Wait, Mr. Birenbaum’s in a Boppin’ Jewish Jazz Band?!

By Tucker Poux
Volume 68, Issue II

He’s the outgoing Teacher Assistant with the one-of-a-kind deep voice. Mr. Birenbaum is hard to miss, and he’s always got something fascinating to say. What many BHS students may not know, though, is the other side to Mr. Birenbaum: the saxophonist of Northern Westchester’s Klezmer band, a Jewish jazz group that plays dance tunes and upbeat melodies.

Klezmer is an evolving form of music derived from Eastern European roots. Taking influence from regions such as Turkey, Russia and Romania, Klezmer is a musical convention centered around Jewish culture while incorporating local avor. Dating back centuries, this genre is played mainly at weddings and other special occasions to t the upbeat nature of the music. The bands, called kapelye, are often composed of cimbaloms, basses, utes, trumpets and accordions. Klezmer was almost totally destroyed during the Holocaust, leading to a period where the genre was absent from most of the world. Since then, the music has been revived in the U.S., incorporating American jazz with instruments such as the saxophone and the drum.

Beginning in the 1970s, a new age of Klezmer emerged with the goal of reviving the lost genre and integrating it into modern day musical styles. Today, Klezmer has spread throughout the United States and much of Europe with bands forming to spread the joy and sounds associated with the genre. Westchester County is one revivalist area, with Birenbaum joining the movement, rocking out on either his saxophone or clarinet.

“It’s like a key to a whole lost world but a world that has been revived and has begun to move forward,” said Mr. Birenbaum.

Nowadays, Klezmer is an essential component of bar and bat mitzvahs and many Jewish weddings. The group Birenbaum is a part of plays festivals and several local venues.

Westchester Klezmer Program attempts to bring together people of all ages to celebrate this style of music and spread its sounds to the masses. The group is multigenerational, span- ning from middle schoolers to adults. A true community has been founded around this form of music.

More information on joining a local Klezmer group, learning more about the groups’ missions or going to a performance can be found by visiting westchesterklez.org.

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