Klezmer music is beautiful, soulful and can make for a great dance party. Derived from the Yiddish phrase “kli zemer,” or “vessel for music,” klezmer is a unique musical form created by European Jews as long ago as the 15th century. Featuring musical influences derived from Roma musicians, Turkish modes and Balkan brass, klezmer developed its own special nuances through the decades and was traditionally performed by klezmorim, roving musicians who would typically perform at events such as Jewish weddings.
A klezmer ensemble generally uses instruments such as clarinet, violin, double bass and accordion, but over the years the genre has evolved and expanded. As a result, many other instruments get incorporated as well from drums to trumpet. Historically, klezmer was primarily instrumental-only, but modern-day klezmer can also involve a fair amount of singing during performances or recorded albums.
What you may not have considered is that klezmer is a seriously fantastic musical genre for kids to appreciate and rock out to, not to mention that there are any number of family klezmer concerts in the United States, Canada and beyond that can be attended by family members of all ages. To get started on introducing kids (and perhaps parents, too) to this wonderful Jewish musical style, check out these albums — blast them on a road trip, while you’re cooking Shabbat dinner or getting ready for school in the morning to get everyone in a good mood.
“The Big Picture” by David Krakauer
A tribute album to films with Jewish content, this engaging album provides klezmer interpretations of music from famous movies throughout the decades, ranging from “The Pianist” to “Funny Girl.” Although kids may not be familiar with all of the movies referenced, especially the hard-hitting Holocaust films, they will enjoy some of the klezmer takes on genres like Broadway or classical music featured on these notable soundtracks. And it’s the legendary David Krakauer, so the performances are about as good as you can get!
“Oy Vey!” by Sruli & Lisa
Dynamic duo (who sometimes have their talented children perform at concerts as well) and experienced klezmorim Sruli and Lisa created this high-energy, fun klezmer album specifically aimed at kids and families. Interspersed with music are stories and bits of infused humor. If you get the chance to see them on stage, it’s an absolute treat. Bring the kids and kvell away to see some talented yidden rocking the stage!
“Amaze at the Plant Hypnotist” by Yid Vicious
The lively and talented American Midwestern ensemble Yid Vicious have years under their belt playing for kids and passing on the joys of klezmer. “Patsch Tanz” makes for a fun hand-clapping song with your toddler, and they do a joyous version of the Ladino Hanukkah song “Ocho Kandelikas.” Check out one of their live shows if you’re in the Wisconsin area here.
“This World Is Yours” by Mostly Kosher
Mostly Kosher, a California-based band, has the rather special distinction of being regularly featured at Disney California Adventure as performers. If you are ever in Disneyland with your kids during Hanukkah or a few other times of year (sometimes in the spring), see if they might be playing during your visit! Though not a strictly klezmer album per se, “The World Is Yours” is a fabulous fusion of klezmer together with other genres such as rock, reggae, funk and jazz, featuring lyrics in Yiddish, English and Hebrew. This album also presents some messages of tikkun olam, fixing the world, for families to be inspired by.
“With Strings” by Mames Babagenush
A Danish ensemble playing klezmer inspired by jazz and Eastern European folk traditions, “With Strings” is a fabulous musical journey for the whole family. The song “Olympia” will have everyone dancing around the house, with its fabulous trumpet and clarinet solos. They have a fairly large ensemble at many of their performances, so check out the band on YouTube for the opportunity to see their talented stylings live. (In general, this is a fantastic way to prepare your kids for seeing a live klezmer performance and get them excited about the real deal!)
“Spice It Up” by the Red Hot Chachkas
Although the San Francisco Bay Area band Red Hot Chachkas sadly disbanded some years ago, your family can still enjoy listening to the excellent “Spice It Up” klezmer album — it involves a mandolin, a relatively unusual instrument for a klezmer ensemble, but it works well. Infused with some touches of classical, bluegrass and even R&B influences, some standout tracks include the jazzy “Rocky Hora” and the reggae nod on “Chosidl Diddle.” With all the varied stylings combined with klezmer, it’s also a good choice to introduce the family to the glories of musical fusion.