Free Klezmer Concert, December 4, 4 PM in York PA with The Fabulous Shpielkes

by John Hope

The Fabulous Shpielkes, an internationally-renowned, award-winning Klezmer music group will bring its unique and upbeat style of Jewish music to the York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive, York, in a December 4 free Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert. Harrisburg’s own klezmer band, The Old World Folk Band opens. The concert starts at 4 p.m.

Klezmer music—essentially Jewish folk music from eastern Europe—has been enjoying a revival since the 1970s in part due to the popularity of The Fabulous Shpielkes. Featured with some of the best Klezmer musicians from Philadelphia to New York City are 79-year-old drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts and her daughter, trumpeter Susan Watts.

The Hoffmans, third and fourth generation members of Philadelphia’s prominent Hoffman family musical dynasty, are known worldwide for their musical skill, ingenuity, and cultural knowledge.

Elaine Hoffman Watts was the first female percussionist to be accepted at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, from which she was graduated in 1954. She has performed and taught for more than 60 years, working in symphonies, theaters, and schools. Her grandfather, cornet player Joseph Hoffman, came to Philadelphia about 1904. He taught family members Klezmer music he learned as a child in Eastern Europe. Her father was Jacob Hoffman, a great Klezmer drummer and xylophonist who also played xylophone with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Despite her skills and family heritage, Elaine Hoffman was seldom given opportunities to perform in working Klezmer wedding bands as she was growing up because they didn’t want to hire a female drummer, not even if she was Jacob Hoffman’s daughter.

She started performing Klezmer actively more than 10 years ago, starting with the KlezMs, an all-female ensemble that also included her daughter on trumpet. She now performs with The Fabulous Shpielkes and Klezmer artists from around the world.

Trumpeter and vocalist Susan Watts is the sole living purveyor of a Klezmer-style trumpet and sound that electrified Jewish-American audiences for decades. Her engaging voice and one-of-a-kind vocal style carries audiences through a full gamut of emotions. Her repertoire includes tunes that were handed down to her by her great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother, including many original songs written for weddings, family members, and joyous occasions.

Watts recently scored and recorded the soundtrack for the award-winning film “Breath,” and recorded the soundtrack for “A Joyful Noise,” a documentary on Philadelphia Klezmer. She teaches at Klezmer festivals and is an ambassador for women’s rights around the world.

Following intermission, Penn State Harrisburg Holocaust and Jewish Studies Center Lead Scholar Simon Bronner will lead a question and answer period.

Susquehanna Folk Music Society is presenting this free event as part of a new series developed with the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau and made possible by a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, with additional support from Shipley Energy, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour and the Lois Lehrman Grass Foundation. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

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