ve been called upon to do a lot of really neat things.”
The Meshuggina Klezmorim can be found playing concerts and public events throughout the year, including public Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremonies and Israel Independence Day celebrations, “and then we’ve done private gatherings, mostly bar mitzvahs and weddings,” Schreiber says.
The group’s members play in the ensemble mostly for fun, says Schreiber, whose professional endeavors include playing in the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
“I would say this is just a very small fraction of what we do. We probably only play six to 10 different things a year, so that’s not a way to make a living,” she says “But it’s a lot of fun and we all really enjoy it. One of the nice things about the band is, we really enjoy playing together.”
It probably also doesn’t hurt that klezmer is an upbeat, festive, free-form sort of music.
“I play a lot of classical music, and I play wedding jobs in that genre, and then I do a lot of teaching,” Schreiber says. “So I think that’s why we all enjoy it. It allows a little bit of freedom.”
Klezmer also is an adaptable musical style. Schreiber recalls that, at one point, the group even added a banjo to its instrument lineup for a date or two.
Stylistically, in its improvisational elements, it’s similar to jazz, Schreiber says, and klezmer musicians of long ago completely improvised, and would travel from community to community playing weddings and other “life-cycle events.”
Klezmer music also can be associated with “very traditional dances,” Schreiber adds. “The hora and some traditional things go along with some of the music we play. And, then, for the Hanukkah concert, we’re going to have a sing-along.”
And while the Meshuggina Klezmorim plays weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events all year long, Hanukkah “is the busiest, because a lot of the Jewish community wants to have some recognition of our holiday,” she says.
By the way, although it’s a solidly traditional form of music — klezmer dates back to 19th century Eastern Europe and probably even before — it’s not a style restricted to older revelers. Like pretty much any other form of traditional music, the cultural pull of klezmer is felt even among younger listeners.
“It’s definitely the older generation that knows the music and gets excited about hearing it,” Schreiber says. “But when we play for events, it’s the younger generation that gets up and dances, because it’s hard to just sit and listen to this music. It’s not passive at all.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.
What: Meshuggina Klezmorim concert
When: Noon to 1 p.m. Friday
Where: Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Blvd. South.